A Lesson in Social Bookmarking in the Classroom

4th Grade Collaboration

Diigo (Digest of Internet Information, Groups and Other Stuff) is a free social bookmarking tool that allows its users to store, manage and share Internet resources. Users can bookmark, highlight, tag, and annotate selected web pages while reading online. As they are stored in the cloud, bookmarks can be retrieved from any computer anytime and anyplace. Resources may be shared with other users.

As a social bookmarking tool, Diigo clearly has the potential to make reading and research a social activity in the classroom. In collaboration with our social studies teacher, I’ve used Diigo with our 4th and 5th grade students: 4th graders were researching the pre-colonial French settlement Fort Caroline (Jacksonville, Florida) and 5th graders were gathering information on the Lost Colony of Roanoke (North Carolina). Using the researched information, students are currently in the process of creating eBooks about their topics.
Objectives for students were:

  • to research and become familiar with informational texts about their respective topics
  • to use Diigo to collect and organize their new information
  • to apply various Diigo features, including highlighting and annotating of web pages or text passages and  tagging of web pages for organization and classification


With an educator account, I created a Diigo Group for each class. Privacy settings of educator accounts are pre-set, limiting communication to assigned teachers and their students. Also, by default, student profiles are private. Each student was provided with their login information and created an avatar for their profiles using one of the following websites:

Diigo Group

In each classroom, we then created tag dictionaries to categorize websites, ensuring consistency of keyword tags. We brainstormed tags to include in each dictionary, for example “Ft. Caroline” instead of “Fort Caroline”, or “Native Americans” instead of “indians” or “natives”.

Tag DictionarySteps

Since our students already had an introduction to Web search techniques in an earlier unit, I began by focusing on annotations. The great benefit of Diigo’s annotation tool (virtual “sticky notes”) is that it allows students to summarize a website’s important concepts and main points. Annotations encourage student interaction and engagement and are central to collaborative research. The students explored: What are the elements of a quality annotation? We brainstormed and I used the definitions students gathered to create a reference sheet:

Quality Annotations

While the process may seem straightforward, students struggled with the concept of a quality annotation. I’ve blogged about this issue here.


Research is not simply about finding information, but also evaluating and synthesizing the information found. The skills necessary to evaluate and synthesize require students to read text closely and paraphrase the useful information, respectively. These are critical, transferable skills, but working with elementary students I have learned that these are often the most difficult for the students to grasp.  Thankfully, we were not under any time constraints, giving us time to model and review when needed.

For my students, Diigo is a powerful collaborative learning tool in the classroom. Students interacted with informational text and with one another and were motivated to stay on task. They read, highlighted, tagged, and annotated relevant websites for their research projects.

Best content in 4MJGDS | Diigo - Groups

The annotation process, however, was harder to learn for my 4th than my 5th graders. Fourth graders also spent a lot more time looking for relevant images than focusing on reading text. Reasons may be maturity, existing skills, class size (20 vs. 11 students), time of day (Friday afternoon classes for 4th grade), or a combination.

Overall, this was a great collaborative project. Diigo allowed my students to not only manage information, but also to hone their communication and collaboration skills — all vital to success in school and their overall future. I would like to repeat this lesson, possibly on a grander scale: Not only with a classroom at another school, but perhaps “classmates” in another country.


Quality vs Safety

I always strive for quality work. Producing quality work, however, involves stepping out of my safety zone and challenging myself. But it also involves time. In the case of research, the process of producing quality work can be quite laborious.

My 4th and 5th grade students are currently researching Fort Caroline (the first and rather short-lived French fort in the U.S. located here in Jacksonville, Florida) and the Lost Colony of Roanoke, respectively. To organize our research, we are using Diigo, a powerful social bookmarking tool. I’ve created a Diigo Group for each class via an educator’s account. Within each group, students are collaboratively collecting websites on the topics and annotating them using Diigo’s highlighting and sticky note tools.

So while the process seems pretty straightforward, it is actually quite messy. I’ve now spent two 50-minute sessions with each class searching, collecting, and annotating. Students are finding that they have to closely read each web page, evaluate it for its merit, and then offer a quality annotation. This last step is hard.

Before beginning the actual search process, we came up with a definition of Quality Annotations. I’ve compiled it as a quick reference sheet and then added annotation starters.

Quality Annotations

With each class, we’ve looked at the web pages collected and the annotations added. Students clearly love Diigo’s highlighting feature and are good about not simply highlighting large sections of text. But they do need to work on their annotations! Too many of them simply say “informative” or “descriptive”.

Diigo Screenshot

Diigo Screenshot 2

While the above are not representative of quality work, students are capable as shown in the following examples:

Diigo Screenshot 3

Diigo Screenshot 4

So the big question is: How do you ensure quality work? In this case, how do I get my students to read text or examine an image closely, evaluate the information provided, and then offer a quality annotation that contributes to the class collaborative research?

My plan is to begin our next session with something we should have done before starting our research: Brainstorming research questions. What do we want to know? Then, each student will edit their “My Library” (Diigo terminology for bookmarked web pages etc.) and evaluate their work according to the following criteria:

  • Does the web page / image provide important information that answers my research question?
  • Did I highlight the important information?
  • Did I add a quality annotation?
  • Are all my research questions answered, or do I need to search for more information?

Figuring Out Search Engines

I recently met our 4th and 5th grade students for a lesson about the World Wide Web and search engines: What are they? How do they work?

During my introduction of search engines, I showed the classes two websites they found fascinating: http://www.worldometers.info/, which shows different world statistics in real time (you can actually see the counters running — an equally interesting site is http://www.usarightnow.com/) and http://www.alexa.com/topsites, a Web info company listing the top 500 websites visited globally as well as by country (we looked at the US and Israel).

As an activity, the kids searched 10 different search engines for the phrase electoral college. The idea was for them to understand how search results can differ vastly between engines. The two kid-friendly search engines retrieved only 1 and 2 hits, respectively, as compared to over 47 billion for Google and some of the other large engines. We discussed quality v. quantity and started to talk about the fact that the great advantage of the Web — easy-access to tons of information — is also its greatest disadvantage.

To conclude the lesson, I required students to complete exit slips. I find them very useful tools to gauge what stuck and what warrants further review. For this lesson, I asked only one question:  Why do you think it is important to know how search engines work? The answer I wanted to see was: “Because all search engines index different web pages and offer different search functions”. The answer I got from most students was essentially: “It is important to know how search engines work to help verify information.” Maybe I should not have mentioned to the classes that we are going to learn how to evaluate web pages in our next sessions as it seemed that they were already focusing on the fact that not all information retrieved through a web search is of the same value? For this lesson, I intended to simply focus on the mechanics of search engines. The kids were way ahead — and I learned a lesson as well.

A Note Taking Exercise

I am currently teaching a unit on website evaluation to our 4th and 5th grade students. We meet weekly for a one-hour session over the period of eight weeks. This is integrated into a social studies unit on the presidential election.

The social studies teacher asked me to start off by teaching a lesson on note taking. As I told the students, it’s a skill they will use throughout their lives, not only in school but also in working life. Each class worked through a one-page encyclopedia entry on the Everglades I had copied from a Florida history text. We applied the two-column method as I personally like it for its versatility; it’s easily applied to text, film, lectures, presentations. As a class, we worked our way through the first few paragraphs, identifying the main idea and supporting detail. Then students worked through the remainder of the text in small groups.

For the students, the hard part was to avoid copying whole sentences rather than jotting down keywords/phrases, preferably in their own words. Their homework assignment was to then write an informational paragraph using just their notes (I collected the original text).

As teachers, we like those critical thinking skills that are put to use when students are taking notes. Students in both grades stated when asked why note taking can be useful: We use our brains. Indeed! So at the end of the lessons I asked students to fill out exit slips with the following questions: Why is it important to take notes? How can note taking help you with your school work? I’ve compiled the answers for each class in two separate Wordles:

4th Grade:

5th Grade:

Obviously the students got it: “to help remember information” was answered by all. Some went further and said it’s a good organizational tool, a study aid, helps with grades. A couple of 5th graders also added that it helps avoid plagiarism. I think the students understood the idea and importance of taking notes. Now they just need to continue to apply those note taking skills to become fluent.