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Using databases


This lesson teaches students what a database is and introduces them to different types of databases used by journalists. Students will evaluate and examine a range of databases, focusing on databases available to them at school and within a nearby public library. Students will also evaluate online databases used by professional journalists. Students will choose two timely topics that could be covered with their publications and evaluate three to five databases for availability, quality, and newsworthiness of sources found within the databases.


  • Students will access databases offered at school or in nearby public libraries, establishing which will serve best for journalistic research.
  • Students will access specific journalism databases (Journalists Resource, Journalists Toolbox, etc.) and determine which of the available resources will serve best for their own research.
  • Students will understand the difference between information available through databases in accuracy, quality, and newsworthiness compared to general Internet searches.
  • Students will distinguish between databases of articles from journals and databases of data.
  • Students will use databases to conduct research for their own projects.

Common Core Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.10 Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.



Slideshow: Using Databases

Getting to Know Databases

Using Databases handout

Online Resources Handout

Using Databases Rubric

Lesson step-by-step

NOTE: Before teaching this lesson, identify what databases are available through your school library and learn how students can access them. It may be helpful to add a slide or two showing students how to access your school library databases and listing some of the more helpful ones (Gale’s, Pro/Con, World Book, General One File, JSTOR, etc.)


1. Tap prior knowledge – 5-10 minutes

Ask students “What is a database?”  Get them to be as specific as possible. Ask for examples. Then ask how journalists might use databases, and how they might use them for stories.

Slideshow — 20-25 minutes

Walk students through the “Using databases” slideshow, pausing for questions as necessary or asking for examples. Click on the links contained within the slideshow and show students what is available on the links.

2. Begin activity — remainder of Day One

Students should work individually or in pairs to complete the “Getting to know databases” handout.


1. Finish activity from previous day – 20 minutes

Allow students time to finish the “Getting to know databases” handout.  Provide a daily grade for completion. The completed handout should be their exit card for the day.

2. Share and discuss – 10 minutes

Ask students to share what they have found in the databases available to them. Tell them that they will have to come up with two story ideas that will use databases for research.  Ask them to share ideas.  Ideas should be timely and have potential for your readership and audience.

Explain that the next step is to actually find information for potential stories within the databases that they now know how to locate.

3. Culminating activity — Using databases for story research

Students must choose two potential topics for stories and use three different databases and multiple sources within those databases to do background research.  Students may work in pairs for this activity, collaborating on finding information in multiple databases.

Allow students one or two class periods to complete the Using Databases exercise, or assign as homework if practical to do so and students can access databases from home computers.

The goal is for each student to have at least one well-researched topic for a news feature or in-depth feature story.


Use the “Using databases rubric” to grade the “Using databases handout.”


If you have a group of students who are interested in and capable of research using available databases of data, you may wish to add a data research component.  You can have students research census data using Gale’s Demographics Now to find out more about the people who live in your area.  Or move on to the Using public documents lesson plan, which will teach them how to research property records.


Allow students to work in pairs to help each other navigate the databases and find information. The handouts provide graphic organization for students who need assistance.