historicalPathfinders are a particularly useful tool for inquiry-based activities for children and young adults. They save time and frustration by leading students to quality resources. They also provide an opportunity for librarians, teachers, parents, and other adults to help guide a child's exploration.

Let's say that a group of children visit a re-enactment of a Revolutionary War battle. A pathfinder could lead to books, videos, websites, and other materials related to this topic.

eye means readRead Connecting the Classroom and the Library: How One School Used Web-based Library Projects to Build Information-Literacy Skills by Mike Terry and Diane Spear in Information Today.

Use the following links to help you explore this page: Pathfinder Design, Resource Selection, Pathfinder Elements, and Pathfinder Activity.


Pathfinder Design

When designing pathfinders for children and young adults, there are a number of factors that should be considered.


Before jumping into resource collection, consider your audience. Are you developing this resource for children and/or young adults? What are the characteristics and experiences of these people? What are their reading level? Consider your local community. Is it rural or urban? Is English their first language? What are they studying in school? What do they do for fun? The more you know your audience, the better you can make quality selections.

Go to Science Fair Topics from Lakewood Public Library. Are there other student project starters that could be organized this way?


Your pathfinder should address a particular need. It should explore on a subject, topic, or theme. But, it should also focus on specific questions, issues, or information needs. Pathfinders often contain background information, definitions, and essential ideas in addition to connections with other resources. The pathfinder should be of interest to others and help guide researchers.

Go to Ecosystems from Lakewood Public Library. Notice the way the materials are organized into biomes. Resources are provided for a biome treasure hunt.

When you're developing pathfinders for K12 students, consider resources that address state and national standards.


Develop a "look and feel" for the particular age of the children or young adults. The design should be appropriate and interesting to the audience including clipart, photographs, font styles, and terminology. What would appeal to this age group? Will you ask interesting questions and use resources to answer those questions? Or, will you list popular topics and encourage readers to develop questions and explore each topic?

Go to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and US Symbols, Monuments, and Landmarks from Lakewood Public Library. Do you think the graphics would be appealing to primary grade students? Also notice the use of an informal, "fun" font.

The web page should be clear and easy-to-read. You'll also want to design pages that can easily be printed. Some web developers even include a link to a "printer-friendly" version.

Navigation should be provided to assist users in scrolling through the materials in the pathfinder. For example, you might develop a title bar with links such as introduction, background information, books, databases, websites, organization, audio and video, search strategies, and contact information.

Go to 13 Original Colonies from Lakewood Public Libary. Notice how they broke the pathfinder into separate pages including entry page, links page, and books page.

The web pages should be free from spelling and grammatical errors.


Pathfinders can serve many purposes. They can be used as research guides, learning tools, or simply lists of resources. Consider how your pathfinders will be used. Then, identify a specific goal for your pathfinder. Be sure that this goal(s) is clear in the introduction so users will know it's purpose.

Go to Human Activities and Environmental Consequences and Mathematician Diversity Project from Lakewood Public Library. Notice how this pathfinder is associated with a particular class project.

The goal can be specific or general. For example, a teacher may request resources assistance for a particular assignment. In this case, the materials could be aimed at a particular high school social studies course and contain materials to help users with a research project.

Or, a pathfinder might be developed for a local scout group focusing on local trees. This pathfinder might contain materials for identifying plants.

General pathfinders might be developed on topics that are commonly requested such as Oregon Trail, jokes and riddles, or cooking for kids.

Go to Introduction to Multiplication and Division. Notice that this pathfinder focuses on math practice rather than a traditional research topic.


Materials must be structured in a logical way. Will resources be organized by media type? Will they be alphabetized? What headings and subheadings will help users find resources? In the 42explore project, all topics are organized into definitions, 4 starter sites, activities, website by kids, other resources, teaching materials, and vocabulary. You'll want to develop your own scheme, but be consistent so regular users will become familiar with your format.

Go to Immigration from Lakewood Public Library. Notice the page begins with general links. Then, links are provided by immigrant group. This would be helpful for students seeking information on a particular immigrant population.

Go to Matter: Chemical and Physical Changes from Lakewood Public Library. Notice how they organized links into the categories of scientific methods, ideas for experiments, be safe, working in groups, and books.

Go to Arab Cultural Arts Day from Lakewood Public Library. Notice how they use the categories of poetry, literature and folk tales, music and dance, food, visual art and architecture and general links to organize resources.

Go to Greek Mythology and Inventors from Lakewood Public Library. Notice how they provide general links as well as links to individuals.


Resource Selection

Rather than a list of everything, you'll want to be selective. Choose the best resources to address the needs of your patrons and goal of your project.

As you select materials, consider the collection development policy you use in your library. Would you select this material if it were a book or video rather than a website? If not, maybe it shouldn't be on your pathfinder. You can use a search tool like Google to find materials on any topic. The skill comes in selecting accurate, timely, and relevant materials for your patrons.

Use caution when linking to resources. For instance, electronic databases may require login access. Think about the most efficient way to provide users access. You may wish to provide a mini-tutorial or series of screen shots to help users through the login process.

Go to United States History from St. George's School Library. Notice the many databases incorporated into the pathfinder.

When providing access to mobile apps, provide direct links to the official website such as iTunes App Store or the publisher website such as NASA Apps page rather than a third party website or app service. For instance, if you want to share the Star Walk app which provides a stargazing experience with gyroscope, you could link to the Star Walk iTunes Preview. Or, if you want the World Book Encyclopedia This Day in History app go to the MacKiev software website and it will provide directions for download.

If the app is available for check-out on the library mobile device such as a Kindle or iPad, but sure to provide information about how to reserve this device.

If you're exploring a topic that contains many different perspectives, consider the developmental level of your children. Will they be able to distinguish fact, theory, opinion, and perspective? How will you help students organize their thinking? What "scaffolding" will you provide to assist students in organizing ideas? For example,

Go to Paris & London: Tale of Two Cities from Lakewood Public Library. They provide information from the two cities. This format would be nice for any project where students are making comparisons.

As you select resources for your pathfinder, consider each of the following areas:


Look for a wide range of materials including both print and electronic resources that are aimed at children and young adults. Think about materials including books, documents, websites, databases, audio, and videos.

Go to Car Buying Pathfinder from Morton Grove Public Library. Notice that online periodicals are included.

Go to Investing from Morton Grove Public Library. Notice their inclusion of reference materials, newsletters, and newspapers.

Consider other types of resources such as local contacts, experts, and organizations.

Go to the Internet Public Library Pathfinders such as Nutrition. Notice how it lists the American Dietetic Association and the Food and Nutrition Information Center as contacts.

Go to Breast Cancer Awareness Month from Morton Grove Public Library. Notice the inclusion of local support groups and organizations and foundations.

As you select materials, consider your audience. What's developmentally appropriate? What types of materials will best answer their questions?

Go to Space and Planets from Lakewood Public Library. Notice that only a few sites are selected. They are all geared to young learners.

Consider including relevant tools related to the topic such as timeliner builders, graph makers, or notetaking tools. Check out Noodletools and 4teachers NoteStar for note tools for two examples.

Unique Materials

Are there local materials that could be included? From local experts to area museums, what new information could you generate and disseminate? Consider collecting data in the form of polls and surveys. Organize a group of history buffs and create your own local history database of photos.

Go to Weather from Lakewood Public Library. Notice how they included the local weather in Cleveland, Ohio.

Go to Community Central, Lakewood, Our Community, and History of Lakewood from Lakewood Public Library. Notice how this pathfinder focuses on local area information resources.

Go to Buried at Lake View Cemetery and Greater Cleveland Research from Lakewood Public Library. Notice their use of local resources.

Reading Level

If users can't read your introduction, they won't be successful in using your pathfinder. Apply terminology and a writing style appropriate for the age of your audience. For example, the materials should be written directly to children using words like "have you ever wondered" or "you'll find" rather than "the reader will notice" or "students will find".

Go to Ducks from Lakewood Public Library. Notice the child-centered focus.

In addition to the pathfinder itself, it's important to select materials that will address the reading needs of the wide range of reading levels. When possible, group materials in categories such as "the basics", "more information", and "indepth" rather than grade level. Some people also like to include the specific reading level of materials such as books.

Go to Rocks and Minerals from Lakewood Public Library. Notice the links to ThinkQuest sites. These are all websites designed by kids for kids. As such, they are probably close to the reading levels of your users.

There are many ways to measure the difficulty of a tex known as readability. Grade level, Lexile, Fry Readability, Flesch-Kincaid, Gunning Fog, DRA (Developmental Reading Assessment) Dale-Chall, and QRI are just a few examples. In each case, a continuum is used to judge the difficulty of text. If you'd like more information about approaches to text difficulty, check out the following resources:

The Flesch-Kincaid Reading tool has been used for over 50 years and is built into Microsoft Word. It analyzes writing by examining the number of words, syllables, and sentences in text. You must "turn on" this feature in the preferences of Microsoft Word. Choose Grammar and Spell Check within Preferences and check the Readability Statistics option. Then after completing a Grammar or Spell Check, the Readability Statistics will appear including the Flesch Reading Ease score and the grade level.

For over thirty years, teachers and librarians have used Fry Readability Graph to measure the readability of text. Developed by Edward Fry and published in the McGraw-Hill Elementary Reading Instruction text, it continues to be popular. The chart provides a grade level or age result. Fry's Readability Graph from Kathy Shrock's Guide for Educators is a good place to learn more.

The Lexile Framework for Reading is an approach to reading and text measurement intended to match text materials with reading abilities. Texts are evaluated for difficulty based on word complexity and frequency, and sentence length. The scores range from 200L to 1700L. A beginning reader such as the Arthur books would be around 400L while a high school classic would be around 1500L. Some databases provide reading level information. For example, EBSCO's Primary Search database provides Lexile information for its listing on Cobblestone magazine for children. The article on Ancient Mound Builders is scored at 1070.

lexile chart

Go to the Lexile Book Search to find the Lexile score for a popular book such as the Harry Potter series. This scale has increased in popularity with the standardized testing movement. It is also used by some library automation systems such as Alexandria. Go to the The Lexile Framework for Reading official site to learn more.

Skim the article Readability or Reading Levels of Children's Books: How Can You Tell? by Carolyn K.

eye means readGo to the Readbility website to see a free tool that can help make web-based reading much easier.

Channels of Communication

People have a wide range of strengths, weaknesses, and preferences in terms of their use of materials. Some people enjoy lots of photographs, while others prefer to read. Sometimes visuals are needed to understand the topic.

Go to American Revolution. Notice the list of images sites on the left side.

Go to Biomes. Notice the use of the TeacherTube video instructions.

Go to German Architecture from Lakewood Public Library. Notice their links to architecture.

Some nonreaders are successful with audio or video materials. Be sure to include resources from different "channels of communication" such as auditory, visual, and tactile. These may include text, graphics, animation, audio, and video. It's helpful to provide notes about these elements in the annotations. For example, you might write that a particular website contains quality photographs or audio narration. It's also important to indicate if special software or plugins are needed to access these features.

Go to It's ELEMENTary! Notice how audio is part of the Element Podcast at the bottom of the entry page.

Go to Animals Guide from Rumsey Hall Library. Notice the links to shark videos on the left.

Go to Environmental Science from Oliver Wendell Holmes Library. Notice the embedded video.

Go to Grapes of Graphic. Notice how video is embedded.



Consider embedding widgets into your pathfinder. These are small applications that can be embedded on a web page. In most cases, the embed code is provided. You simply need to copy and paste the code into your web page. Google Sites has a tool that will search for widgets.

Examine the The Very Hungry Caterpillar widget. It provides a short video along with images from the book. This would provide a nice springboard for a writing activity.

Google Books are an easy thing to embed into a pathfinder.

Go to Math Applications. Notice the book called She Does Math! is an embedded Google Book.

Go to American Revolutionary War. Notice how the YouTube videos are embedded.

Go to Evolution. Notice how the slideshow is embedded using SlideShare.

Go to Olathe Northwest Library. Notice that the page is full of embedded tools for searching.

RSS Feeds

Increasingly, librarians are incorporating RSS feeds into their pathfinders to share news and current information from blogs, media sources, and websites.

Go to Health. Notice the RSS feed in the left column.

Go to Science News Feeds. Click each tab to see the news feeds.

Go to News for the Classroom. This site is made of up RSS feeds for various topics.


Special Needs

Do you have uses who are visually impaired or have other special needs? Consider this in developing your materials. For example, use alternative descriptions for your graphics.


Pathfinder Elements

Pathfinders can contain a wide range of elements. Consider each of the following ideas when selecting components to include in your pathfinder.


Your pathfinder should start with a motivating introduction that will draw in your audience.

Go to Cold War. Notice how the Duck and Cover video is used to jumpstart the topic.

Go to Columbian Exchange. Notice how a painting is used as a springboard to exploration.

Go to Maps. Notice how a definition is used to start the pathfinder.

Go to African American History. Notice how the quotation and visuals add to the pathfinder.

Go to the 1930s. Notice the use of the image.

Go to Native American Cultures. Notice how historical images are used.

Go to Modern China. Notice how a political cartoon is used.

Define the scope or purpose of the project. You may even want to list standards or highlight goals. However if the project is aimed at children and young adults, you'll want to put them in "child "

Go to Gourment Foods Class from Lakewood Public Library. Notice that they have objectives or statement of purpose.

Many pathfinders also include topic definitions, background information, or project overviews.

Go to Exploring the Geology of Our National Parks from Lakewood Public Library. Nice how the page starts with a photograph and project overview.

Go to EIC Project. Notice the definitions.

Some pathfinders start with general advice or a couple of the best starting points that shouldn't be missed. For example, if you're doing a project on "how stuff works", you'd probably put the How Stuff Works website somewhere in your introduction or "best starters" list.

Go to Energy: Pros and Cons of Our Decisions from Lakewood Public Library. Notice how they recommend EnviroLink Library.


Citations are an important part of your pathfinder. When developing a list of books, you normally including the title, author, publisher, date, and an annotation. Many pathfinders include the local Dewey number or a link to Amazon or Barnes and Noble for reviews and additional information. Be sure that your annotation accurately describes the resource. Include helpful information such as reading level, illustrations, ease of use, contents, and reasons why it will be useful.

Go to Earth Science. Notice the short descriptions for each resource. Also notice how resources are organized using tabs.

Go to Fractured Fairytales from Lakewood Public Library. Notice that they provide links to reading lists at another website as part of their pathfinder.

For websites, you'll want to provide the title, location/agency/sponsor, URL, and a description. Many people include the title of the website, the URL itself, as well as a link. This way, people can print the pathfinder and still have the web addresses.

Some developers like to include their links in sentences the describe and activity or how a link could be used.

Go to Art, The Tale of Beatrix Potter, and Artists for Research from Lakewood Public Library for an example of links in sentences.

You may also want to list special features or needs such as plugins.


Sometimes you want to include directions for using particular websites or resources. For example, you might take users step-by-step through searching a reference resource or database.

Go to British Authors and Middle Ages & Renaissance from Lakewood Public Library. Notice how they built in a search tool right into their page.

Go to EIC Resources. Scroll down through the step-by-step instruction and tips.

Some electronic resources are restricted to local users. In many cases a password or local library card is needed.

Go to Aliens: Invasive Plant Species and Natural Disasters from Lakewood Public Library. Scroll to the bottom of the page and notice the links to subscription databases. These require a library card for access.

Go to CLIP Template. Check out the tabs for some great instructions and tutorials you can incorporate into your projects.

Search Strategies and Key Words

Your pathfinder is simply a starting point for student exploration. Many times students will need to go beyond your materials to find answers to their questions. Provide users with strategies for a successful search. For example, you might provide a list of vocabulary, key words, or related topics.

Go to the Internet Public Library Pathfinders such as Greek Mythology. They provide ideas for search searching for additional information. For example, instead of just searching for Greek god, look for a specific name such as Zeus.

Go to Animal Pathfinder and and Countries from Travilah. Notice the way guidance is provided step-by-step through the research process.

Go to the EIC Resources. Notice the suggestions for seaching.

Go to A River Runs Through It. Notice the suggested search terms and ideas.

Go to Controversial issues. Notice how databases are defined and suggestions are provided for searching.

In some cases, you might even suggest ways for users to organize their ideas in the form of charts or diagrams. For example, you might link to a trial version of the Inspiration software for making


Pathfinder Activity

Think about ways to incorporate or encourage effective use of the resources in the pathfinder. For example, you might suggest activities, projects, or link to WebQuests that might contribute to the learning experience. Or, list essential questions associated with the material or pose interesting dilemmas.

Go to Huck Finn Research Paper. Explore the tabs and notice the guidance provided throughout the pathfinder.

Go to Ernie's Anmal Phyla Project. Notice the tabs that include Assignments and Writing & Citing.

Go to African American History and Culture. Notice the short project activities that introduce each category of web links.

Go to History Day. Notice the list of project options and requirements.

Go to Math of Finance. Notice how assignments are listed with website resources.

Got to Reading Anthology. Notice the requirements in the left column.

When possible link or direct students to specific resources to address particular problems or issues. For instance in a social issues pathfinder, you might suggest a number of specific searches

Go to the Relocation Research Project from Lakewood Public Library. This page would be a good starting point for lots of different math and social studies activities. Do some brainstorming. What kinds of projects could students do with the information on this page?


Plan a series of events or promotions around a pathfinder. Consider including photographs from special events or promotions in your pathfinder. For example, you might include a photograph of a display of books or a volunteer who is dressed in historic clothing.

Go to Camp Invention from Lakewood Public Library. Although it's dated now, this pathfinder provides an example of providing a context for a pathfinder. Kids use the pathfinders as part of a larger Camp Invention project.

Go to Creative Cooking Class from Lakewood Public Library. Notice their Chicken Contest!

Interactive Elements

How can you get users more involved with the pathfinder resources? For example, could you include a participatory element? Use the pathfinder to help children and young adults connect with each other. Maybe you could develop a library book club, science fair study group, or nature club. Use pathfinders to guide their activities. The clubs wouldn't have to meet face-to-face. They could use virtual gathering places including threaded discussions, forums, and chats. Incorporate a blog into the experience.

Go to Modern China Graphic Novel. Notice that tabs lead students to assignment sheets and a Google Doc for collaboration.

Consider generative projects where people could add their own ideas to the pathfinder. Children could contribute their drawings or teens could send in their essays. You could link to these projects and begin building your own collection of materials that would grow over time.

Go to Civil War Scrapblog. Notice that users will be creating a scrapblog. Go to the Technology Resources to see the tools uses in the project.

Interactive projects could also be built into the pathfinder such as questions and answers, quizzes, games, and other fun activities. To find these online, do a search for your topic and add the word "quiz" or "game".


What advice would you give to people doing research in this area? Are there specific areas of focus you'd suggest or things to avoid? Also, think about information about copyright and citing sources.

Go to How to Research Oceanography. Notice the information about copyright on the entry page.

Go to AP Psychology. Notice how Citation Information is incorporated into the pathfinder.

Consider adding information about website evaluation.

Go to Ursula le Guin pathfinder. Notice how information is provided about website evaluation.

Go to The Alchemist. Notice the resources on website evaluation.

If young people will be doing a particular type of project such as a presentation or report, consider providing ideas and guidance.

Go to Presentation Tips. Notice how this page is part of a pathfinder focusing on U.S. Policy.

Also consider materials that might be useful for teachers. You might even call it the "teacher corner" or "parent connections." Search for your topic and add the world "WebQuest," "lesson," or "parent" to see if you can locate associated materials on your topic.

Contact Information

Be sure to include your contact information so people can email you with ideas and suggestions for improvement!

Go to Butterflies from Newbery Public Library. Notice the email link at the bottom of the page.

Go to Biology 580 - Evolution and Ecology. Notice the contact information in the right column.

eye means readRead the off-site article Project Pathfinder/Portal Pages by Alice Yucht. It describes pathfinders and portals as great inquiry-based

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