Google Trends: a great teaching tool for analyses and discussions

Google Trends is a meta-search tool, a search on search. Searches can be interpreted as trends: the more people search for a person, item, etc. the trendier it is (that does not always work, of course, but the general idea should be plausible enough). It works by searching for two or more search terms and comparing searches by plotting them on a time-line. In addition Google Trends plots a second timeline for how often the terms appeared in the news and finds news-stories for peak events in searches.

What makes Google Trends a great teaching tool is not so much the content itself as its potential for spawning interest and engaging discussions in certain topics. When students are confronted with the tool for the first time they, they usually cannot get enough of it and will ask for more. Google Trends can be used in any subject, but I consider it particularly useful for foreign language classes. The tool is a great way of getting students simply to talk.

You can use Google trends in the classroom for
  • interpreting the result
  • analyzing the past
  • making hypotheses about the present
  • predicting the future
  • encouraging research
I typically start by asking the students to guess what is trendier, say, Android or iOS when it comes to smartphones. Then I run the search and discuss the result with the students. In this example, why are people searching for Android much more often than iOS. The answers might range from “People probably search for iPhone rather than iOS” or “Because people need to troubleshoot Android devices much more often” and so on.

Then you can compare the peak search results with news-stories and you even might end up reading one of them or ask the students to browse through them and talk about them. This could also be done as a homework assignment.

Finally, one of the most exciting uses of the tool is to try to predict the future. Of course, that is more a game than serious studies, but the tool certainly does have some predictive power. E.g. when you compare two upcoming movies for searches, it is very likely that more people will watch the movie at the cinema that has more searches (you could do the same for elections). I once was able to predict the winner of “Germany’s next top model” (TV casting show) for a class of mine, without ever having watched it (the students asked for it, when they had understood the idea behind it).

Notwithstanding the seriousness of the query the value of using Google Tools lies in getting the students to think, discuss and possibly research in a very engaging way. By the way, you might want to figure out yourself what the search result means for Android vs iOS ;) 

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