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English Language Learning subject guide

This guide can help English language learners as well as students who are studying to become ELL teachers

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Basic Search Tips

SearchUnlike Google, library databases can't understand an entire sentence. So you'll need to break your topic down into the most important ideas - the KEYWORDS.


Example Topic: What is the impact of dual language education on students' attitudes towards college?


The specifics of your topic will matter when selecting sources, but for searching you only need the most essential components.


Keywords: Impact, dual language education, students, college


Most words have synonyms that mean the same, or very similar, things. For each keyword in your topic, try to come up with at least one synonym. Not all keywords will have synonyms, but many do!


Keyword: college    Synonym: higher education


Keep an Eye Out

Sometimes scholars use terms that you might not be familiar with, or which might mean something very specific within the discipline. While searching, look for unfamiliar terms or words that show up a lot. Try searching for those and see if you find more relevant sources.

Most library databases have search tools built in. Try some of these:  


  • Subject: Think of subjects as official hashtags. Use them to find sources about that subject.
  • Date Range: Limit your search to sources published between specific years.
  • Peer Reviewed: Limit your search to scholarly journal articles.
  • Full Text: Make sure all of the results are available to read in full.

Look on the left and right of your search results, or for an "advanced search" page to find these tools - and more!


You can evaluate any source using the 5 W's:

  • Who: ...wrote it? Are they an expert?
  • What: the purpose of this resource?
  • Where: ...was this information published? ...does the information come from?
  • When: ...was this published or last updated?
  • Why: this resource useful? this resource better than other ones?

Advanced Search Tips


Use the operator AND to find only sources that mention both keywords.

dual language education AND  college


This search will bring back fewer results

than searching either keyword on its own.

Use the OR operator to expand your search with additional keywords.

college OR higher education

This will find sources that include either word, so you'll see more results than by searching for just one keyword.



Use the “QUOTES” strategy to search for several words in a phrase.

"dual language education"                                    

This will bring back results that only use that exact phrase.