Screen Shot 2012-11-22 at 10.44.15 AMLast year, I assigned my kids a quick research project. The assignment page on Google Docs included some suggested resources as well as some guiding questions. As I walked over to one pair of students, they dutifully clicked on one of the links included in the document.

As soon as they started reading, though, they forgot what they guiding questions were. So they went back, and then they went forward, and they wasted a few minutes getting started. What they should have done from the beginning was open the link in a new tab.

Tabs allow you to keep multiple web pages open at one time in your browser and click back and forth between them. In this case, the students could easily have kept the assignment open in one tab and kept the resource they were reading in another. If they were typing up notes on their reading, they could have opened up Google Drive in a third tab.

When Do You Want to Use Multiple Tabs?

All modern web browsers now support tabs, and as we do more things on the web its increasingly important for efficiency and you’re sanity that you know how to use them. Here are a few situations in which you might want to use an extra tab.

  • Use multiple websites at once. Like the students in the example above, you may want to use multiple web pages at the same time. It’s inefficient to keep going back and forth, and it makes more sense to keep both webpages open. For example, as a teacher, I typically keep Google Drive, Gmail, Schoology, and Focus (our SIS for attendance and grades) open on my laptop. I can quickly switch to any of these important websites without losing my place on another one.
  • Perform a quick Google search. So you’re reading something, and you have a random question. Rather than losing your place on the article or website you’re currently reading, open up a brand new tab. Go to Google and find an answer to your question. When you’re done, close the new tab and the original website is sitting there waiting for you.
  • Explore a link in an article. While reading an article, you see a link to something that might be interested. You plan on returning to finish the current article, so it makes sense to open the link in a new tab. As with the above example, you can then close the new tab when you’re done and simply end up back at the original article.

So How Do You Open a New Tab?

There are a lot of different ways to open tabs, including keyboard shortcuts, context clicks, and menus. Here’s a quick run-down of some of the common ways to open a new tab in your web browser.

  • Click on the “New Tab” button. The simplest way to open up a new tab is to click on the “New Tab” button. This is typically at the top of the web browser’s window, to the right of the right-most open tab. It typically has a plus sign on it. This will simply open up a new, empty tab for you to use.
  • [Ctrl T] or [Command T]. Another option is to use keyboard shortcuts. On a PC, Control-T will open a new tab, while on a Mac you would want to press Command-T. Again, this will open a blank, new tab.
  • Use the menu. Gosh, these seem old fashioned. But applications have menus, and under “File” there’s an option titled “New Tab” (in Chrome) or something similar (in other web browsers). Use it to open a new tab.
  • Right-Click on a Link. If you right click on a link, a small menu (called a “context menu”) will appear. One of the first options will be “Open Link in New Tab” (in Chrome) or something similar (in other web browsers). This will create a new tab and go directly to that link.
  • Command Click or Control Click. If you want to get real fancy, you can use a combination of keys and clicks to open a link in a new tab. If you hold down the Command button on a Mac or the Control button on a PC and then click on a link, your browser will automatically open a new tab in which to view that link. It’s just like right-clicking and using the context menu, but it’s a bit quicker.

So next time you’re reading something online and you want to go exploring, use one of these methods and open up a new tab. It’s something you’ll need to do in your professional practice, and it’s a skill you’ll need to teach your students if they do any amount of work on a computer.