When it comes to teaching students how to write a research paper, there is one area where students struggle: writing a guiding research question. Oftentimes, their research questions are either too vague or off-topic.
Teaching high school students how to formulate a research question is an important skill that will help students succeed not only on their research paper assignments but in other areas of their lives as well.
A well-formulated research question helps students focus their research, determine the relevance of the information they seek, and effectively communicate the purpose of their research to others. It is the starting point for teaching students how to write a research paper.
|Research Paper Writing Teaching Unit
Here are some steps for teaching high school students how to formulate a research question:
- Start by introducing the concept of a research question. Explain that a research question is a specific question that a student aims to answer through research. It should be focused, clear, and specific, and should reflect the student’s interests and curiosity about a particular topic.
- Next, help students brainstorm potential research questions. Encourage them to think about topics that they are interested in and to consider what they would like to learn more about. Encourage them to be creative and to consider different angles on a topic. One thing I like to do is have students brainstorm on a T-chart: what they know about the subject and what they would like to know about the subject.
- Once students have identified a potential research question, help them refine it. Encourage them to make their question as specific as possible, and to consider the feasibility of answering it through research. For example, a general question like “What is the history of the American Revolution?” is far too open. Instead, it can be refined to a specific question like “How did the role of women in the American Revolution differ from their role in other major revolutions of the time period?”
- Finally, encourage students to test the validity of their research question. Have them consider whether their question is answerable through research, and whether it is relevant to their interests and the broader context of their academic or personal goals. If after a quick search students are not finding anything remotely close that answers their questions, they should go back and refine their research question.
Here are some examples of research questions that high school students might consider:
- How has the role of [topic] changed over the past 50 years?
- What are the effects of [topic] on [topic]?
- How did the [topic] impact the lives of [topic] in the [topic]?
- How have [topic] changed over the past century, and what has influenced those changes?
Remember, the goal of teaching high school students how to formulate a research question is to help them develop the critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are essential for success in academia and beyond. When students truly understand and grasp this skill, they gain far more knowledge than just the stepping stone for writing a great paper. By guiding students through the process of formulating a research question, you can help students become more confident, independent learners.
You might also be interested in the blog post about research paper topics for secondary ELA students.