Knowing how to research is an important skill for our students, but it can seem overwhelming and tedious when students first see a research assignment. When it comes to teaching students how to research and how to write a research paper, it is definitely a process. Teaching research paper writing takes time. Check out some of my favorite tips for teaching research in secondary ELA.
1. Teach well-thought-out research questions.
This is one of the first skills to focus on because it sets the tone for the whole project. Students either need to be given the research questions, or they should have some sort of teacher-check to make sure they are keeping to the topic. Questions that are too broad will leave them sifting through too much information, and questions that are too narrow will make it hard for them to find sources and do their research. You can assist students by walking them through a short process of evaluating their topic and completing some preliminary research.
2. Teach the difference between reading and research.
I sometimes get the student who takes their highlighter and starts coloring the whole article. Students need to be taught the difference between just reading their articles versus using it for research. When they read they are taking in information, getting an understanding of the topics. Students ought to read what they research, but there’s an extra layer that sometimes is overlooked. Research is taking that knowledge learned and making inferences, or generating new ideas. That process of using the information from their reading is what makes something research. Make sure your students understand that their “research” is more selective than just taking a whole article and using its ideas.
TIP: Have students look for the answers to their research questions as they read through their sources. The act of answering their research questions will help them as they work through the research process.
3. Teach how to narrow search items.
The easy thing to do is pop the whole research question into Google and click on the first website. But we know that’s not always the best. Teach students how to narrow down what comes up in their searches. What does a legitimate website look like? How do they cipher through the search results and select the best fit? How do they take their research question and phrase it to find the best information? This will be one of your students’ best skills, in my opinion, when they begin to hunt for sources.
4. Teach how note-taking works (and citations).
Now that your students have a well thought out question and they know how to find good sources, they need to take good notes for their research. In addition to just highlighting everything, I also have seen many students struggle with creating their notes. Encourage students to use short phrases and to not write down word-for-word quotations. Recall is the operative goal – so model or provide note-taking sheets if needed. It’s also beneficial to show students how to organize their notes. There are a variety of options but I find color coding to be one of the easiest methods to teach and for students to understand. Don’t forget to include citations and ensure that students understand how and when to use them. One thing I like to do with my students is have them keep research notes as they research. In their notes, they should record a summary (in their own words) of the information they’ve researched, at least two key quotes, and the MLA citation.
5. Teach the importance of drafts.
It’s an important step that, honestly, I know students overlook unless I specifically ask for a draft. It’s up to you how detailed you want drafts – I honestly have been fine with detailed outlines. That also saves me some detailed grading. I’m already going to grade the essay – it makes no sense to also grade a draft. Count it as participation or have students peer exchange (this is also a great skill to practice anyway). Or you can ask students to assess their own writing, what is one area they really need to improve on that they could focus on in their draft? You can then monitor their progress with independent teacher meetings. At this point in the process, I like to inform my students that they might need to go back in and do more research. I assure them that it is perfectly okay if they need to do that. It’s all part of the research process.
6. Teach creative presentations.
If you’re focused on teaching research is there anything that says it has to be a paper? Find creative formats for presentation, and give your students options. Think about more than just creating slides for a public speaking option (although some of my extroverted students thrive with this). Try a newsletter, “website”, trading cards, Twitter feeds, Tik Tok inspired videos, or let your students come up with appropriate presentation ideas. Let their passions shine through. One of my favorite ways to have students showcase their research is through a visual essay.
“Research” doesn’t need to be a dull project for your students. Take time to front-end the work with some of these tips and help your students hone their skills. I have a full bundle of research preparation available in my store here. It includes tons of activities for paraphrasing, quoting, summarizing, MLA citations, writing and academic vocabulary.