Activities and Lessons
for Science and Social Studies

Research Paper How-To
~ Renee Goularte

This is what I have done with 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders:

IF there is not a mandated topic, I first spend some time just generating questions about things they wonder. I have been known to spend a couple of days or more doing this. Then I have students choose something that intrigues them and we go from there.

IF students already know their topic, whether it is their own or a mandated one, I then have them write down everything they already know AND as many questions as they can think of about the topic.

Then we do this:

1. Explore books.

2. Write down information they find on binder or white unlined paper, leaving a space between every piece of information. I model how to do this (you'll see why). They start with one piece of paper, not bothering to sort information. This goes on for several days. Maybe a week or more. As they use up a paper, they get another one. During this time, there's a mini-lesson on "important" information and one on "interesting facts."

3. When students have found all the information they need or want or can find, or enough days have passed, I have them cut all their information into strips, with one sentence of information on each strip. Everybody gets an envelope to keep these in.

4. This next step takes some time. Start early in the day. :-) I have each student sort the information they have into categories of their own choosing. Some students will need help finding connections. I tell them that no strip of information can stand alone. They do this sorting on sheets on paper. When the sorting is finished, they actually glue the pieces of information onto the papers, in categories, and write the category at the top of each paper.

5. NOW they are ready to actually write the report, with each sheet of paper serving as the information for a paragraph. So, they put them in an order that makes sense, number them, and proceed.

Depending on the age of the students, I may or may not have them keep track of their resources. Yes for fifth graders, no for third graders. This would be done on a separate sheet of paper from their information and would also be a mini-lesson.

And of course the reports would be illustrated by students.

BUT..... I have also done "picture reports" with students where they have to create a visual display that shows all the information in illustrations (their own) with captions under each illustration. This is done on a sheet of posterboard.

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