We all know how important it is to teach our students information literacy skills: how to access, analyze, evaluate and communicate information. There are several different research or information gathering models available to teach these skills including the Big6 and the FINDS model from Florida. However, I do not think you need to use a “formal” model as long as your lesson plans cover these skills.
Something to keep in mind is that a research project is more about teaching students the process of finding information, not so much as in the finished product. The primary objective is to teach students problem-solving techniques and how to think critically. You want them to learn how to navigate through large quantities of information to find what they are looking for. Show them how important it is to provide credit to the sources the information came from and how to avoid plagiarism. And finally, provide opportunities for students to present their research in a variety of different ways.
What to Teach First
Completing a research project is really the culmination of many different lessons. There are so many things you need to teach first before any research begins. Most of the lessons I teach in fourth and fifth grade focus on these skills. and include:
- Summarizing and paraphrasing
- Nonfiction text features
- Copyright and plagiarism
- Creating a bibliography
- How to take notes
- How to use online encyclopedias or databases
- How to evaluate information found online
- How to perform an online search
Research Project Overview
This is a general overview of the steps I have my students follow when I assign a research active.
- Select a topic. Brainstorm questions you have about this topic. What questions do you have that can be answered with your research?
- Explore the topic. What do you know already and what do you want to know? Narrow the topic so you can focus your research. Formulate a few research questions.
- Create a plan of attack. Identify the sources that you think will provide you with the best information. This includes print and online sources.
- Gather your information. Take accurate notes. Paraphrase, do not copy. Keep your research questions in mind and do not take notes on information that is not directly related. Keep track of your sources.
- Evaluate the information and check it for accuracy. Think critically about the information.
- Put it all together. Complete some type of project to showcase your information.
Research Project Steps
Below is how I introduce a research activity with my students.
- First, I explain that they are going to be working on a research project over the next several library classes.
- I will discuss the topics they will be looking up. Usually I do an animal, a famous person, state or a country.
- I will explain the goal of the project and be specific. For example, “you will research facts about a U.S. state. You will have specific questions to answer about the state (capital, landmarks, economy etc.) Once you find the information you will complete a Google slideshow presenting the information you found”. Or, “you will research an endangered animal. You will include why they are endangered, how many are left in the wild, a physical description, where they live and what they eat. Then you will create a poster with all the information you found”.
- Show them what the finished product will look like. Will they write a report with a certain number of paragraphs? Will they be doing a Google slideshow or a poster?
- Give them a timeline of when everything needs to be completed.
Tips and Ideas
Keeping everything organized can be a challenge, especially if you are doing a paper report. A few years ago I purchased a bunch of expanding file organizers at Walmart when they were on clearance. I use one for each class, label the tabs with each of the different pages the students will need to complete and then store everything in it.
It is also helpful to create a document with each student’s name and a list of the papers they need to complete. Then as they turn everything in you can check it off.
I still like students to take notes on note cards, however I have found that it can be difficult to keep track of note cards for every class. One idea you can try is to assign each student in the class a file folder to keep all their materials in. Inside the folder glue small envelopes or book pockets and have students store their note cards inside the envelopes.
Things to Decide Ahead of Time:
- What topic will students be researching? (I know that one is pretty obvious!)
- Will you assign a topic or let students choose their own?
- Will students work in groups or by themselves?
- Will students be able to use any other time to work on their research (class time or computer lab time?)
- What sources do you want students to use? If you want to use books (and I think you should) pull the relevant titles ahead of time and make sure they are ready for students to use. You do not want them to be checked out during this time.
- If you want students to use the internet are there any websites you want to limit them to? What about online databases or encyclopedias?
- How will the information be presented?
Presenting Their Information
There are many different options you can choose to have students present their research. Much of this depends on what you have available in your school, the size of the class you are working with, the amount of time you have and the behavior of the students. You can stick to the more traditional report or poster projects or have students create a Google slides presentation. You can also have them create a video or podcast, make a collaborative ebook or a Google site. The possibilities are really endless.
Ready to Get Started?
In my store I have a research skill product that teach the specific skills I discussed above. It is available in both print and a digital Google slides version.
Check out the rest of my research skills activities. They include summarizing and paraphrasing, biography research templates, U.S. states templates and more! Most of these activities are available in both print and digital format for use with Google slides. Click the image to take a look.