As a librarian, I love teaching informational literacy to students of all ages. This is such an important skill for our students to learn and practice. And. . . there’s so much more than just the final project. In fact, most of the learning happens before the final project as students learn to find, analyze, and organize information. Keep reading to find out how I facilitate the completion of a research project during library time.
We are going to dive right into completing a research project in this post. If you don’t feel you are there yet, check out my post on teaching the research process. That blog post details the skills I teach leading up to the project and how we prepare to dive into a research project.
Planning the Research Project
Before you begin the research project there are some things you will want to have already decided. Having answers to these questions will ensure that you have a well-thought-out project. Here are the questions you want to start with as you are planning your research project:
- What topic will students be researching?
- Will you assign the specific topic or let students choose their own from a provided category?
- Will students work in groups or by themselves?
- Will students be able to use any other time (class time, computer lab, at home) to work on their research?
- What sources do you want students to use? For books, make sure to 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? Make sure to screen the selected websites to make sure they are appropriate for students.
- How will the information be presented in the final project? Will there be one final project or can students choose from pre-selected choices?
Final Project Options
There are many different options you can choose to have students present their research. You can stick to the more traditional written report or poster projects or have students create a Google Slides or PowerPoint presentation. You can also have them create a video or podcast, make a collaborative ebook, or design a Google site. The possibilities are really endless.
But while there are endless possibilities you want to make sure the options you select work for you. 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.
For younger students having a project choice that allows them to share what they learned through pictures, orally, and limited writing are good options. I would avoid typing unless you have some parent volunteers who can assist. Not because it is impossible, but because each and every word takes time. Not something you have if you are helping an entire class or grade level on your own.
Older students allow those possibilities to substantially increase because they can do more independently. If technology is going to be used (computers, video cameras, microphones, etc.) consider the amount of technology you have available. Unless I am working in conjunction with the writing teacher, then I love to give students options that line up with a variety of different learning styles. Write a song, create a picture book, perform a skit, or make a movie. All of these are viable options that will keep students engaged and focused on their projects.
Research Project Steps
When it is time to begin our research project I always start by introducing the project to the class. I explain that we will be starting a research project and working on it over the next several library classes. I remind students of the skills we have already learned and how we will be putting those skills together for this project.
The topic is one of the first things I tell students. I do this because it usually is met with lots of excitement. Choosing a topic that students will find engaging is key. If you feel that your topic won’t be met with excitement then focus on other aspects of the project to get that initial buy-in.
Some of the topics I like to use include animals, famous people, and a state or country.
Once I have given an overview I like to start with some of the specifics. I love students to know, from the beginning, the overall goal of the project. Over the years I have found that being specific with this is really helpful and will help answer lots of questions before they arise.
I like to let students know not only the topic but also the specific types of information that they will be looking for. This is really important at the elementary school level where students are still in the early learning phases of research projects.
If my students were doing a project on a specific state I might use this as my goal overview:
“You will choose a state in the United States and research facts about that state. You will have specific questions to answer about the state like what is the capital, what are the major landmarks, what is the population, and what fuels the economy. Once you find the information you will complete a Google slideshow presenting the information you found.”
For younger students, I might choose a research project on an animal. This might be the goal overview:
“You will research an endangered animal. You will include why they are endangered, how many are left in the wild, a physical description of the animal, where they live, and what they eat. Then you will create a poster with all the information you found.”
When introducing the project I love showing students some examples of past projects. I find that this visual really helps them understand what they will be working on. Sometimes I have examples ready to show and other times I have them on display in the library to build some excitement and anticipation.
The final, but important piece of information, is the timeline of when everything needs to be completed. But I don’t just give them a deadline. Instead, we talk about how different parts of the project will be due at different times so that we can meet the final due date.
Organizing the Research Project
Let’s talk about organizing all.the.things! Overseeing a research project can produce lots of stuff. From notes to drafts to half-finished final projects – having a way to keep everything safe and organized is important. Keeping everything organized can be challenging, especially if you are doing a paper report. So having a plan is important!
If you doing the research project in conjunction with the classroom teacher determine whether the things will be stored in the classroom or the library. If you are doing this project on your own then make sure to set aside some dedicated space for storing all the parts and pieces of the research project.
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. This keeps all the papers for one class together and I can quickly pass things out.
Another option is to give each student a file folder. Inside the file folder, I tape a checklist that students can have to track their progress through the project. I have found it very helpful to create a checklist document that includes all the steps or papers that each student will need to complete. This provides them with a great visual of their progress. I also tape or glue an envelope into the folder. This is used to hold the note cards that students create during the note-taking phase of the project.
Time to Get Started
If you have followed the steps in this post, you have successfully planned, introduced, and organized your research project. There’s nothing left to do then dive right in!
If you would like to have some ready-to-use research projects where much of the work has been done for you, then check out these options. I have pulled together all the resources I use from some of my favorite project topics so that you can use them too.
For younger students, I highly suggest an animal research project. Here are two options that work well with kindergarten through 2nd grade.
For students in 3rd grade through 6th grade, I would suggest one of these research projects.
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