Guided Research - A Plan for Students

I used to be frustrated with how research happened in my classroom.  The cycle seemed to repeat itself all too frequently.  I knew students had done various forms of research before they got to me in sixth grade, but there were always huge stumbling blocks in the process.  First, they'd amass a large quantity of books on the subject.  This could take an entire day, had I let it!  Next, they'd blindly look at pages of words, copy a few sentences and toss the book aside, as they grabbed the next one.  There was a definite disconnect between the information they were searching for and the process they were using.

I developed Guided Research as a survival tool for both my students and me.  Breaking kids of the habit of copying word for word instead of paraphrasing and not understanding a thing they wrote was my driving force.  Here’s how it worked. 

  • Round up all resources a day ahead.  
  • Introduce Research Organizers (or any other method you prefer). We talk about different ways they like to take notes, and talk about what's good about each one. (For the record, I really, really, really dislike the infamous spider or octopus-shaped web that has the circle in the center with main idea and smaller circles branching off it.  It limits the space because they draw them too small and there's not room for notes.) I don’t limit how they prefer to take notes. Some students are visual-spatial and have their own method (sticky notes?); others like note cards-whatever works. I model a Research Organizer and may require it, if I have a class that needs more guidance. At any rate, we all practice with this one. 

Note: I consider this mini-lesson part of Day 1. They're excited to get started and usually get a lot of work done the first day.

  • Record bibliography information. At the bottom of the Research Organizer is a space to record resource information. 
 NOTE: is a great tool for instant bibliographies. It walks students through
 the necessary parts and creates their bibliography. If you’re lucky enough to have computers or 
 iPads at your immediate disposal, they can create their bibliographies, as they go. I’d insert a 
 “How to-” lesson using with a few of their  resources before you begin the
  • Model research. It was important for them to know what they were looking for as they took notes.  Once they had a topic, we would brainstorm some ideas they might want to know about that topic.  They would need to add some questions they wanted to know more about, also. KWL charts worked well.  Using a short example text and research organizer, we read the text aloud. I covered the text and asked for ideas they thought were important. We wrote them down with no complete sentences. We then checked the text for accuracy. I then had them read one more time to see if there was anything else they wanted to add. 
  • Set a time limit for the actual research. I usually allowed two or three 40-minute periods, depending on the complexity and available resources. That included Days 2 & 3 mini-share (about 10 min. each). Naturally, the number of days is flexible, depending on their expertise with research.
  • Set expectations for resources used. I prefer they use at least one book. I don’t want them to rely solely on the internet.  I'll be sad when books become obsolete. 
  • Let them know at the end of research, the books and internet are no long available to them. Their notes must support their projects. They may need to refer back to one of their resources, if they can't understand their notes, but then it disappears again.  
  • Day 1-After the mini-lesson it's all about taking notes.  Spot check for accuracy and to make sure they're paraphrasing. Depending on how much they accomplished and the complexity of the topic, some may need to work on it at home. Then something to think about for the next day- Which of their topics did they find specific information on and do they need more in that area? What questions did they answer? Did they come up with new questions, based on what they read today?
  • Day 2- Before they begin their next fact-finding mission, I pair them up for a mini-share.  Each partner has 2-3 minutes to share what they’ve learned so far. They should use their notes. Then, the listening partner has a couple minutes to ask clarifying questions, if something doesn’t make sense. The presenter should make a note to check their resource for information accuracy and clarity.  They switch roles and repeat the process.  I use a timer to keep things moving. After both have shared, everyone goes back to researching their topics.
  • Day 3- Repeat Day 2 but with different partners.  About 10 minutes before  the end of taking notes, have them close books and read over their notes.  This is a last chance to clarify anything that doesn’t make sense. They should now have enough material to complete whatever project is required of them.  
Teaching students to paraphrase was definitely a work in progress.  They tend to have a difficult time trusting that a few words will do the same job as complete sentences, when it comes to learning new material. We also used the research template for note-taking in Social Studies and Science.  It helped them pinpoint key ideas.  While I didn't have 100% proficiency, it was certainly greater than the results I used to get, and they felt more successful.

Research Graphic Organizer is now a free download in my store!  Follow the link and download your copy today!

Retired from testing~ still a teacher!

"I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples." Mother Teresa

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