Four Easy Tools for Teaching Research

Research is one of the most exciting activities for students. They can select a topic of interest and become experts on it, which is incredibly empowering and motivating.

Research can also be unwieldy. And that’s OK. It should be. The surprising turns of the research process helps us develop important life skills like perseverance, problem-solving, organization, and discernment.

However, scaffolding for research is essential. As one of my administrators always says, “We have to paint the parking lot.” If we don’t provide tools for the research process, students may produce inferior products, or even worse, become so overwhelmed that they won’t begin.

With that in mind, here are four tools that will make research more achievable for your students.

1.  Five Quick Questions to Evaluate a Website

These questions can help students quickly and easily assess the quality of information on a web page. In a digital age, much of our research is online. However, the ease of online publishing results in a wide range of quality. These five simple questions help students feel much more confident about when they should use an online source.  They are essentially a variation of the CRAP test that many teachers use, but I find that students are more likely to use this concise and targeted sheet.

2.  Finding Dulcinea

Finding Dulcinea’s developers call it “the Librarian of the Internet.” It’s a site that evaluates different online sites and articles for quality, and then collects them.  When you complete a search, Finding Dulcinea will present its collected sites to you. If there are no collected sites, it will offer you an option for “selected” sites, which directs you to generally reputable sites like CNN, the New York Times, and the Smithsonian. Finding Dulcinea doesn’t suit the needs of every student’s topic, but it’s always worth checking out.

3. Cornell Note-taking Google Doc

There is nothing cutting-edge about this form. It’s simply a digital variation of Cornell notes. I have students make several copies of the form in their Google Drives. They use a copy for each promising source they find (which is cited at the top of the form). Students list subtopics of their research in the far left column if they already have an outline. If they haven’t gotten that far, I simply ask the to write questions they have about their topic in the left column to get them going. Once they have determined if a source is of adequate quality, they read with the purpose of looking for information about those topics in the left column. When they find a good source and have cited it, they can copy and paste information directly form the source into the second column. What teachers like most about this form is that the third column prompts students to paraphrase the quotes in their own words. This process reminds students both to avoid plagiarism and develop their own writing voices.

4. Former Students’ Papers and Products

Many students feel uncertain of what the expectations are for their final products. Having them examine successful examples from other students helps them feel more confident about the process. These papers and products can serve as mentor texts that help students better understand important research writing components like theses and citations. Check out this post about a lesson where I used former student papers to teach research writing.


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