Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Modest Proposal (For Doing Research with Kids)

Very often when I go into schools teachers tell me that they have problems with kids doing research. Two of the most common complaints are:

1.Their students want to use only the internet.
2.They copy sentences directly from their sources when writing up their reports.

I'm sure these two complaints are no surprise to anyone who works or lives with kids.
I have a modest proposal for something to try, either in a classroom or at home. It is a kind of follow up to my last post about "Oh Wow" notes.

When you first have kids do research, separate the research piece from the writing piece. Get them used to good research methods first. Here's a simple plan:

Assignment One: Have each child research something they already know about, and love, but want to know more about. (For this assignment it's really o.k. if the kid who adores engines and knows a lot about them wants to do engines. Don't fight it.) Help your kids narrow down the topics so they're not too general, like dinosaurs, to one kind of dinosaur, but not so specific that it will be difficult to get information. You want to help them make this easy and fun. Tell your students to find three to five OH WOW facts about their topic. Not basic facts, like birth or death date, or size (unless it's a wow), but cool facts that make them really sit up and say, "Oh Wow" or "Cool." Feel free to give these kinds of facts your own name. (Holy Camoly facts or You've Got to be Kidding Me facts...) But here's the rule: They have to use three different kinds of sources and find at least one fact from each source. Here are sources (feel free to add or modify):
1.The internet (you might want to set your own parameters here)
2.A hard copy encyclopedia or other reference book (like an atlas, almanac or dictionary)
3.A non-fiction book written for children
4.A person who knows something about the topic (an expert, or you could count a teacher or a parent or a friend, even--a classmate is good. Joe knows all about cars, so I am going to ask him to tell me something cool about how a hybrid runs).
5.A documentary.
6.A primary source (mostly for older kids, though if they are writing about, say, a favorite food, they could look at Dad's recipe for his very special blueberry pecan pancakes).

After each child has found the three to five cool facts, it is sharing time. Go around the room, and have them tell their classmates and you (or members of the family or homechooling group) what they found out. Aloud.

Repeat this assignment again if you feel like they didn't quite get it, didn't use three different kinds of sources, or didn't find cool enough facts.

Assignment Two: Same as above, but this time they should choose something they think is interesting but don't know very much about. Maybe a little. Or they know about one kind of dinosaur, but want to know about another. Or car. Or dog breed. Or children's book author.

Rinse and repeat if necessary.

Assignment Three: Same as previous two, but this time something they know nothing about, but are interested in. They are going to research to learn about a completely new topic now. But this topic has to be something that they really do want to know about. Feel free to help them, but let them choose. (Or have the illusion of choosing.)

Assignment Four: Assign them topics. You can be challenging to some of the kids who you think have got it down, and easier on some of the others and have them follow the same protocol.

I hope those of you who do this will either comment on the blog and let us know how it goes, or email me directly at Deborah@DeborahHeiligman.com. I will share the results in a future post AND in a future post I will suggest how you take it to the next step--having them do research and then actually writing it in their own words. Here's a hint: you're going to have to hide their notes.

Thanks for listening to my modest proposal. Hey, it didn't involve eating the kids.


CC said...

Wonderful suggestions, Deb.
I'm passing this on to Josh, who is teaching
in Phila. at a charter school and mentions difficulty getting his kids to do real research.

Thanks, Carolyn C.

MotherReader said...

Oh, then you'll love this. My 5th grader had an assignment that was reading the textbook on the computer (because they don't send the textbooks home) and then filling in the phrases on a worksheet where the prompts were exactly from the text! Every indication showed me that we were supposed to copy the text onto the worksheet.

Such a terrible lesson and a huge waste of time. And even dumber when I look at it in context of this complaint about research.

Unknown said...

Assigning kids research papers to write is way too big a bite. I LOVE how you're breaking it up into smaller steps. Finding a "Wow! makes research personal and the student now has some ownership of the material and it is this ownership that will ultimately wean the student away from the source material so that the writing is original, not plaigerized.

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Rosalyn Schanzer said...

I love this post and think these are great ways to motivate kids to do research. But after I read it I had to blink! I realized that as authors, these are exactly the methods we use when we write our books; we find something we're extremely curious about and check out every single one of the angles you mentioned just like a detective. It's so much fun that maybe a few new writers will be born and give us some competition.

Kathleen Krull said...

Hey Deborah - CONGRATULATIONS on not one, but two ALA awards yesterday!!

Anonymous said...

These are wonderful suggestions. I used to teach high school social studies and I wish I'd tried this technique with my students, most of whom still struggled with research. Now I'm a homeschool mom and I'm planning to give finding "Oh Wow!" facts a try soon.

Melissa Stewart said...

Great ideas, Deborah! Thanks for sharing them.

Susan Kuklin said...

These are wonderful suggestions. Can't wait to share them with teachers. And, once again, congratulations for winning the YALSA Award and the Prinz Honor. Now, that's a WOW!

Our INK authors were well represented this year.

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Terry Doherty said...

I love these suggestions. This has some great applicability for starting everyday discussions about "what happened at school today," too. Wow. Cool!

Anonymous said...

I'm enjoying your modesty here. I've spent the past couple of days trying to reform middle school teachers who want to go straight into the 5 page research paper.

BookChook said...

Excellent practical ideas, structured and simple.

Kathleen said...

I work with kids but we don't do research which is too bad because I'd like to try out your suggestions LOL. I think you're onto something for sure.

Lor said...

This is a fabulous idea that could make the concept of research report writing for kids (and their parents) in the home education world easier to manage. I love this "rinse and repeat" idea because it's a step in the right direction without requiring that they commit to a topic for the full monty. Thanks for sharing!

teacherninja said...

Great ideas! (Of course I do something almost exactly like this for my ELL students, so I'm biased). Can't wait to read the second post.