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Creating Sheltered Research and Argument Projects

Posted by Emily Guthrie on Jan 28, 2015 7:00:32 AM

During this time of year, the research paper dominates the English department in my school.  We slog through the sometimes painful and sometimes engaging process of finding credible sources, creating a documented argument, and using MLA format.   I wrote about teaching research papers in this earlier post if you want to know more. Today I want to share a quick tip for creating sheltered research and argument papers without a ton of background work for the teacher. By sheltered research, I just mean that teachers provide the sources for students to synthesize as opposed to students being open to all possible sources. I find that these assignments are ideal for preparing students to do longer, more independent and scholarly research papers later.

Benefits of Sheltered Research: 

  • The teacher controls the type of sources used, which can help students avoid the pitfalls of inappropriate sources.  They must learn about the pitfalls later, but hopefully after they have the confidence to use reliable sources.
  • The research timeline can go much faster when students are given the sources so teachers can fit research in even with other priorities and testing schedules.
  • It is easier to track down plagiarism and misreading when the teacher is familiar with the sources.
  • MLA citation teaching can be more directly guided when the teacher knows exactly what type of sources students will be citing.

Goals of the Assignment: 

  • Students will read professional sources on a given topic.
  • Students will develop a thesis and argument on a topic.
  • Students will synthesize a given number of sources to support their argument.  (I usually say that they must use 3 sources, but that number can vary.)
  • Students will properly quote, paraphrase, and cite sources.

Finding Resources: 

You can take the time to look up articles and print them for students or link them to your website, but I would like to draw your attention to an easier way that may work for you. Many newspapers create online collections around topics, which offer a wealth of contexts and perspectives.  Using them also helps keep the research current without the teacher redoing work every year or so.  Here are some links to topics that may intrigue students:

Students look through the headlines and select articles to read and use.  The nice thing about using a newspaper database is that students have a variety of articles to spin their paper without the significant limitation that results in 30+ identical papers.  Depending on the population you serve, you may need to find newspapers that are more relevant or acceptable to your area.  More scholarly articles can be found in library databases, of course, but I find that newspaper articles are much more accessible to students early in the process of learning.

What do you think? Would you use these resources?  How do you find research to provide to students without spending hours planning?

Topics: Assessments, research, tips, writing

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