When research paper season comes around, I struggle with more than the paper load and the process (which I wrote about here). I also struggle with finding fresh topics. I am a fan of letting students pick topics within boundaries, but I am decidedly not a fan of reading the same trite selections over and over. Last week, while I was listening to This American Life in my car, I was struck with how perfect this NPR show is as a farming ground for engaging research topics.
I've just finished another round of student research papers and as laborious as the grading can be, the process of curating research is one of the most valuable lessons that I teach students heading into our modern world. For the rest of their lives at home and work, students will need to solve problems and reach conclusions based on the incredible expanse of information on the internet. They will need to be able to determine the credibility of sources, understand multiple perspectives, and use resources to form educated responses to their world. Academic research, including research papers can be one step along the path to digital proficiency. (For tips about research paper assignments, click here. For more about teaching students to determine source credibility,click here.)
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.
At my school, 3rd quarter in the English department means one thing: research paper time. We do our best to build on the process every year so that seniors graduate with confidence and a working knowledge of writing research papers and I do think that in this case departmental support is important to effective teaching. Whether you are just starting the daunting task of planning the paper or are looking for a fresh take, I highly recommend the research paper resource product from Simply Novel, which can be purchased as part of the Essay Architect Essay Writing System or separately from TeachersPayTeachers. This Common Core Standards Based (ELA: Writing) product on teaching research papers is full of everything you need to help students grasp the concept of completing research, plagiarism, organizing their sources, using source information, MLA format, deciphering credible Internet sources, and more! In addition to the notes, handouts, and activities included in that resource, I would like to share a couple of my tips for teaching the research paper.