Secondary Solutions

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Tips for Teaching The Research Paper

research paper

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 Secondary Solutions, which can be purchased as part of the Essay Architect 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.

1. Think through the types of sources you want students using. We cannot reasonably expect students to decipher sources for credibility and usefulness unless we teach them where to start.  I usually require that my junior students use a variety of 4-7 sources, including a minimum of one encyclopedia, one book, and one credible online source. In my experience, if I don’t put this requirement out right at the beginning, students wait until the absolute last minute and then use less than optimal sources.  Check out this post for more info on teaching students how to determine the credibility of online sources.

2. Break it down into steps.  Procrastination is a serious sport in my high school and sometimes my students want to give up before they even start because the task seems to overwhelming.  Smaller steps help with accountability and attitude.  Depending on the level I am teaching I break down my due dates into something like this:

  • Week 1: Verification of sources
  • Week 2: Thesis and working bibliography
  • Week 3 or 4: Draft
  • Week 5 or 6: Final Paper Due Date

3. Be sure that students ask themselves, “So what?”. In the information age, it is no longer important to simply find the facts.  Students need to look into the causes, effects, or importance of their topics.  Right now, my juniors are writing about topics related to The Great Gatsby and the 1920s. I let each of them pick a different topic from a list I created so they don’t feel like they are all writing the same paper.  I  emphasize the importance of discussing more than timelines, dates, and facts.  I want them to take a critical view of the lasting cultural impact of their topic.  I also have students present their research after the paper deadline, which gives them more incentive to bring out the relevance of their topic, otherwise we will sit through presentation after presentation of dates and places…

4. Explicitly discuss plagiarism in all its many forms. I used to have a line in my research paper prompt that informed students of my zero tolerance for plagiarism policy and I left it at that. However, I’ve learned over the past few years that students don’t always know (or at least feign ignorance of) the definition of plagiarism.  Some students think that the only plagiarism is buying an essay or copying/pasting 100%.  We talk ad nauseam about issues of paraphrasing too closely and taking other people’s ideas.

5. Include time for peer critique, editing, and revisions.  After weeks of struggling through the research process it is so tempting to just collect those suckers and break out the red pen, but if we really want students to improve their writing we need to slog on until the very end with lots of instruction on the process that takes place AFTER the complete paper has been written.  PS Did I mention that this resource also has a peer editing checklist?  ;)

What are your research paper challenges, tips, or ideas?  What are your students researching this year?



Don’t Reinvent the Wheel: Best Google Doc and Presentation Templates

google templates

We create, we share, we borrow, we modify, we teach.

I’ve been trying to be more tech savvy to work smarter and have more time for meaningful connections with students.  One way I am accomplishing this goal is through use of google drive, google forms, google presentations and a host of other little tips and tricks that I share here weekly. (click those links for posts about how I’m incorporating each). I like using a lot of google products and services because they streamline together and for the most part my students have buy in to the google drive system for other areas of their lives so this becomes an academic way to use a tool already in their toolbox.  Not only are these services easy to use for creating and sharing classroom materials, there is also a super handy trick found in the google templates!  All you have to do is sign in to your google account, visit this templates page (or just search for google templates) and click to add to your drive and modify if necessary! There are tons of templates in the catalogue from google and from other users.  You can browse by category, like “Students and Teachers”, or search using keywords.  Below are a couple of my favorites:

Please note, to click and add any of the templates below, you must be signed in to your google drive on the browser.

Jeopardy: Easily modify this presentation to play an interactive jeopardy for review of any topic!


 Presentation Index Cards: Help students prepare for a presentation with these awesome digital index cards that they can use with the device of their choice.

Presentation Notecard

Essay Rubric: I recently wrote about the rubric I use, but I also like this simple, clear option!

Essay Rubric google

Group Presentation Evaluation: This is a great way for students to assess themselves and other group members during collaborative efforts.  The data comes to you as the teacher in the simplest, neatest way I can think of!

Team Evaluation


5 Tips for Successful Parent-Teacher Conferences

At my school, it is time again for parent conferences.  This opportunity can be bitter sweet.  Before I get into my tips for successful parent-teacher conferences, can I just take a moment to explain my love-hate relationship with parent conferences? (Note: Our conferences are organized as open time slots 3 times a year without RSVPs or scheduling)

What I LOVE:

  • when conferences end in successful partnerships between parent and teacher that ultimately foster successful student outcomes
  • when parents have the opportunity to be pleasantly impressed with their offspring


  • when the majority of parents that I really need to talk with do not make it to conference night
  • working late without any breaks the day before/after

Tips for Successful Conferences:

1. Prepare with students. I don’t have the luxury of knowing which parents will attend at what time, and so I prepare all of my students just in case.  To prep, I give each student a manilla folder and ask them to dig through their work and put in a few pieces that they are proud of (1 piece of writing is required, plus homework, tests, projects, and other work that they like). I also have students fill out a brief form that asks: 1. What have you done well this semester?  2. What are you still working on?  3. What was the most interesting topic for you? I give the students a quiz grade for this to ensure that I get them all back.  I then organize the folders in crates so I can easily pull out the student work when a parent comes. With folders in hand, the focus of the conferences is kept with the student work and student voice.  I get a lot of parents who are impressed with the level of work produced.

2. Stay positive and solution-oriented. We all know that we should give positive feedback along with the constructive criticism, but sometimes  in the rush of conferences, we forget to take a step back and remember that parents have entrusted us with the education of their sweet babies (that have momentarily turned into teenagers).  Instead of focusing on the lack of homework or low quiz scores, focus on the opportunities to bring up the homework or assessment grade through future diligence.  I also post or photocopy my office hours, the school tutoring options, and other helpful resources that parents may not know about.  It has to be about the solution.

3. Actively listen. It seems that every year my heart is broken by the stories of the “simple hell people give other people” (Yes, that was To Kill a Mockingbird).  Sometimes students have home issues, learning difficulties, school situations, health concerns, crazy schedules, and a whole host of other obstacles.  More often than not, the only way that we learn about these struggles is by listening, not just waiting to talk.  (Note to self: I am guilty of this one too much!)

4. Watch the time. Don’t spend so long with one parent that another is neglected.   If the conference seems to need more time or is particularly contentious, invite them to schedule something for a later date and potentially with an admin or department chair.

5. Invite future communication.  Tell parents the best way to communicate with you for future concerns.  I am an email girl, so I print small strips of paper with my email address to hand out when needed.  Routine communication can head off some major issues at the pass.

What are your tips for successful parent-teacher conferences?  Leave them in the comment section below!


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