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?