We are thrilled to welcome Chloe from Lucky Chlover Writing to Minds in Bloom today! Chloe has written a really informative and insightful blog post about how to inspire a love of research in your students. If you’ve had a hard time engaging your students in research projects and informative writing, then you definitely want to keep reading to learn from Chloe!
If you teach Reading or Language Arts, you’ve likely heard the phrase, “I don’t know what to write about!”
Not only is this frustrating for you, the teacher, but it’s also frustrating for the student. There are several ways to avoid this phrase or to at least minimize its frequency. If you’re teaching informative or persuasive writing, the topic will help to determine the level of student engagement; if kids are interested in the topic, they are much more likely to be inspired in the research and writing process.
Educational studies show that student outcomes and achievement are highest when students are engaged. This seems obvious, right? However obvious it may seem, teachers sometimes (understandably) get so caught up in the preparation for standardized tests that their writing and research instruction become “dull” for students. They don’t have to be.
How do you make them engaging? By choosing an inspiring topic, modeling, guiding, and applying it to real life.
Choose the Research Topic Wisely, Combined with Choice/Individualization
I wanted to start with this because I believe that it envelops all of the other points. The topic should stir a desire to learn in students of every age. An engaging topic is so important that it can set the tone of your entire research and writing unit right from the beginning.
If you start class by saying, “Today, we will be researching the proper way to apply to lotion to your aunt’s feet,” students may not rush to put pencil to paper (or maybe they will…who knows?).
However, if you say, “Today, we will be researching the different dog breeds of the world,” all of the animal lovers (who, anecdotally, populate primary school classrooms in droves) will be begging to start! (If you think dogs would be a topic that interests your students, then click on the picture or this link for a full research/writing unit on dogs!)
A cross-curricular topic would be best. If you’re not self-contained and you can collaborate with the students’ other subject area teachers, this would be ideal! Ask the Social Studies and Science teachers for interesting topic ideas that reinforce or enhance their content. Students will get a deeper understanding of the material in both subject areas!
Once an overall topic is chosen, I have found that students are more excited about writing when they have choice and can individualize their research subject. If the assignment is about famous inventors, for example, then allow students to choose which inventor to research. This will help with student buy-in and ownership of what they are writing. It also lends itself more easily to a final project or presentation so students can show off their specialized knowledge.
We know that on state standardized tests, they may not receive a writing prompt that interests them, and that’s okay! If they have learned how to collect information from the text(s) and organize it into an essay in the classroom beforehand, they can still apply the same writing principles when it comes time for assessment.
Model and Guide
After giving a clear task, such as informational or argumentative writing, it’s not as simple as giving students a topic and setting them off on their own. Research shows that one of the most successful ways to teach students to research and write is to model, or show them how to do it.
To make the task clear, the assignment should have:
- A clear topic (ocean animals? U.S. presidents? types of rocks?)
- A clear purpose (are they to inform or persuade?)
- A clear audience (are they writing for teachers? parents? peers? the community?)
- A guide (what information and details are needed?)
Whether you’re using technology and the internet to research or you have a physical text provided, the students should be shown the thought process of how to research and be provided with an example (similar to close reading). Don’t be afraid to mark up a copy of the text on your overhead projector or SMART Board to show them what to do. It can be effective to go back to each part of the task to let students know that you’re keeping the topic, purpose, audience, and specific details in mind as you research and record information.
Once modeling is finished, students should utilize a “guide.” As the teacher, you are technically still guiding them, but a focused and specific outline should be provided. Students (especially in lower grades) should not research with a blank piece of paper, as they easily become distracted and confused about which details they are trying to find.
Apply to Real Life
Why have students write if it doesn’t apply to something in real life? Almost every topic can be relatable to something in the real world. If the topic your students are writing about informatively/persuasively does not correspond with anything in the real world, try to think of a way to adapt it so students can use it.
For example, going back to the “dogs” research topic, I assigned a persuasive essay to my fourth graders about why it is important to adopt animals instead of to “shop.” After students wrote their essays, we sent the essays to the local shelter, where they were displayed on the walls, and we sent them to the local newspaper, where they were published on the opinion page. The shelter manager then came in to teach about dog safety, which was very interesting to my students (and they also got to see a dog at school!). Inspired, my students, on their own, asked me if we could start a donation drive for the local shelter. After clearing it with parents and my principal, we did just that! We collected supplies for the cats and dogs at the local shelter. Students were excited to experience the results of their efforts, and they learned that words are powerful!
All of this real-world experience, plus the realization that they have the power to change the world, made our research/writing unit hands-on, meaningful, and extremely engaging.
What are some unique and engaging ways you get your students to love researching? Tell us below in the comment section!
My name is Chloe from Lucky Chlover Writing, and I am so honored to be a guest blogger on Minds in Bloom! I have taught ELA/Reading from 4th to 8th grade, and my goal is to teach students to love to write. I am a mommy to my sweet girl and also a book lover! You can follow me on Instagram, check out my blog, or visit my store on TPT to have access to my writing and research resources!