High School Writing for Research Papers
The High School Research Writing Course will explore the research process from the prewriting stage to the revision stage. Students will plan and develop one research report, practicing and mastering each step of the research process before moving on to the next step. At the end of the class, students will be able to plan, develop, draft, and revise a research paper with parenthetical citations and Works Cited page, all utilizing MLA style. This course will prepare students for writing research reports for school assignments.
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Unit 1 – Choosing a Topic
Students explore why research is important. Students select a general topic for research, they make a list of key words to help search for information, and they find an overview of their topic.
Unit 2 – Gathering Information
Students become “research hounds” when they spend as much time as possible finding all the research available. This is probably the most time-consuming part of the research paper. Students refine their research subject and write a statement of purpose on their chosen topic.
Unit 3 – Compiling and Organizing Information
Students brainstorm questions about their focused topic, group questions under similar headings, and add any new questions. In this phase, students begin to create an outline. They also begin thinking about a thesis statement and a Works Cited page.
Unit 4 – Preparing to Write
After completing the outline, students start thinking about the first draft. Students list more key words, identify the best sources to use, begin making note cards, and create a “working” thesis statement. Brainstormed questions guide the note taking.
Unit 5 – Writing the Body of Your Paper
Students refocus the thesis statement if necessary and write the body of their paper from their outline and notes.
Unit 6 – Introduction, Conclusion, Citations
Students use this time to write the introduction and conclusion. It is also the time to include the parenthetical citations in the body paragraphs.
Unit 7 – Documenting Sources/Composing the Works Cited Page
Students spend this week finalizing the citations and completing the Works Cited page. Any parenthetical citations must have a corresponding listing on the Works Cited page. This is the part that trips up many a student when composing a research paper, so they spend this week working on overcoming any confusion or problem in this area.
Unit 8 – Final Draft
Students now must carefully evaluate, revise, and proofread their paper. This is one of the most important parts of the process, and it’s also the one that students tend to do too quickly. Once finished with the laborious writing of the research paper, they must go through this part of the process more than once in order to submit their very best work.
There are three things every teacher should do before taking their students to the computer lab to research information for their research papers: teach the difference between reliable and unreliable sources, check to make sure every student has a self-generated research question, and help prepare students with key phrases and words to search.
Whenever I begin teaching the research paper, I always share with my students the story of how I wrote my Master's thesis paper. It was a 50 page paper with 50 different sources.
I don't do this to toot my own horn. I don't do this to scare my students away from post-secondary education. I don't do this to make the students feel like their research assignment is petty and small. I do this so that I can explain the process of research to them and so that they know I was once in their shoes.
So how exactly do you write a 50-page research paper that has 50 unique, credible sources? One source at a time.
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Find Credible Sources
When teaching the research paper to my secondary ELA students, I first show them about research and credible sources. Before students can even begin looking for their sources, they have to know how to distinguish between reliable and unreliable sources. Being able to do so is the first step in finding a reliable source.
As a rule of thumb, I prefer that my students only use .org, .gov, and .edu sources. I tell them they can use .com sources, but that they have to get my approval first. I also tell my students about Google Scholar and ERIC. Those are both free databases that students can use to find reliable resources.
Once I feel my students have a firm understanding of the sources they will be looking at, we then dive into the research topic, and the students select their issues related to the main topic.
One of the critical parts of teaching the research paper to students is having them come up with their self-generated research question. To do this, I encourage students to work collaboratively and talk about their research topics. They can work in small groups to see what their peers would like to know about that matter. Working in small groups first provides extra support for EL and struggling students. From there, students come up with their question to answer. There is also a graphic organizer in myResearch Paper Writing resource that is especially helpful during this process.
Brainstorm Key Words
Once students have a self-generated question, it is time to get students to think about keywords and phrases they will use in their search for sources. All too often I see students typing precise, wordy questions into a search engine. This only creates frustration for the students as well as the teacher. Taking half a class to discuss keywords and phrases helps students tremendously, and it even speeds up the research process because students can find credible sources a lot easier. When teaching keywords and phrases to my students, I encourage them to type no more than four words into the search engine. I tell them that they must think of the most important words directly related to their topic.
To help students think about keywords and phrases they can use in the search engine, have them think about hashtags for their research topic. This fun, easy, and engaging strategy will get students thinking about what to research and what is explicitly related to their subject.
This blog post is the first post in a series about teaching students about research writing.
If you are interested in teaching the research paper to your students, check out my Research Paper Writing lesson. This lesson includes an editable PowerPoint presentation, a research paper assignment, and everything you will need to work on the entire research paper writing process with your secondary students.
Read more about research in the classroom with Part 2 which covers research paper topics and Part 3 which includes using Google Apps for research.