Teaching Research Skills

I learned many things during distance learning, but one of the biggest lessons was that there are more interesting ways to teach students the skills they need for research. 

We tend to teach research through a series of lessons and activities that lead students toward a research essay full of carefully selected sources, perfectly embedded quotations, and meticulously crafted works cited pages.

Or not. 

Most often, if you're lucky, you'll get a reasonable facsimile of the mythical paper I just described.

The reality is that students often struggle with the research process. If writing and research is not their "thing," many find the process boring and even difficult. However, it doesn't have to be that way because you can teach research skills with activities that will actually engage students - and help them learn to research properly.

Researching is a very natural activity

We do it all the time. In fact, a Google search may even have brought you here. And when you're done reading the post, you may look up a recipe for your new air fryer, or start wistfully looking for vacation spots for when you can finally travel again. 

Most of us spend a lot of time searching for answers on the Internet, and our students are no different. That's why remote learning provides a wonderful opportunity to help them hone their research skills - if we do it the right way.

And what is that? Well, I don't know for sure, but I do have three suggestions for you - and several free resources to get you started!

1. Tap into students' interests

In my experience, one of the biggest reasons students struggle with the research process is that they bite off way more than they can chew. They choose topics that are too big to cover in a short paper, or ones that they have no interest in because they think they should choose something complicated. I've read so many papers that are deadly dull because the students had zero interest in the topic and very little understanding of it.

When students connect to a topic, they will be more engaged and they will write better. It's as simple as that. 

So I start the research process with an activity that zeros in on something that my students are probably doing already: looking up facts that help them understand things they are wondering about. We use this bell ringer activity, so I can show them that researching is something they do already.

Teaching research skills online

2. Scaffold the skills slowly

The research process can be overwhelming for students. And, if they are doing it at home, it's going to be even more so. That's why I scaffold the process to give them the confidence and skills they need to do it well.

After the bell ringer activity, I ask students to use their"wonders" as the basis of a very short research 
assignment. I don't ask that they paraphrase or quote yet; they just need to explore their "wonder" and submit some notes on what they discovered. It's low stress but lets them dip their feet into the process.

Next, I do some mini-lessons on how to search, paraphrase, and quote, and give students a short assignment that allows them to practice the skills in a way that is not too overwhelming.

3. Assign something fun to showcase what students have learned

Everything students do for us does not have to be fun and exciting. I firmly believe that, and the traditional research essay is something I always do in class, sandwiched between other more engaging activities, because I think it's an important activity for students to do.

But it's a lot easier to help my students with that sometimes arduous process when I have them in front of me, so when they were learning remotely I came up with a creative way to keep them tuned in and working - and it worked so well, that I will be using it forever in the classroom too:  the research magazine.

The process begins with them choosing a topic that they'd like to explore and focuses on the questions they have about that topic. I use climate change as an example and use some of the typical questions that people ask about it - couldn't the weather changes be just random? What does a colder than normal summer say about global warming? 

The next step is to find answers to my questions and then to present them in a format that's a little more interesting than a research paper. 

After the students create an eye-catching cover page, the first page of their magazine introduces the topic, so it's like an introductory paragraph. Then, each page has a focus, so they are kind of like the body paragraphs. And, there's a final page that makes some conclusions - and a works cited page. So, the final result looks much different, but it does the same job as a paper.

One-sliders are another engaging way to have students showcase their research skills - and they take less time than the magazine. They will choose a narrow topic or question. research it, and illustrate their learning on one slide only, using images, paraphrased information, and quotations. The one-slider forces them to think carefully about what they select, so they can create a unified, easy-to-read slide that presents the information in a clear and focused manner.

So, I truly believe that distance learning offers us a great opportunity to teach research skills. Students are home and most likely spending a lot of time online. By offering them engaging assignments that scaffold the skills of effective research, they can learn while they create products they are proud to share - and we are excited to read.  

Don't forget to grab your freebies!

My friends here at the coffee shop have some amazing resources for teaching the research process too. Check them out!

Addie Education: Research and Inquiry Graphic Organizers for Distance Learning

Tracee Orman: MLA Style & Format 8th Ed: Instruction, Practice, Examples Distance Learning

Jackie, Room 213

Back to Top