When I assign a research paper—or any research assignment, we never start in the library or computer lab. That’s because I want the students to spend time thinking about what they want to say in their papers. I don’t want to read essays that are just a stitch job, a weaving together of ideas, facts and quotes that relate to their topics. When students start with the research, the papers rarely reflect their own thoughts and just end up being a paraphrasing exercise.
So how do I attempt to prevent that?
1. Students will do a free-write to explore their thoughts on the topic I have assigned.
2. After the free-write they will read through what they have written to try to find an idea that they would like to write about.
3. Once they have narrowed their topics, they write down what they know already, as well as any questions they feel they need answered. Then, they will make notes about what they will need to find out: what do they need more information on? What facts do they need to support their own ideas? Would a quote from an expert strengthen one of their points?
4. Students then write a draft thesis/outline that includes the things they will need to research—not the research itself. This way, they are starting with their thoughts and ideas on the topic and planning to find support, rather than using other people’s ideas as their starting point.
5. Finally, before the research begins, students will spend time thinking about how they can narrow their search, rather than just “Googling” the topic. For example, instead of searching “smoking”, they should search “the effects of smoking on those with asthma”.
Since I've started using this approach, I am much happier with the
end result. The essays I read represent what each student
believes about his/her topic and the research is there to support
their ideas, not as a replacement for them. If you'd like to give
this a try, you can find the graphic organizers I use at my TpT
store. They're free!