Creating a Web-Based Research Notebook: The Basic Layout (Part 1 of 6)

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SWBAT create and layout a simple, four-page website to function as a semester-long, "pre-writing" tool.

Big Idea

a simple Google Site will serve to keep all of a student's pre-research organized

Introduction and Context

15 minutes


Over the years I have taught this class -- and ones like it -- I have thought long and hard about how to create the best "space" for students to save and reflect upon research information -- sources, reactions, ideas, thesis statements and the like.  Recently, I've settled upon a simple four-page website, "The Research Notebook" website, and this lesson is the first of a sequence of lessons regarding the creation and maintenance of just such a site.

The "Research Notebook Site" utilizes four of Google's five basic page templates for each of the four pages, and the templates for these pages help to properly structure the content.  The four pages of each site are detailed below:

  • home page/landing page - made from the webpage template is the portal into the small site ... it includes a bio. and picture for each student as well as "feeds" to internal site content (blog posts and list items) ... the page also includes a "free choice" gadget in order to add a bit of personality 
  • My Research Blog - made from the announcements template is a "poor-man's" blog of research process ... students will write announcements (essentially blog posts) throughout the semester as they work toward the final essay
  • My Research Interests - made from the list template is a dynamic list for saving research ideas and notes along with one URL as a good starting point to the topic ... students are also able to rank research interests in their lists
  • My Portfolio - made from the file cabinet template is an e-portfolio for posting all of the major assignments (summative assessments) from the course ... the portfolio stores Google Docs, .doc, .docx, .rtf., .txt., and .pdf files as well as links to any type of web-based essay or paper


After I briefly explain the various components, I reinforce these ideas by showing this presentation, which puts these ideas into sharper relief.  During the course of the presentation, I show my "live" example site as well.

I describe in greater detail how to create the basic site in the attached screencast.

Also, the lessons following this lesson walk you through an example of an actual "live" site and provide a look at some student examples as well.  Using all of these lessons in concert, will allow you to have good, working knowledge of how you can use Sites to create a "Research Notebook."

Guided Practice

30 minutes

Experience teaches me that you need about 30 min. (or so) just to guide students through the process to set-up the initial site.  The "guided practice" is described in the attached video.  

I ask students to review my presentation -- the one from the introduction to the lesson -- for homework to double-check that they have all of the site components.  I ask them to seek help from Google's EXTENSIVE help section (for Sites) before asking me for assistance the following day in class, when we review together the components.

I've found that it is important to give these directions slowly as this will save an enormous amount of time from future lessons, which should be devoted to content of these sites and not layout or functionality.

As an important caveat, Google recently changed the navigation inside apps domains to mirror their recent Google Apps changes.  Now the Google Bar or "black ribbon" is no longer, switched out with a "tablet-friendly" app button, found next to the Google+ notification bell.  If you would like to add back a navigation bar try "Proper Menu Bar" -- an extension at the Chrome Store.

I have attached a short video (2:43) that explains the use of this new "grid-like" apps launcher; this video is the second one in the resources section.