Identifying Your Cause and Effect Research Interest through “Factoids” and Presenting a Research Proposal

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SWBAT consider a variety of possible topics for cause and effect research, as well as develop a tentative "research question."

Big Idea

... startling facts or "factiods" compel us to want to know more! ...

Introduction and Context

12 minutes


The last major essay in the course for this semester is a Cause and Effect Essay, and, as such, represents the most sophisticated thinking that students have had to do to date.  For this project I ask students to identify a "societal issue/problem," research and establish the most cogent causes of this problem, and then provide "solutions" to these causes.  The "flowchart" that is this lesson's cover image and is attached as a resource is my rather primitive attempt with Google Drawings to create a "graphic organizer" of the thinking required to conceptualize this project.

Students are required to identify an effect -- that is an issue or "ill" (if you will).  In other words, the effect/problem must be identifiable, and it must have some (also) identifiable causes.  Furthermore, these causes must have "reasonable" solutions (which is the subject of the Policy Presentation, discussed in a later lesson.)  My attached graphic, while admittedly primitive, does, I think, demonstrate the proper sequence of thinking to "get" this project:

  1. The identifiable effect is the center of your essay.
  2. There are at least three equally identifiable causes for this effect.
  3. These causes could be eradicated with the appropriate solutions.

Naturally, the lesson continues with a discussion of potential "issues" to tackle ...

(I've also attached a Word copy of a simple checklist I provide at the outset of the full project.  Students can use this checklist to keep track of all of the various stages and parts of this research project.)

Guided Practice: Browsing for Controversy

24 minutes

At the outset of this project, I always have students spend several minutes in class (and I expect out of class for homework) at the Yahoo Directory of Issues and Causes.  I love this site.  In fact, I love all of the Yahoo Directory sites -- such amazing internet-throwbacks, back to a time when Yahoo thought the would index AND review the entire web! (ha!) ... but seriously these Directories are wonderful starting places for research of all types, as the content is reviewed for inclusion.

The Yahoo Directory of Issues and Causes includes a very comprehensive list of relevant social issues, and for many students in my class, this is the first time they have heard of many of these issues.  As they use the directory, I ask them to keep up with the cogent sites they discover.  I mention they can create a simple table or just bookmark sites.  (My students actually log in to Chrome, so their bookmarks appear at home or the public library or at a friend's house, etc.)

Just as a point of reference, the issues that have been popular over the last two years (in alphabetical order) are:

  • conflict diamonds
  • death penalty
  • drinking age
  • drugs in sports
  • global climate change
  • green living
  • minimum wage
  • oil and gas depletion
  • racial profiling
  • sustainable agriculture


The individual sites will become important as they move to the first of several "formative" pieces to the final "summative" essay itself.


Guided Practice: Revisiting Your Editorial Topic + Locating 5 New Ones

24 minutes

For the first step in developing the thesis for the C&E essay, I ask students to identify a total of six topics they might be interested in; they list the topic for their previous Editorial and they add five more.  The process we undergo in class is outlined in this Google Doc called "Pre-Research Notes" and nicknamed the "6 x 6" -- that is six topics and six "factoids," or "random" facts.

The concept, at this point, of the "factoid" is an important one.  What I mean by "factoid" is very closely aligned to the concept of the "startling fact" content for the sidebar of The Editorial.  Here are two examples:

  • In 2010 the Southeastern Conference of the NCAA earned over one billion dollars in revenue from televised football alone.


Both of these ideas speak for themselves.  Both of these "factoids" while "randomly" listed in research pre-writing begin to tell a story: (1) college football is more than just a simple "business;" (2) the wealth disparity of the US is startling, alarming in fact.  It is precisely these kinds of "factoids" that drive researchers, and, so, these kinds of ideas form a great starting place for high school research as well.

After explaining the creation of a "6 x 6" doc., I circulate in the lab to encourage students to make their own.  I reemphasize that each student re-use The Editorial topic as a "free" topic.  Later, students will write a short blog post on their research sites clarifying why they may or may not write their C&E essay regarding the same topic for The Editorial, so it is good to bring The Editorial back to the forefront.

Guided Practice or Homework: Creating a Research Proposal

24 minutes

After students have completed the "6x6"/Pre-Research Notes, they are ready to pick a focus or topic for their work and develop guiding questions for their project.  The questions -- if asked properly--will lead to a strong thesis statement.

I post the attached .pdf on the classroom screen and simply walk students through the different methods of questioning.  Students print the .pdf (or I photocopy them), detach the second page, and make handwritten notes regarding each question.  I then write comments on each student copy of the "proposal" and hold a brief conference with each student before he or she proceeds ...