Each day, I begin my ELA class with Reading Time. This is a time for students to access a range of texts. I use this time to conference with students, collect data on class patterns and trends with independent reading and to provide individualized support.
Today's lesson is devoted to explaining the basics of the research project. It is important for students to understand the project as a whole so they understand the expectations as we complete each step. This helps students manage the paper so they can internalize their motivation to complete it.
I pull up the research portion of my web-site on the Smartboard. I quickly show the students the various resources on my web-site for this project. This helps students to understand where they can go to for each step of the project. On my web-site I include due dates, important documents and files, as well as web-sites that will assist them with their research.
Students are directed to download the Independent Study Research Booklet. Students are told that this is available for them to use as they complete the entire project. The booklet is rather lengthy but it covers every aspect of the project. Most aspects will be covered in class at a later date.
Today's class is devoted to review the first part of the booklet, the introduction, which is on the first page. I give them a quick overview so they understand the major expectations as the major steps. This page of the booklet highlights what they will be doing and touches on why they will be doing it. The focus of this research paper is to analyze the contribution and influence of a notable figure. I remind students that they are not writing a strict biography, but rather analyzing their topic's work and career. We review the major phases of the project.
Students tend to ask many questions about the project as a whole so I devote a large portion of class to these questions. These questions usually focus on how certain aspects of the project are completed. I think it helps to devote this time so students can get this kind of questioning out of their system and focus on doing the work to write a research paper. Sometimes students asking so many questions can be chaotic, but I like that. Control chaos can be a good thing. It shows me that students are engaged and motivated. What more can I ask for? My only concern is when they ask questions that have already been answered. That can be frustrating so for those students I tell them to refer back to the booklet. If they're not paying attention, it can be a disadvantage to them.
The rest of class is devoted to the first step of the project, which is to find a suitable biography. Students need to read a biography as part of the paper in order to gain an understanding of the person's life as a whole. Since students do not have an intuition for research, giving them time helps them to internalize these tools and begin to find resources they will need as they can practice them with teacher guidance.
Students are told the topic that they will be researching. These topics were taken from the Topic List Of Influential Figures. They narrowed down their topic from the previous lesson on Choosing A Topic.
Once students have been assigned their topics, they are reminded that they need to bring a grade-level biography for next week. I encourage students to find as many biographies as possible. It is easier to narrow down a book to read when there are many different options. Students are able to use our school's web-site to find books, as well as our town library's web-site.
They will read the biography in full before they complete any major aspect of the project. Students need to know about the life of the person they are researching before they make any major decisions about sources and writing of the paper. Students having to read a biography can be challenging. Not many of them used to reading a non-fiction text so many students feel overwhelmed by doing it but they are eventually able to see the benefit of doing it. We break down different ways to read the biography when we discuss notetaking and this type of notetaking supports students throughout the process of reading a biography. It can also be challenging to find biographies that are just right. Some are too easy and some are too hard, so that's why I have them bring in as many as they can. Eventually they will have to show they read the biography by writing a dialogue with a partner. This will hold them accountable for reading the full biography.
This Explanation Of Biographies video discusses modeling biographies so students can begin to make decisions as they research looking for a biography.
I am excited for this part of the project. Students are able to learn about a person as they are reading these biographies and it's great to see when they are can learn about a topic without worrying about a grade at least not until they start writing.