The start of a good research paper is deciding on an interesting topic that will result in a detailed and complete research paper. To begin the lesson I ask students to call out some topics a teacher might give to research for a paper. This gets the class talking and the most popular response was an animal report. One good response I got was transportation. We continue to talk about various themes that might come up as they get older and move to other classes.
When choosing a subject to research, I ask the class to decide whether they should randomly choose a topic or select one wisely. Using the word wisely, is the clue that this is the better choice. Most of the class realizes this and chooses wisely. I then ask why this is the better choice. I have them discuss what they think with their elbow partner. We then share out our thoughts. The main point I am trying to make is the realization that a thoughtful choice can help them stay focused on the subject, be more detailed, and create a more complete assignment.
To help them brainstorm and think about topics they would choose we are going to do some partner sharing. Students will work with their elbow partner and will need a white board between them. I will give out a topic or overall theme to the class. They will then discuss a more specific topic they would like to research under that heading. For example, if I say transportation, student will then discuss possible topics and then choose one that they would find interesting. They will then write their number one choice on the white board they are sharing. We will continue to do this for random subjects. Some I chose, were famous historical figures, states, countries, finding out how something works, and food.
I call on random students using popsicle sticks to share their favorite choice from their white board.
It is now time to put our decision making to practice. In our history book we have come to a chapter on the current Native American groups that make up Arizona. Students are going to make a choice on which one of the groups they would like to practice researching skills with.
I hand out a sticky note to each child and ask them to skim the first lesson on the chapter that gives us basic information on each group. As they skim, they need to write down interesting facts that peak their interest. I model this by using the document camera. I skim the text, and then write some notes as I skim. I then read my notes and make a choice on the one that I would like to find out more about.
I give them time to read and follow the same model. I remind them that the group they choose should interest them and be one they feel confident they can do a good job researching.