Cosmically Cool Planet Research! Day Two: Researching with Digital and Print Sources

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SWBAT build their knowledge about a planet by reading print and digital sources. SWBAT to answer self-generated research questions about their planet, taking notes.

Big Idea

The students begin reading informational text in digital and print forms about the planet they're researching. They answer questions that they generated and take brief notes on notecards.

Welcome to My Lesson!

Welcome to a series of ten lessons on planet research!  This set of lessons is part of a larger unit my district is implementing all about the topics of space and books with great word choice.  My grade level completes a research report or project for each of our six thematic units.  This happens to be the fifth research project my students are completing this year.  

I loved completing these lessons because none of my students' reports came out the same - even those who researched the same planet!  The design of this unit was inquiry-based, so students chose the direction of their report.  Some were interested in the history of their planet - how it got its name, who discovered it, etc.  Others wanted to know if there were features similar to Earth, or why their planet had so many moons.   

I've included the Planet Research Packet in this section of my lesson on each day.  I refer to page numbers as I walk you through each day of this series of lessons, however I left page numbers off, in case there were pages you didn't want to use.  You may notice that my student samples vary slightly from the packet I've provided for you.  I made changes to the packet as I noticed things that could be made better.  I hope you and your astronomers find these resources helpful as you research planets!  Thank you!  (See Resource File:  Planet Research Packet)


*Clipart in my lesson picture purchased from ScribbleGarden on Etsy

Review & Planet Reveal

3 minutes

Review:  I review yesterday's lesson with my students.  We discuss the inquiry-based approach to this research unit.  I mention that it's okay if the students want to revise, or change their questions as we go, but they should always choose items to research that will build their knowledge about the planet they'll be researching.  I review the Question Brainstorm that the students completed, reminding them about crafting questions that begin with a question stem word, begin with capitals, end with punctuation, and most importantly, stay on the topic of planet research.  I read a few exemplary examples from student packets.  They love to hear their own work!

Planet Choice:  The big moment arrives, and I pass back my students' packets, which has their planet choice highlighted.  As mentioned in lesson one, all students received their first choice!  I've already rearranged the students' desks so they are seated with students researching the same or similar planets.  For example, I only had three for planet Mercury, and three for planet Mars, but because these are all inner planets, I grouped their desks together.  I often will put my desks in pods of three to six depending on the activities we are doing in ELA or math.  This will be helpful as the students share digital and print resources.  I let the students know that I'll be modeling with the planet Venus this week, as it was not chosen by anyone.

p.s.  Luckily, all of my students received their first choice!  The most of any planet I had was six.  No one chose Venus (I think because I told them it was named for the goddess of love!), so that became the planet I modeled with throughout this series of lessons.  I highlighted the planet each student was researching in their packet so they could refer back to it as needed.  (See Resource File:  Planet Choice Sheet Sample)  


Lesson: Taking Notes with Digital and Print Sources

15 minutes

Compare/Contrast Note Taking:  I begin by asking the class the question I left them with at the end of our lesson yesterday.  "How are taking notes from a print source different and similar to taking notes from a digital source?"  We discuss similarities and differences, as well as the importance of using both types of sources when completing research.

Note Taking from Print Sources:  My class has completed four research projects to date, as well as other smaller research tasks.  They are becoming very good at taking brief notes, not plagiarizing, and making sure the information is sorted into the correct category.  I review an anchor chart that I had made with our very first research unit, about Native American tribes.  (See Resource File:  Note Taking Anchor Chart)

Note Taking from Digital Sources Using Readability:  Today, I want to focus more on taking notes from a digital source.  My class has been using digital sources for research, but I want to introduce them to a new application that will be helpful.  I pull up the following website, Planets for Kids, on my SMART Board (  Most webpages have advertisements and other distracting media.  I show students how to apply the Readability application to have a cleaner, less distracting view of the informational text on the page.  We aren't a 1:1 district, but I do have 15 iPads for check-out (when they are available :), and four computers in my classroom.  We also have a computer lab, and will be utilizing time later today to complete more research.  Readability is free, and very easy to install and use. 

I click on the planets drop-down menu on the Planets for Kids website, and choose Venus.  I point out all of the media on the page - advertisements, tabs, etc.  I explain to the students how to apply the Readability application by either clicking the red chair next to my search bar, and choosing "Readability", the "Read now", or by right-clicking and choosing "Readability", the "Read now".  The students notice how it will be much easier to read the informational text on the planet websites by using the Readability application.  I also show them how to click "original" at the top of the page to return to the normal website view.  I've included a picture of the look of the website before and after the Readability application. (See Resource File:  Before and After Readability)

Modeling:  I continue our lesson by modeling how to transfer questions from the Question Brainstorm page to note cards.  We open our Planet Research Packets to page five and read through our mission for the next few days of research.  I explain that it's okay to modify or completely change a question if needed.  The most important thing is to make sure that the students are building new learning from their research.  For example, if I already know that Venus is the hottest planet in the Solar System, I want to research and take notes on something different.  I write the question, "What is the temperature, and what causes it?" on an index card.  I explain to students that I learned in the PowerPoint yesterday that Venus is the hottest planet, but I don't know what causes the extreme heat.  The students and I skim and scan quickly (this was a Daily Cafe lesson we did earlier in the year - adjusting our reading rate to find key words) until we locate the paragraphs to answer our question.  On the back of the index card, I record just a few words for notes as shown in my teacher sample.  (See Resource File:  Teacher Sample Index Card One)

If your students are new to this skill, you'll have to model note taking with more examples.

Set Expectations & Pass Out Index Cards:  The students are excited to begin their research, so we establish expectations for sharing texts within table groups/pods.  I have enough print and digital sources for students  to have their own copies to use one at a time.  I remind students that they should not rush through the materials and should only use about one book today, or one website.  Lastly, keeping our standards front and center, I remind my astronomers that they should be asking and answering questions that build new learning about the planet they're researching.  They should also be gathering this information and recording brief notes on their index cards.  I pass out five index cards to each student, as this is the minimum I've asked them to complete.  

Independent Research

20 minutes

Independent Work:  The students begin their independent research.  I've asked my astronomers to raise their hand after they complete their first index card with question and note-taking answers.  I do this to check that they're on the right track.  I have parent helpers often in my room, and today I have one to assist with the checking of the first notecard.    

I move around the room and assist with reading and note taking as needed.  I've provided lots of different resources to meet the needs of all of my readers in the classroom.  Most of what I had to help students with today was the modification of their questions, and what to do if they can't find the answer.  Students who needed assistance wanted to make sure they were following the directions, and that it was okay to change a question completely.  (See Resource File:  Student Notecard Sample One and Two)

Part of the success of a research project is having rich, engaging texts for your students in various reading levels.  Consider visiting your local libraries, school library, ask parents, and find super resources online.  My students have a combination of reference materials, trade books, magazines, etc.  I recruit the help of my school and local librarians, as well as my parent helpers to collect books for a larger project, like this planet research unit.  Look for books that have a good ratio of nonfiction text feature support to text to help students comprehend what they're reading.  I also check booklists, such as the National Science Teachers Association Outstanding Trade Book Lists for the "best of the best" in children's informational books.

Review and Peek at Tomorrow's Mission

2 minutes

Review:  We review today's lesson topics and share experiences.

Peek at Tomorrow:  I let the students know that we'll be researching over the next few days, and if they didn't get a turn to use a computer or iPad today, that we'll be rotating those resources tomorrow, and the next day.

Lesson Extras!

Here are some additional resources you may find helpful if you're working on a space-themed unit.  

Do We Wish Upon a Shooting Star, or Falling Rock?:  This document is an informational passage that includes multiple choice questions.  My students need practice with these types of questions,  including those with multiple answers, questions with Part A and Part B, and fill in the blank.  I teach in Illinois, and our students will be taking the PARCC Assessment beginning next year.  I hope these types of tasks will help prepare my students for these tests, as well as our end-of-unit assessments, and overall mastery of the standards.  The focus of this assignment are standards RI3.1, RI3.4, and RI3.7.  (See Resource File:  Shooting Star, or Falling Rock MC Practice)