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Kids’ Classroom Research

Where do questions come from?

Questions are the loom upon which information gathering, analysis and presentation is woven. Questions give information shape, design, and pattern. Where do questions come from and how do you know when you've got one?

There are several obvious and readily available sources for such queries:

How to Inspire Kids' Questions:

Read aloud-Think aloud: By modeling curiosity and question-posing, a teacher can offer students a new way of thinking. The more explicit the teacher can be about his/her thinking processes, the better: "When I look at this picture of children playing in the wind, I think of the wind near our school. It always seems strongest to me over near Ms. Foster's room." or "I wonder what the author means when she says..." or "Wait, this seems different than what I read in book X. I wonder how to decide which author to believe."

The Question Board is a place students can go to at any time to jot down a curiosity or wondering. These questions can be gathered and sorted -- testable? subject to library research? best served by observation and note-taking? They can also be mined for writing ideas and debates.

Class meetings provide a perfect forum for juxtaposing one understanding against another. This is where students learn to build on each other's curiosities and where the teacher has an opportunity to prompt students to compare data.

Where do I begin?

Once your students have a good idea of the question they want to investigate, they should think about what they already know, what they’re curious about and what resources they might want to use. By activating prior knowledge students are already beginning to make connections between previous learning experiences and the present investigation.

What types of resources are available?

When a student is looking for a resource for gathering information, often an encyclopedia is the first and last stop. While an encyclopedia offers a brief overview of a wide variety of topics, other resources offer the opportunity for discovering different points of view, in-depth exploration of various aspects of a topic and various models of scientific writing.

While the following list of possible resources is not comprehensive by any means, it does offer a variety of primary (first hand information from the actual source) and secondary (information based on primary resources) resources to consider when continuing your research.

Print Resources

* For more information about science related trade books, visit “Books and Beyond”.

Primary Resources Electronic Resources (+)

+ Click here for information about evaluating and using internet resources for classroom research.

As you begin to gather resources for your research, keep in mind that using resources from multiple sources will afford you the best opportunity to achieve both breadth and depth in your research.

Now that you have selected some resources to support your continued research, this unit explores some ways for gathering information from those resources, including several note-taking strategies.

Developing focus questions

Brainstorming Activity

Brainstorm 3-5 questions related to your main question to use as an organizational strategy when gathering information.

Preparing for Note-Taking

Before introducing note-taking strategies, there are three issues to consider: how to take notes, the use of quotations in recording information, and how to cite sources. Mini-lessons that model these valuable skills and provide hands-on practice, using a variety of resources, will support students as they continue their information gathering.

How to Take Notes

Though every writer develops an individual style for taking notes, there are a few important tips to teach students:

Using Quotations

Using quotations from both text and primary resources, such as interviews, is both effective and important in research. To help students begin to become familiar with the use of quotations, read aloud from science related trade books that weave quotations into the text and discuss how they work with the text. Use overheads of some of the quotations to teach the conventions of using quotation marks. Provide students with practice writing leads to introduce quotation marks within the context of their writing.

Bibliographic References

In preparation for note-taking, think about what bibliographic format you want your students to use (you may be able to work with your media specialist to co-teach a lesson on bibliographic references) and how you want them to keep track of their resources while taking notes. One technique is to have each student generate a list or make a note card for each of their resources and assign a number to it. As they take notes, they can reference the number in parenthesis with the information they have recorded from that source. They may also want to record the page number (a must for a quotation) so they can easily locate the information, if needed, at a later time.

Note-Taking Strategies

Now you are ready to "dig" into your resources to continue your investigation. There are many ways to take notes as you are doing your research, and no single approach works for everyone or for every type of research question. The following note-taking strategies may help you get started with your information gathering and can form the basis for mini-lessons on introducing your students to different note-taking techniques.

  1. Use your focus questions as page headers on separate pieces of paper. List information pertaining to a focus question on the appropriate page.
  2. Use 4x6 notecards to record information. Record information on only one specific aspect of your topic on each note card. Use headings or keywords to identify the focus of the information to use for easy sorting later in the research process.
  3. Similar to note cards, but more manageable for younger children, use a 12x18 sheet of newsprint, divided into equal sections (fourths or eighths work well) to record one piece of information in each box. The boxes can be cut apart and reorganized into sections later in the research process.
  4. T-charts (two-column charts created by drawing a line down the center of a piece of paper or in a notebook and a line across the top that can be used for labeling the columns) can be used effectively for note taking in a variety of ways. Possible labels for the two columns include:
    Focus Questions/Notes
    Students record a focus question in the left column and notes pertaining to it in the right column.
    Students record information in the left column and any questions the information raises in the right column.
  5. Data tables and charts are especially helpful for recording and organizing data gathered from hands-on investigations and field research.

Reflection in the Note-Taking Process

Throughout the information gathering process, it is important to provide time for students to reflect on their notes and to begin to find their own voice in communicating what they have learned. It is usually best for students not to use their notes. Several ideas for achieving this are:

These activities help students take ownership of their research, narrow their focus and begin to make decisions about how they are going to organize and report their research to the intended audience.

Organizing Information

Before moving from active researching to writing about findings, there are a variety of ways to help students make sense of their information and identify missing links or questions that need further investigation. Some ideas include:

  1. Ask students to review their "big" question and the research notes they have gathered using their focus questions. Have students highlight information they feel is essential to their research, move information that seems "out of place", cross out information they choose not to include, and combine information that is related and repetitive. They might also identify places where more information or data is needed.
  2. Explore ideas for informal outlining--think about what to begin with, how to structure supporting information, what makes sense in terms of how information flows, and what to include in a conclusion that would be appropriate for their particular research. Students can also begin to explore possible frameworks for organizing their data: chronologically, conceptually, or narratively. Instead of using the more formal outlining with letters and numbers, students can use bullets, dashes or other listing techniques to develop a framework. This may also help students to identify where further research is needed.
  3. Investigate the flow of information and possible missing links or ideas through the use of graphic organizers, such as webs or concept maps. Students use their research to develop a web or map and note questions that arise as they develop it. Students can trade with a partner to see if the partner can follow the map or has any questions.

Non-fiction Author’s Craft

Once students have completed gathering information and data and have had time to review and revise their notes, the research process moves from collecting to crafting.

Non-fiction Writing Mini-Lessons

To support students as they begin this process, teach mini-lessons that focus on various aspects of non-fiction writing. Some possible topics include:

As they work on their writing, continue to confer with students on their process and the importance of rereading, rethinking and revising their composition. Revision is embedded throughout the research process- from choosing and narrowing a question, to revisiting resources to best support research, to revising notes and note-taking strategies while gathering information.

Presentation and Publication Ideas

There are endless possibilities for students to present and/or publish their research in addition to the traditional "school report." We return to audience and purpose to consider some of those possibilities. Will the research be presented in person? in print? Does the student wish to include a demonstration or display artifacts of her research? Will the research be presented as part of a debate? Is the purpose of the research to share information or explain a procedure or method?

The following are just a few ideas to consider for sharing research:



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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 9912078. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

o. 9912078. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.