Middle School/Intermediate Research PapersI am teaching the research process for the third time. Each time, I have students who struggle to the point of failing. Each year, I try to restructure...

Middle School/Intermediate Research Papers

I am teaching the research process for the third time. Each time, I have students who struggle to the point of failing. Each year, I try to restructure things as I learn more about my students and their capabilities.

As of right now, I break down all papers into a multiple-step process. First students brainstorm and turn in a graphic organizer/prewriting; then we structure an outline; finally, we work on each individual paragraph, and they are required to turn in each piece individually. That way, they each (should) have a rough draft when it comes time for peer review and revisions. They spend two days peer editing/discussing, then approximately two days revising and editing before turning in a final draft.

This year, our school district has adopted a 1:1 initiative, so I plan to start out by teaching reliable sources, then avoiding plagiarism. Are there any recommendations for making this process easier for students? I teach sixth and eighth grade.

Expert Answers
Lorraine Caplan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In conjunction with the thesis statement, a research paper should be inquiry-driven and purposeful.  I see so many research papers that are not, and I think that even at the middle-school level, students can have a big question and a purpose.

On another note, what I have found is that when teaching students how to cite, there is far more to focus on than just plagiarism.  We have a discussion in which I try to elicit the reasons for citation, for example, how people will want to find out more about the topic, how people will see that the source is good, how people deserve credit for their ideas, and so on.  When we make a great dish, don't we tell people where we got the recipe?  It just seems to me that there are so many positive reasons to document our sources, and no one seems to emphasize those.

pacorz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Your process sounds excellent; however you say nothing about a thesis statement. If students are not attempting to prove or disprove an idea, then they are not really doing research, they are just regurgitating facts.#5 alludes to this when he says that students should approach an essay as an argument they want to win. The thesis approach will provide a solid research focus, and will also teach your students another academic skill as they work. I would recommend you try it between the brainstorm and the pre-write.

The thesis statement is a difficult concept for students, but well worth spending some time on. You can find some helpful resources here and here, and a powerpoint for classroom use here.

lmetcalf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One good way to teaching how to avoid plagiarism is to model how YOU would read and take notes from a source and then incorporate that information into a paragraph that is written by you with and without direct quotes. Students tend to think that if they change the words it isn't plagiarism, but it is! Show them that no matter how the information looks, it needs a proper citation in whatever format you are requiring. Once they have your model, have them work in small groups to do the same task again and then share those efforts with the whole class to evaluate whether the group has plagiarized or not. After that practice, they should have a better understanding of that part of the researching process.

vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Does each student choose his or her own topic?  Two topics that have worked well, in my experience, are papers in which students must research an event that occurred in the year in which they were born and papers in which they must research notorious crimes. Both of these topics tend to be of interest to them, for obvious reasons. Using successful "model" papers is also a good tactic. If you show them exactly the kinds of things you are looking for, they will at least have models to try to emulate.  Good luck!

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I like what you have already done, as it reinforces the idea that writing is a process and also fights the temptation on their part to simply copy from the web by having them produce more in front of you, in class, so, well done!  I would echo that more time spent on topic sentence (even thesis statement) construction might be a good idea, so that they enter high school with some of those skills at least introduced.  It will be a great benefit to them in their writing intensive and AP coursework later.

kiwi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree that yourstructure sounds great. I use some of the enquiry learning models available to help students understand the process of research (the SAUCE model goes down well). I also recommend spending a good deal oftime looking atthe validity of sources. There is a great website on the tree octopus which helps students see that all that glitters in Google is not necessarily gold. Likewise, we have some dusty old science textbooks whose information islong superceded. Good luck with your classes!

readerofbooks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with post 2; your process sounds great. You break the essay process down into very manageable parts. Awesome. Here are two more suggestions.

First, give plenty of examples. This makes abstract ideas concrete. And many students learn through examples.

Second, you might offer them an illustration and say that an essay is like an agrument that you want to win. The better your argument is, the more likely you will win the argument. This has helped me a lot in the past.

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that your process sounds amazing. The only thing I would suggest is providing examples of both poorly written and well written paragraphs and full essays. When I am preparing my students, juniors, for the ACT, I use examples of all different scores so that the students have exact examples of what is expected. We discuss each essay, the problems with the poorly written essays, and the parts of the well written essays. They always seem to learn more when examples are provided.

chasethesun eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The process sounds great.  The only thing I would add is perhaps having students peer-edit their papers.  Sometimes, hearing from a classmate that something needs to be fixed is more meaningful than when the teacher tells you something is wrong.  I teach 6-8th graders myself, and I always get better results when they share ideas / projects with a partner before sharing with the class.