I need some question for students begining a research paper on a topic of their choice. Any thoughts?
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You have received a wealth of topics. I have tried over the years to find topics that my kids would find interesting. I tied them to a novel we would be doing in class. I had them research aspects of life during the Middle Ages and the Elizabethan era when we read Shakespeare. (The guys loved doing things on castles, weapons, armor. The girls researched food, clothes, make-up, hair and jewelry.) Sometimes the kids would work as groups, sharing research, each writing a short (different) paper and giving a short presentation. Sometimes the kids would try to reproduce foods from that time and bring it in. The kids liked that, but the kids found it hard to get together outside of school to work as a group.
I tried having them select topics from Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire." There was a lot to choose from, but I found kids only wanted to cut and paste reports about Space monkeys or the Cold War, etc.
I always felt that finding something a student really cared about would be a great idea. I think this was mentioned above. However, the thing always missing to a greater degree each year has been motivation and an intrinsic desire to do well. Fighting apathy has, over the past ten years, become my most difficult stumbling block.
However, with so much in the media that affects kids, it might be easy, as was mentioned, to get kids to research technology (Steve Jobs, Apple, laws governing cellphone use, online bullying, etc.). My daughter has become interested in how teens are being influenced (manipulated) to buy into the slim, pretty, long-legged, shapely toned female vision of the perfect girls on TV and in the print media to go out and buy the clothes, make-up, etc. The guys are presented with visions of athletic, muscular role models. The content of the research I've seen her bring home is not surprising: the girls care more than the guys do.
What is really surprising is the amount of money teens spend each year, and how advertising agencies find trend-setting teens to study, and then promote their looks/behaviors to other kids, and tap into the ENORMOUS financial money pool that young people control. I wish all kids wanted to do this paper: if we are saavy enough, adults can figure out when they're being sold an underwater bridge; many kids believe all the lies they are fed, and end up with depression, eating disorders, etc.
That is a topic I find very interesting!! And there is more available today than ever before: lots of studies.
I have always found that students write better arguments about topics that really matter to them, so I usually pose questions or topics about local issues that they can research with traditional sources, but also with first-hand type sources such as interviews or surveys. Look around your school or community and have students brainstorm things they are concerned about, then have them craft and arguement about that topic. For example: red light cameras; school programs that are lacking, or failing, or need more members; a school related need such as going more green in schools, what types of technology a school should be investing in, the type of food being prepared in the cafeteria; the costs and opportunities for higher education; the school's policy about cell phone usage etc.
I definitely agree with other editors that students find it a lot easier if they are given plenty of guidance about selecting their own essay topic. You might want to think about giving them two or three areas or topics to select and then to get them to pick a theme within those areas. For example, you could give them very loosely structured topics such as war, ambition and drugs. Then they could pick any one of these topics and construct a research question out of something that interests them within that topic.
I second #2's suggestion of finding areas of disagreement. The most interesting papers I ever wrote were those where I detailed what I disagreed with and why; the trick was to keep it objective instead of emotional. I even changed my opinions on a few things because of the research I did! Maybe a full assignment could be to defend or at least fully justify a topic like this; if nothing else, it will open them to new ideas.
I would suggest categorizing your topics for students. I have found that leaving topics open for students tends to flabbergast them (they simply have a hard time not being told what to write about). In the past, I have had students write research papers about mental illness, serial killers, and singers/groups. They really have enjoyed these topics and typically do very well.
Therefore, questions they can ask regarding making the choice of essay are:
-Which topic interests you the most?
-What do you hope to learn from your research?
-What preconceived ideas do you have about the topic?
-How would increasing your knowledge on the topic benefit you/your education?
A few others
- Is this a topic that will have an impact on your life? Or those around you?
- Who else would be interested in this topic? Peers? Parents?
- Is there a historical component to this topic? or is it something relatively new?
These questions might help to stir up some specific ideas:
- What do you want to become an expert on?
- Are there any subjects or topics that you think would be useful to have knowledge on for your future studies or just at parties?
- What do you like to talk about and think about?
- What profession do you think you will pursue?
There are so many different question that you can ask to get students to think about a research paper. In light of this, I will offer some suggestions.
First, you can ask students to think about what topic interests them most. In other words, what topic makes them passionate and what topics they would like to research? If students write on something that the enjoy, they will usually do a better job.
Second, after students read some secondary literature, ask them what articles that they disagree with. Ask them why they disagree with the articles. This could be one of the easiest ways to get into a topic. This approach also has the benefit of getting students thinking critically and interacting with other scholars.
By asking these questions, you should get the students thinking about their topics and from there they will have more insights.
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