Can anyone offer specific suggestions for literary research papers for high school seniors? Works we have most recently read include Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales, Macbeth, and Frankenstein. I think it is important for my advanced class to write a literary research paper, but I'm not sure that is the best route for my standard students. I am open to suggestions about interesting non-literary research paper topics for my standard students.
I agree with drmonica; if you are concerned that a paper that researches only the literary elements of the work would be a bit un-engaging for your students, then I would suggest that the students research a theme, and then use the literature as PART of the evidence of their argument, but then also require that they research examples from real life. In this way, the research and the writing are the focus of the assignment, and not the literature for literature's sake. You could have the students research a broad topic, make a claim about it, and then go from there. For example, they could research the something about the institution of marriage, then look at the marriage of Macbeth or any of the marriages portrayed in The Canterbury Tales and use that information as "evidence" to illustrate the point. Another avenue of topics could be to research some aspect of psychology, and then "analyze" the characters through that lens. There are lots of possibilities, and the students may be more engaged.
I would suggest having students choose a modern issue that is important to them, and then find a book of AP-level literary merit that is also relevant to that topic or at least related. It could also work the other way around.
You might also consider a topic along the lines of what is a monster, or what makes someone or something "monstrous." It's easy to call Grendel a monster because he's hideous and kills people, but what in Frankenstein, what actions or qualities exactly are monstrous? I suppose this is the converse of topics on ethics and honor, but it also deals with thinking through behaviors and decisions people make.
I had great success in having my seniors do a research paper on "Women and Power." They had to select a real-life powerful female, living or dead, and analyze her power, where it came from, how she exercised it, and how society responded. They also had to draw parallels with or identify distinctions between the female they chose and any of the female characters we had read about in our literature selections. We had read The Canterbury Tales, Hamlet, The Taming of the Shrew, East of Eden, Like Water for Chocolate, and Paradise Lost.
Another approach you could try is an I-Search paper using the same topic (real-life powerful woman). I-Search is a terrific format for engaging students who may not necessarily be seeking to go on to university studies, but who nonetheless need to know how to conduct research, cite sources, analyze, etc.
I am not sure exactly what you mean by literary research papers and if you want to include just one, two or all the works you have read recently. I work at a small private classical school and am not always up to date on educational lingo. Someone could write an intersting paper on how the medieval concept of "honor" is presented in Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales and Macbeth. I teach these three works along with Song of Roland and Gawain and the green Knight and that is the assignment I give them. Honor was an important cultural concept during the medieval period, but you can trace changes in the nature of the concept through those three works. Another interesting topic could be what do we learn from Chaucer about the medieval church? With Beowulf, I find the students enjoy looking at how Beowulf influenced Tolkien's, The Hobbit. I would be happy to discuss options with you in more detail out of the question setting
This research topic is offered for Frankenstein.
'Ethics'...By definition, a discipline dealing with good and evil and with moral duty. Moral principles and practices.
Using the novel 'Frankenstein' especially the actions of Victor Frankenstein research the technological parallels between the fiction of Frankenstein and the reality of 21st century science. (for example, stem cell research or clone experimentation.)
What does Shelley suggest to the reader by the literary themes in 'Frankenstein'? Is she warning humanity of its potential destruction by tampering too far into the unknown, or does she suggest the human quest for knowledge is a noble undertaking?
It is my opinion that a research paper should dig into subject matter, and Mary Shelley's novel offers a unique opportunity for the student to not only to do research but offers a path for the student to realize the worth of their own conclusions. If you tell the students that their conclusions are important and that the integrity of those conclusions will not be judged by you (other than the grammar, style,etc.) It will foster a mutual respect of which I've always found very rewarding. Good Luck !!!!
In my English Lit class we wrote research papers on independent novels that we read on our own, not in class. The research papers had to draw on information researched in library databases and other outside sources such as books and websites. The papers had to be focused in on social justice themes. I wrote about gender roles in Anna Karenina.