The Missouri Reader Vol. 41, Issue 1 - Page 14

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Time for your students to write that first draft. But wait! How prepared are they before beginning to write? What research have they done to inform their writing? Research strategies are important to develop throughout the elementary years. Effective inquiry is a lifelong skill. Some books on elementary writing instruction include brief “pre-writing” suggestions such as “reading stories, informational books, and other texts” (Tompkins, 2008, p. 11) or guided research that is “a mix of library-based mini-lesson and student research time” (Messner, 2011, p. 21). These provide only broad generalizations that leave instructional planning up to the classroom teacher. Some resources provide a particular focus such as using the internet (c.f. Kingsley, Cassady, & Tancock, 2015) or crafting nonfiction writing (c.f. Buckner, 2013). Kidd (1999) explored how to improve the effectiveness of grade 2 to 5 students’ research skills. She concluded they must be taught “how to organize their task and apply effective strategies” (p. 160). Sound, systematic instruction on how to conduct research is an important first step as our students consider what and how they will write.

So, where should instruction begin? Obviously, our writing can only be as good as the information we gather. In Pew Research Center’s study (Desilver, 2013) of 2,462 middle and high school teachers, the top tool students choose is Google. Ninety-four percent of teachers said their students would use online search engines, 75% said they are likely to use Wikipedia, and 52% noted YouTube as another top resource. Only 12% of the teachers thought students would use printed books. As author Dan Brown quips, “’Google’ is not a synonym for ‘research’” (Goodreads, 2016). While technology has the potential to help us find answers, we also know the pitfalls of inaccurate or unreliable information posted on the web. The problem is, the more links a site has (such as advertisers) the more likely that webpage will come up first in a search list. However, that doesn’t mean that site is the most reliable. We want students to wisely choose ways to research, gather information from reputable resources, synthesize the information, and select key ideas. We also want them to look beyond the obvious resource of the internet.

The three steps suggested below come from Author B’s research as a children’s author and Author A’s work as a literacy specialist. First, topics must interest students, but also be ones about which they can find information. Second, presearch, the first stage of research, helps determine if there is enough about which to write. Finally, research takes students on a journey of investigating not only the internet, but also media, books, and interviews.

Step 1: Topic selection. The first step is often the most difficult for our students: What should I write about? Students need topics that engage them to sustain their interest throughout the research process. “When students have more choice and control of a project than they’ve ever had before, they become curious” (Gardiner, 2004, p. 68). Three possible ways to generate topics that will encourage research are (1) going outside the classroom, (2) searching journal entries, and (3) connecting to content studies.

● Taking students outside their usual environment can provide a new lens on everyday life. Scout out a quiet, comfortable .

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