The How-To of Student Research

Student research is about student's choosing what they are interested in, researching that topic, and sharing their knowledge gained. This time has been so valuable for my kindergarten students. That's right, my kindergartener's can research! This is their favorite time of the day! It gives my students empowerment and not just engagement.

I love this graphic from the book Empower by John Spencer and Aj Juliani.

Have you wanted to try student research time, but are not sure where to begin? Are you unsure of how your students will work independently? How will you help challenge and meet the needs of your students? I have some answers for you.

Just like you would with a new reading strategy, you teach a mini lesson modeling this strategy. You do the same thing for research time. Below is how I manage this time in my own classroom and how my students share their final product.

Day 1 Mini Lesson

I begin by modeling my own research. I model how to brainstorm and write down all the topics I am interested in. These topics range from elephants, Africa, how to make a garden, bees, and more. I model this on an anchor chart, so my students can see my thinking and how they will brainstorm in a similar way. After I brainstorm this list, I share with my students how I choose a topic, and begin my research. I intentionally teach 1 step further, because I know some students will be ready to begin their research, and others will use our whole research time to brainstorm. Both are great! Each student is working at their own pace. This is the beauty of this time. It is led by the student's!

My students are familiar with and use EPIC and Pebble Go to research. These are two online resources full of books and articles that my students can access from their iPads, and begin reading and learning. Use what your students are comfortable with. If you haven't introduced similar research resources to your class, take a day to introduce and explore these resources. I show my students how to type in their topic, find books about their topics, and how to listen for facts. One thing I love about both of these resources is that it will read the book or information to you. So those students, who may not have specific reading skills yet, can still research!

Day 2-4 Possible Mini Lessons

Many students know how to listen to a book, but do not know how to stop the book and jot down a fact they learned. My next mini lesson focuses on how to do this. I simply model again, the topic I chose. I type it into EPIC or Pebble Go.

I begin listening to the resource with my students. Once I hear a fact I did not know, I talk through this with my students. "Friends, I did not know that elephants throw dust on themselves to stay cool. How cool is that?! I am going to pause my book, and write down that fact in my research journal." I model writing this in my research journal, and then drawing a picture that matches. I also model how I go back to find my fact, to continue writing my sentence if I forget what to write.

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I repeat this step above, each day for my mini lesson, until I have all 3 facts about my topic in my research journal.

I bet your wondering what my student's are doing after my mini lesson, right? How do I manage each student on a different topic, and different levels? Let's get into that.

After my mini lessons each day, I walk around and make sure my students are on the correct topic, they are finding resources to learn from, and that they are writing down what they're learning. As I walk around, I make note of students who are ready for next steps, who need another mini lesson on how to pause the resource and write down their fact, and more. These notes allow me to make small groups, that I can pull while student's are working independently. This allows me to differentiate my instruction for what my students need.

Now, my first time trying this was pure chaos. At least it felt like chaos to me. I felt like I was being pulled in 24 different directions, and could not help every student the way I wanted to. I learned to allow my students to manage their topics, and let go of busy work that was just not needed. I use butcher paper, and created my own large chart with my students names on it. It looks like a giant excel spreadsheet. My students write their topics on here, next to their name, to not only keep track of their topics, but to show their progress. This allows me to see their topics when needed. Each time a student is ready for a new topic, they go up to this chart and write their topic. Trust me, allowing them this job, frees up so much of your time!

Day 5-7 Possible Mini Lessons

After you are finished modeling how to find and write down their 3 facts, they need options on how to present or make their final product. I begin by sharing 1 way to make a final product. I start by sharing how to make a poster. In this mini lesson I share how to take their research journal, and transfer their facts onto this poster, and how to add a detailed picture. This seems simple, but you may want to cover this idea over a few days. If you show them to just use pencil, they will only use pencil. If you show them how to add colors, details, and labels, that is what they will do. I learned this the hard way, and will be making sure next year, that I take more time to show them all the steps to make their poster look amazing.

I start these lessons over again, from day 1, but use another topic from my brainstorming page to model for my students. This allows for me to continue reaching those students who need this repetition, and focus on areas we need to work on, like how to make a sentence, add labels and details in pictures, how to add a fun question at the end, etc.

When I get to the mini lesson where I model how to make my final product, I just choose a new way, so they have a bank of options to choose from. The different ways my class has chosen to make a final product are creating a video clip on their iPad camera, or the apps Clips or Shadow Puppet. My students also love using Adobe Spark Post. One trick I want to pass on, is the days you do these mini lessons, see if you can have an older student, tech person, or an extra set of hands, who knows how to use that tool, to help. The extra hands are so helpful! As the students get used to these tools, you can begin to use your own students as helpers, for the students to go to for help.

Final Lesson

This part is most important. Your students need to feel that this research is important and valuable. They need to have an authentic audience they can share this with. People that they value and are excited to share with. Don't be afraid to share unfinished student work as well. Learning is an ongoing process, and everyone needs to see this process.

As students begin to finish their research, and collecting their final products, we begin to discuss how they want to share their research. I begin by sharing a few ways we could share, and let my students decide. Below are a few ways my students have shared their work.

  • Flipgrid- send to other classes/schools

  • Parent and Community Showcase- during and/or after school

  • Invite other classes into our classroom for a museum type walk through

I am sure there are a million other ways to share students work, but these have been most successful and enjoyable for my students. Each classroom, teacher, and student is different.

So, what part of you day can you allow this time in your classroom? How can you do this through distance learning? How can you allow more choice within your classroom? Let's strive to be better for our kids, and listen to them!

If you need help setting up expectations, and resources for your students to use, click here, for my Student Research Expectations resource.