Research Lesson Series: Part 5

Students will focus on research when they are assigned a research essay or presentation. Their work is focused. They have a topic to search. In some ways the students will do a good job filtering through information, finding new sources, and strengthen their skills in a traditional lesson. But then you ask them to do a quick search for something in a different setting…

Throughout the year I try to integrate small search activities that connect to the goals of the lesson. This enables the students to practice their research skills, while allowing me to develop creative and fun assignments.


I like using images for different creative assignments. From typography projects to finding photos for a setting in a story, there are so many ways to ask students to search or use images for your lessons. I wrote a series on photographs in the classroom that covers some specific ideas. But one of the best aspects of researching images is reinforcing copyright issues. Having students search with certain filters, making sure to credit the owner of the image and even producing images to share reinforces the importance of copyright. This can be done in any class.


Book and movie reviews are underappreciated in the classroom. For almost all literature I have students search reviews of the book or author. This is done for different reasons, but I always try to ask them to reference the review or reviewer, to use credible sites, and to write their response to the review. It’s always fun to talk with the students as they read reviews, especially if the reviewer has the opposite opinion of the student.

Social Media

#research #school #keywords. Social media is a tricky world regarding research. But I think it is an important area for students to investigate and analyze. Many students have a presence on social media, but they usually don’t see it as an area to find information. A hashtagged word or phrase can produce useful information, especially when students are involved in a lesson that deals with current events. If I use a social media search for a lesson, I ask the students to reflect on the quality of the results. At times, students don’t find anything useful, that’s OK because they went through the process of analyzing the results.

Research Questions

Like having a Google Jockey during a lecture, I have posed questions for students to answer during a traditional lecture. I place the question on a slide, with a timer, and then let them search during the time. I have had them record their answers on paper, on a shared Google doc, or just discuss what they found during class. I don’t use this often. It takes time to create powerful questions while also dealing with what to do with the answers. But when I do, the class discussion becomes dynamic, especially if students find different answers.

I hope this series generated some new ideas for you. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments. Would love to hear how you are teaching research skills.


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Research Lesson Series: Part 4

Evaluating information is a critical skill, not just for school but for everyday life. And we have to be able to evaluate quickly as our feeds get flooded as soon as something (real or fake) starts trending.

There are lots of systems to use to help students through the process of evaluating resources. I happen to like the C.A.R.S. process, developed by Robert Harris. You can access a condensed version of the information from Andy Spinks’ site.

C. A. R. S. stands for Credibility, Accuracy, Reasonableness, and Support.

Again, there are lots of systems, so you can find one you like. The ideas will work with any criteria you use.

One of my favorite assignments is called “Follow the Link”. I find an interesting article with links inside the body of the writing. A recent article I used was, “Our obsession with taking photos is changing how we remember the past.” Next, I created a worksheet that asks the students to follow each link, evaluate it quickly with the C.A.R.S. criteria, and to analyze why the author linked to that source. This article ended up being a great learning lesson. First, Giuliana Mazzoni, the author, links to a variety of sources. The students get to evaluate a range of resources. Second, one of the links is now broken. An important learning moment regarding research hurdles.

It took a little work to find an article and produce the worksheet, but well worth the time.

I ask the students to evaluate sources on different levels. Sometimes the students just have to give a plus or a minus sign for a section. Other times, students are asked to evaluate a source by going through a range of questions and providing information. For example, the students might have to find the contact information for the author, even if it is not right on the page. They may have to search for the author beyond the resource.

In a way, I hope that the C.A.R.S. criteria becomes second nature for the students. That the students can at least quickly evaluate information for class and everyday life.

Next post I will share some assignments I use to keep students researching even when we are studying other subjects.


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Student Poem: #4

I Wake up

I wake up,

In a place I never thought,

With people I never knew,

Taking a shower in a house,

Where the waters never hot.

I wake up.


I get dressed,

Wearing clothes I’ve worn,

Like three days before,

Because I barely got my own,

So when I go to school, I’m a bore.

I get dressed.


I go to school,

Driving a broken vehicle,

Hoping it’ll start when I’m done,

Walking down halls not talking to people,

Ain’t real friends to no one.

I go to school.


I go to work,

Work long hours and late night,

Trying to keep a job I don’t like,

Ain’t going down without a fight.

I go to work.


I go to bed,

I lay in the dark,

With thoughts going through my head,

Like I’m here but my bodies dead,

Till I drift off and wake again,

Going through a process that’ll never end.

I wake up.

By George J.

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Student Poem: #3

Lone Goose

Foggy mornings we took off,

We flew through the dark haze,

We would call to one another,

Trying to stay close.


There one cried,

We all look below,

Into the reflection of ourselves,

Finally, water.


It was as clear as crystals,

We made our turn,

Hearing other geese sitting on the icy waters,

We called back.


Trying to lower ourselves,

We flipped and turned,

Getting to lower altitude we got closer,

Circle after circle.


With cupped wings,

We started to drop,

Lower and lower,

Finally, we saw the other geese.


They were filled with darkness,

So still they sat on that crystal water,

We called and called,



Bang, Bang, Bang,

My ears were ringing,

My friends plummeted down,

I uncupped and soared high and far.


Far, far away I flew,

No friends,

Just me, myself, and I,

On this long road home.

By Sydney S.

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Student Poem: #2


Why do they brainwash us from the beginning

Why do we go to school for 13 years when in end we don’t learn anything

Why are we expected to be involved in every sport possible

Why are we expected to be in every organization

Why are we expected to fill every hour of our day, but still be mentally stable

Why is it that I am judged by my grades when they don’t really show who I am

Why am I expected to act like I am 30 when I am only 17

Why when I act 17 do I get punished

Why when I act 30 I am scolded at

Why am I “uptight” when I am just trying to succeed

Why when I speak, it seems like no one can hear me

Why do my wants not matter

Why is so much expected of me

Why do people think I am capable of so much

Why am I everyone’s mom

Why do I have to be so responsible

Why can’t I just have fun

Why can I not just be a normal 17-year-old

Why do you think you can walk all over me

Why do you not respect me

Why can I not just be done

Why do you not see she is not good

Why are you so blind

Why do people think that “throwing shade” is okay

Why are you able to interrupt me every time I start talking

Why do you treat me differently

Why I am not the same

Why are we gonna die someday

Why is everyone so mean to each other

Please explain to me, why

 By Bonnie K.


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Student Poem #1

I thought it would be fun to take a break to share some of the poems my students recently wrote. Even though they didn’t look forward to writing their own poems at the end of the poetic unit, I think you will agree that they did an awesome job.

Student Poem

I spend all day

Working in the dust

And in the clay

Knowing I could lose it all

With the wind of one mighty gust

I don’t have time to play

Because there is bills that I can’t pay

There is grease upon my hands

That I use to work the land

When the big wheels roll

With the smoke black as coal

I help to feed

The world that’s my creed

When the sun beats down

And if the rain won’t fall

There’s no one to call

Cause the people need fed

So I grow the grain

With no help from the rain

My boots may be dirty

And my jeans are pretty worn

But I’m not asking for pity

From you in the city

For this is the life for me

Despite the aching back

And the lack of cash

I can’t imagine any other way

To spend my every day

It may lack the charm

But I do love the farm

By Jordan A.

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Research Lesson Series: Part 3

In this post I will share how I use a film to teach researching skills. I hope the post generates some ideas for you.

I like movies. I think movies and other forms of media are powerful learning tools, even for research.  Over the years I have used films, that are based on a true story, to strengthen research skills. That aspect, based on a true story, gives you a focus for the research. What was the true story?

My favorite movie to use is the film, Searching For Bobby Fischer. The film is based on the book by the same name. The book is written by Fred Waitzkin, the father of Josh Waitzkin (a chess prodigy in the 1990s). The book is about Josh’s start into the world of chess, but more about what it is like to be a dad of a prodigy.

I have used the films, Remember the Titans, Peaceful Warrior, and the documentary, The Rivals to help with researching.  But many times these films have a different lesson focus than research.

Searching for Bobby Fischer is a great film to use if researching is a major part of the lesson for a number of reasons.

First, the students like the film. They become interested in what happened to Josh and the other characters. Part of the research is to discover what happened to the characters after the movie. Here is where the film becomes even cooler to use, not all the characters are real. Without giving away everything, a few characters are based off of real people but in the movie the characters are fictional! So, students have to dig to find out who the characters were based off of in real life. Cool, right?

Second, the film is based from the book by the same name, as mentioned above. When students start to discover what the true story is, you have a book to help them with some of the more difficult and unique parts of the story. Many times, I read from the book because I don’t have enough copies for every student. I don’t mind reading to them though. The book provides answers that are difficult to find.

The third reason I like using the film is because many of the online sources reference the movie, from Wikipedia to Josh’s official site. The movie’s success helps tie the story and the people together. In a way, the students know they are dealing with solid sources because of the movie connection.

The process of finding information is an important step in research, but it is not the only step. Movies also allow you to have students think about why the movie changes the story. This analysis is not the same as evaluating a source for bias, but it still fosters critical thinking. The book also helps in this area. There are major changes to moments in the movie that the book allows you to discuss the differences.

A movie that is based on a true story can be a creative way to reinforce research skills. Share with me how you teach research in the comment section.

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Research Lesson Series: Part 2

Even with options, students will still use Google for research. Especially for everyday searches. For the second post in the series I want to share a few advance options in Google that will help students search in a more efficient manner, plus share a few fun options.

Create an Alert

The first option I share with students is how to create an alert for their topics. Using a keyword for their topic we do a Google search. I ask them to change to the “news” tab, then scroll to the bottom to locate the “Create alert” button.

We follow that button to the option section.

I share the basics with them, but discuss how creating an alert can allow Google to do some of the research for them. The students still have to curate the results, but they can have the technology do some of the work for them. Side note: Google Scholar also has this option.

Image Options

Some of the fun options can be found in the image tools.

I enjoy the reactions of my students when I show them the color and type search tools.




I allow them a few minutes to see how the results change. I do take the opportunity to discuss the “Usage rights” options, but I have a more in depth unit about copyright.

Video Search

There are some useful tools for searching videos, but the one I highlight for my students is the source option.

As you can see for my keyword, vikings, the sources match the best sites to find videos for my topic. This option expands the students’ choices for videos. YouTube is not the only site for videos.

Advanced Search Options

We finish the lesson by looking at the “Advanced Search” page.

I walk through all the options with them. At times changing the settings and analyzing the results. For example, adding a domain like “.edu” for their keyword. Students admit that the results are geared toward their subject when we change settings.

I emphasize that changing their search habits will result in better resources, but will also reduce wasted time trying to find solid information with a general Google search. The hardest part is getting them to change their habit.


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Research Lesson Series: Part 1

In 2011, I read an interesting article, “Clive Thompson on Why Kids Can’t Search.” The article highlights a habit that I see today in my students. I fondly call it “page one syndrome.”

Clive Thompson’s article delves into the subject of students’ research skills and effects Googling has on those skills. My students’ don’t even click on links anymore. Many of them just read the information box on the right side of “page one” to get an answer. But who teaches the students how to search to learn, or to produce college level research essays?

Clive Thompson’s article states that librarians are at the front lines of this issue. Yet, for many schools, teaching research skills is hit or miss throughout a student’s time at school. The reasons why are varied, but in this series I hope to share a few ideas that you can use in your lessons to strengthen your students’ research skills. Just maybe, together, we can get students past page one.

To start out I want to share my Symbaloo mix: Search Options

I like to provide options for my students, so when it fits into my curriculum, my first step is to share this mix with them. I spend time highlighting the features of a few of the search engines. I then let them explore the search engines on their own with a keyword related to the subject we are studying.

Before I share a few of these sites with you, there is a bit of information I need to tell you. I am a Minnesota Vikings fan. Why do you need to know that? Because I use the keyword “vikings” as I teach my students the different ways search engines work. In my case this works well, because my normal Google search will show sites related to my favorite team. I expand on this in two ways.

First, I set up the idea that I need to write a history essay on the culture of Vikings. Looking at the first page of Google will make this process difficult. (Keywords and Advance Search options is for the second post of this series). We then go to the second page of Google to see those results. Then I jump to one of the Os just to compare what that page’s results are to page one.

Second I use “vikings” with the other sites so that the students can “see” how even page one of the results differ from Google.

OK, time to share a couple of my favorite search engines.

Yippy is my favorite search engine to use at the beginning of the research process.

As you can see, the search results start with the official site for the Minnesota Vikings. That is OK. What I like are the tags on the left.

As you noticed I clicked the medieval option. If you will notice, by clicking on that tag changed the results on the right. As you follow the tags, the results change. You can get new tags to explore by clicking the “remix” link above the tags. Yippy is a great starting option when students are trying to learn more about a general topic.

Social Media is a part of our world and can lead students to useful content. Social Mention is a powerful (and kind of fun) search engine to discover what is happening in the social media realm.

There are lots of options and information going on with the results. The right side provides analytics about the keyword. The left provides the results. You can see that the result has the source and user information. When you follow the result it will take you right to that post. This is a solid tool to use at the beginning of the research process, but can also be useful for real time events in history classes.

The last search engine I will talk about is Elephind. This searches newspaper collections all the way back to the 1800s. I can get lost in reading these newspapers. The right side will allow you to filter by different options.

Elephind is a specific search engine, but that matters. Using the right tool to find information matters.

I hope you enjoy investigating the other search engines from the mix. If you have questions or comments, please feel free to contact me.

The next post will be about advanced search options in Google and other tools.

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Creative Assignments by Essay Type

Teaching the guidelines for each essay type can be one of the difficult aspects of a writing unit. You have to give the students the information so that they can construct the specific essay you are asking for. Over the years I have used creative assignments to help bridge the lecture information to what it takes to write for my students. Listed below is the essay type with one creative activity I use during the lesson.

Narrative Essay

Narrative Movie Assignment

Example from student, Abbigail, M.

The students will rethink their narrative essay as a movie. In doing so, they will produce a “movie” poster, either digitally or old school (crayons, markers).  They will create a cool tagline for the movie based off of their thesis statement.

Students will also produce a mini sound track. Students will choose a song for each part of the essay: the introduction, body, and conclusion. The songs should match the tone the students want to have in their essay. The soundtrack will be typed on their poster, it will include song title and artist, plus indicate where the song will be played at during the movie.

Students are free to be creative regarding photo, art, title, and other aspects of the poster.

If the poster is done old school, hang it up in the classroom.

Suggested app to use: PicCollage or any other photo editing app.

Suggested websites: befunky, Big Huge Labs, or any other photo editing site.

Process Essay

Write Instructions

This activity is done before or after the lecture covering the guidelines for a process essay.

Using just 1 and 2, I number off the students. Number one writes instructions on how to tie a shoe.  The twos write instructions on how to fast dance. I then ask for volunteers to read their instructions to me as I try to follow just what they wrote. I make sure to wear tie shoes on this day. And yes, I play a song with a great beat to dance to… or at least move my arms around like I just don’t care… as instructed.

Compare / Contrast

Split Picture

I use this activity after the lecture over the compare contrast essay. I have the students fold a blank piece of paper in half (landscape or portrait). Then using that fold as an invisible line, they have to draw a full picture but with the two topics on each side of the line.  For example, if the students want to write about two friends, their picture has half the face of one friend and the other side is the face of the other friend. The whole picture is a “single” face, but each friend has their features on a side. The rules are the same if the choose an activity like football and basketball. The picture has a court on one side and a field on the other. The fold is the line that separates the topics.

The pictures are kind of crazy, but students enjoy trying to mesh the two topics. It does make them focus on features of each topic.

Classification / Definition

Ode to My Best Friend

To highlight the aspect of defining a topic, I have the students write a sonnet to their best friend. OK, not quite on their own. The students use the site, Sonnet Generator.  The site asks the user to add in information about the topic of the sonnet. By going through the process, the students have to think about what the characteristics of a best friend are to them. The sonnet that the site generates is just for fun, but the process helps emphasize what a definition essay is meant to highlight.

Persuasive Essay

Example from student, Brooke G.

Persuasive T-shirt


Using a regular piece of paper, students cut out a t-shirt. The t-shirt needs to have a slogan based on the students side of a persuasive topic. Students will also need to create a visual interpretation of the topic. The placement of the slogan and picture are up to the student. Students may add other components to the t-shirt, but the goal is to see the topic through the slogan and picture.

Students may also create the t-shirt with a digital design tool.

Share any cool activities you use in your classroom in the comment section.



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