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Dabble with alternatives to the traditional research paper

march 8, 2010

Dabble with alternatives to the traditional research paper

The research paper/project can be a daunting task for students and teachers. The nature of research reports is to have students write about something they initially know little or nothing about. This consequently requires you to teach students skills on how to conduct research, identify credible sources, collect and organize relevant information, paraphrase passages (rather than plagiarize), and format citations accurately. That’s a lot!

After doing all this initial work, students are finally ready to draft, revise, and edit. Throw in the some time spent on publishing the end product (and time spent making new mistakes that require additional editing), and this project could go on and on.

Have you ever considered options beyond the traditional report? Check out what four different teachers did to dabble with research writing in their classrooms.

ABC slide show presentations (Grades K-1)

Wilbur Wright Elementary (New Castle, IN) first grade teacher Kristi Dixon had her class study the arctic continent: its culture, people, animals, climate, land, etc. As a class they generated an alphabetical list of 26 things they learned. Each student selected one of the items and collected additional facts from nonfiction picture books.

Students then crafted informational sentences, typed them on the computer, and learned how to place pictures and text onto a PowerPoint slide. See examples. Kristi merged all the students’ slides together to create a fabulous ABC book slide show. Download the PDF version. Love this techy variation of the ABC book!

ABC Book Slideshow presentation Example Grades K-1

NOTE: Not only did Kristi target content area and writing standards with this research writing assignment, but she also integrated technology standards with seven-year-olds!

Wax museum characters (Grades 2-4)

Albany Elementary (Albany, IN) teachers Ellie Holdren and Lois Nauman opted for a twist on the traditional biography writing unit. Each second grader researched a famous American from a teacher-provided list of 150+ possibilities. Download list.

After learning about their subjects, the students then prepared a written report to be delivered orally and from a first-person point of view. The students created coordinating costumes and related props/visual aid posters to accompany their memorized oral presentations.

On presentation day, every class at Albany Elementary School cycled through the “museum” of famous Americans. Each character wore a red paper star on his shoulder to serve as a “button.” The listener pressed the button, and the student delivered his memorized first-person report. (NOTE: Each student delivered his speech 30-50 times throughout the day, depending on how many classes/students attended the museum. Not only did the presentations get better and better throughout the day with all this experience, but the students’ confidence increased, too. And to think these are second graders! WOW!)

Wax Museum Alternative Research Paper - List of Possible Biographical Topics

Professionally bound books (Grades 4-8)

Fifth graders researched Abe Lincoln in Louanne Berryman’s class at Blair Pointe Elementary (Peru, IN). After thoroughly studying several aspects of his life and impact in history, the class brainstormed a list of topics related to Abe. Some of these included childhood, cabin, travel, Mary Todd, Civil War, Emancipation Proclamation, Gettysburg Address, and his assassination. Students then selected one of these topics to research further in order to write a report.

However, Louanne upped the “fun factor” by changing the audience and format of the final product. Instead of writing their reports to the teacher to demonstrate knowledge learned, she had them each write their essays as part of a bigger class book that would be bound professionally and sent to the Lincoln Museum. Download sample pages.

Professionally Bound Books - Alternative Research Paper Sample Images

NOTE: For more information on how to get a class book published for free, see what Studentreasures Publishing has to offer.

Multi-genre research (Grades 5-12)

Instead of producing a single report, students could separate the information into multiple, smaller formats. Charlene Crouch at Selma Elementary (Selma, IN) integrated a variety of writing genres within her students’ research projects on U.S. states. Requiring specific types of information and facts, students had to present the required data within a variety of genres. Download a fifth grade student example on Colorado. The students’ final multi-genre projects each included:

  • A title page
  • A table of contents
  • A forward letter (in friendly letter format) that introduces the state researched and a little background on why the student chose it
  • A 250-word expository article or essay on the state including capital city, state bird, flower, population, climate, popular landmarks, historical events, or important people related to the state, etc.
  • A poem (of any form, including acrostic, free verse, rhyming, concrete, etc.)
  • A photo collage including highlighted places, scenes, objects, and landmarks (minimum of five photos; all must include captions written in sentences)
  • A hand-drawn state map identifying the capital city, three additional places/cities to visit, and major rivers/waterways
  • Any two additional genres that provide additional information specific and unique to the state. Possibilities include:
    • A hand-drawn license plate, with a detailed explanation for the design
    • An additional poem about the state
    • A timeline of important events related to state
    • A bumper sticker design that relates to the state, including a detailed explanation
    • A travel brochure that highlights annual festivals or events within the state (including explanations of each event, who would attend, why the event is being held, what/who the event honors, etc.)
    • A journal entry from a famous person from the state (written in first person)

Final thoughts

Remember, the nature of research writing is that students are writing to a topic they have limited knowledge about. It can be frustrating for the student to be told to develop an idea and support it with lots of facts and information if he knows very little about the subject matter. Yes, he could read and learn more, but what if he is also a struggling reader who has a hard time accessing information and comprehending vocabulary in textbooks, websites, and other sources. To encourage his perseverance, give him something to look forward to. Alternative formats and presentation methods can be just the motivation he needs. Not only do multi-genre projects, wax museum characters, PowerPoint slide shows, and class books use a variety of formats beyond the traditional paragraph-written report, they also incorporate the use of technology and computers—two words students love!

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