Research Projects

Getting elementary kids to research?  Really?  Getting them to look through various sources has always been easy.  After all, kids are naturally inquisitive, and they love projects.  The hard part was, how do I get them to use their own language and not plagiarize every sentence they read. After all, they want to use their newly-acquired writing skills to produce an interesting paper.  One time, I had a wonderful little group of students research and create an undersea mural. They wrote about sea critters and drew darling little graphics to add to their mural.  One sweet little boy wrote about the giant squid. Now, mind you, he had no intention of plagiarizing--but--this is what he wrote about the giant squid's reproductive organ:  "The giant squid has a p---s with a 69-foot elongation."  Trying not to laugh in front of him, I pointed to the word and asked him if he knew what it was.  Innocently, he said, "No."  I said, "It's--you know--."  I couldn't find the right words to explain. Finally, he said "Oooohhhhhhhhh!!!!"  His mom and I later had a good laugh.  That's when I decided I needed a method to help kids avoid plagiarism.

I came up with and easy-to-teach and easy-to-learn method.  For example, this month we researched historical figures and wrote biographies.  I had the students create a flap book where they could write their research notes.  We brainstormed categories of information and wrote them on the flaps.

On the inside--and this is the key to avoiding plagiarism--have the students take brief notes using bullet points.  That way, when they write their report, they simply make up sentences using their own words.  The bullet points might look like this:

  • born September 8, 1954
  • oldest of her siblings
  • at age 4, moved to New Orleans
  • they were poor
  • didn't have much food to eat
The different flaps serve as their graphic organizer, so it's easy for them to just start writing after doing their research.  In fourth grade, I require three sources, which we keep track of on the back of their flap books. Their written reports have to be at least one page long, and I simplify the bibliography quite a bit.  For example, a book might just be the title and the author.

These are my students' reports, displayed on the wall of our classroom.
Here are a few up close.

David Crockett, Alamo Hero
Quannah Parker, Comanche Chief
Juan Seguin, Texas Revolution Hero

So don't be afraid to teach your kids not to plagiarize. Just cross your fingers and hope they don't research the giant squid!
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