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Teaching Research Papers In Middle School

About this Daily Classroom Special:
A Survival Guide for Teaching Students How to Write Research Papers was written  by former Teachers Network web mentor, Lisa Kihn, a math and language arts teacher at Nevin Platt Middle School in Boulder, Colorado.

A Survival Guide for Teaching Students How to Write Research Papers

Daily Lesson Plans

30 total teaching days

One 3-ring notebook or small steno notebook
100 notecards
Box or pencil bag to keep notecards in
Five resources (minimum)


Day 1: Each student finds his/her “burning interest”
Give personal examples of a “passion” (I tell students that if I didn’t have to do anything else in my life – not even eat or sleep –  I would love to study English castles or ghost towns of Colorado! That is how I know these are passionate interests.)
Interview a partner: talk about your interests
Process the interview, i.e., “How did you know this was a “burning interest” or passion? (Did the person talk more excitedly? etc.) Write in your journal how you decided that you have chosen a truly interesting topic to study.

Day 2: In journal write what you already know about your topic and what you would like to know.
Begin searching for resources
Use librarian to teach library research skills at your school 
Handout the Topic Commitment Form, pages one and two (found at the end of this document)

Day 3: Continue teaching library research skills 
Begin collecting resources

Day 4: Go to the public library and instruct students how to research there
Continue collecting resources 
Five resources are due by Day 5
(At this time some students my need to modify their original topic if they are unable to find enough resources.)
Share with the class or in small groups the most interesting or exciting resources they found.

Day 5: Teach two-column note taking by having students fold a piece of paper and on one side write a quote or some interesting fact from a book and on the other side a personal response (i.e., Why is this interesting to you? Do you agree, disagree? etc.)
Begin researching the information in the books and recording interesting information in their journals.
Share this information with their partners
Begin setting up an interview or a visitation for each student so that they have the opportunity to interview an expert in their field of study or get a first hand look at what they are studying

Day 6: Continue reading for information
Teach how to read for information
Teach how to write a bibliography (check with your school for the approved bibliography format). 

Day 7: With partners choose 3 – 5 categories into which students can divide their papers. 
Label notecards with the title of each category and choose a symbol or picture to represent that category and draw it on the card.
Teach how to write research notes on notecards.
Each notecard should be labeled in the upper right hand corner with the symbol that represents which category the card belongs to. The middle of the card should contain a quote or the main idea from their research text. On the bottom of the card write the name of the book and the page number this information came from.
Students should have 15 to 20 notecards per category.

Day 8: Work on notecards
Share your progress with your partner

Day 9: Teach interviewing techniques (perhaps a speech teacher in your school can help with this)
Work on notecards

Day 10: Work on notecards
On a large sheet of poster paper draw pictures and use phrases to describe what you have learned so far.

Day 11: All notecards due
Teach how to write good paragraphs with strong topic sentences and good supporting sentences.

Day 12: Have students arrange notecards in order within their category, then turn them over and “talk out” (explain verbally) their topics. This method helps students see the big picture and to organize information within each category.
Write rough draft of first topic
Practice and share good topic sentences and supporting details
Put examples on the chalkboard for all to see
Partners should check each other’s progress

Day 13: Continue writing rough drafts and checking topic sentences and supporting sentences.
Teach how to create visuals to enhance their report. Require at least one visual per category.

Day 14: Continue working on rough draft and sharing with their partner

Day 15: Write rough draft of second topic (“talk out” the topic first)
Teach transitional words and sentences to use so that the paper flows smoothly from one category to the next.

Day 16: Share rough drafts and begin third topic (“talk out” third topic)
Teach how to quote when using information from their interviews in their drafts

Day 17: Continue working on rough draft

Day 18: Share rough drafts and work on fourth topic, if needed

Day 19: Teach how to write an introduction and conclusion

Day 20: Share introductions and conclusions
Remind students that their rough drafts, including visuals, cover page and bibliography, are due the next day.

Day 21: Entire rough draft due
Peer edit
Final due on Day 25

Day 22: Teach oral presentation skills 
Hand out Speech Preparation Sheet (also found at the end of this document)
- Write presentation on notecards
- Provide a large visual (a poster, video, overhead, slides, etc.)
- Teach an activity to the class (for example students have studied lawyers and set up a mock trial, sports demos and games, cooking activity, drawing techniques, etc.)

Day 23: Work on presentation and final paper

Day 24: Work on presentation and final paper

Day 25: In class do Research Paper Self-Evaluation (also found at the end of this document)
Turn in self - evaluation and final paper

Day 26: Begin presentations (schedule 4 – 5 presentations a day)

To the Project Overview
To the Topic Commitment Forms
To the Speech Preparation Sheet
To the Research Paper Self-Evaluation


Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice



Students will use scaffolding to research and organize information for writing a research paper. A research paper scaffold provides students with clear support for writing expository papers that include a question (problem), literature review, analysis, methodology for original research, results, conclusion, and references. Students examine informational text, use an inquiry-based approach, and practice genre-specific strategies for expository writing. Depending on the goals of the assignment, students may work collaboratively or as individuals. A student-written paper about color psychology provides an authentic model of a scaffold and the corresponding finished paper. The research paper scaffold is designed to be completed during seven or eight sessions over the course of four to six weeks.

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O'Day, S. (2006) Setting the stage for creative writing: Plot scaffolds for beginning and intermediate writers. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

  • Research paper scaffolding provides a temporary linguistic tool to assist students as they organize their expository writing. Scaffolding assists students in moving to levels of language performance they might be unable to obtain without this support.

  • An instructional scaffold essentially changes the role of the teacher from that of giver of knowledge to leader in inquiry. This relationship encourages creative intelligence on the part of both teacher and student, which in turn may broaden the notion of literacy so as to include more learning styles.

  • An instructional scaffold is useful for expository writing because of its basis in problem solving, ownership, appropriateness, support, collaboration, and internalization. It allows students to start where they are comfortable, and provides a genre-based structure for organizing creative ideas.


Biancarosa, G., and Snow, C. E. (2004.) Reading next-A vision for action and research in middle and high school literacy: A report from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.

  • In order for students to take ownership of knowledge, they must learn to rework raw information, use details and facts, and write.

  • Teaching writing should involve direct, explicit comprehension instruction, effective instructional principles embedded in content, motivation and self-directed learning, and text-based collaborative learning to improve middle school and high school literacy.

  • Expository writing, because its organizational structure is rooted in classical rhetoric, needs to be taught.

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