To be engaging research has to matter to the researcher, and to be effective it has to matter to their peers. In this article, I share two sample, adaptable research projects that benefit, not only the researchers, but also their classmates. (Roessing, L. English Journal, Vol. 96, No. 4, pp. 50-55. (Published by National Council of Teachers of English)
10. INTERDISCIPLINARY FOLKTALE PROJECTS
ELA-SCIENCE COLLABORATIVE PROJECT
In ELA students study MYTHS, ancient traditional stories which explained natural, scientific phenomena. The characters are deities (immortals) and heroic mortals, and as a folktale, they reflect the beliefs, traditions, and environment of a culture.
In groups of 4-5, each group chooses a SCIENTIFIC PHENOMENON that they are learning about, or to learn about, in science class.
Group members research everything they can learn about the phenomena, using at least 2 sources (or 1/student). At this point teachers or librarians can teach a focus lesson on research and making note cards with citations, depending on the grade level.
Group members collaboratively write a myth, a story explaining the scientific phenomena, including as many researched facts as they can (adding in-text citations) and including the elements of a myth they have learned.
Each group turns their story into a play or puppet show and presents the myth and then the real (as of the current year) belief about the science, explaining the phenomenon to an audience.
Students are assessed on written myths.
number of facts and sources
elements of a myth (see #1)
story elements: characters, setting, and plot—conflict and resolution
This project combine narrative and informative writing and reading; research techniques, independent and interdependent aspects; is interdisciplinary; and values separate skills/talents, and multiple intelligences.
TEACHER MODEL (without citations)
Research on which the Teacher Model was based
ELA-SOCIAL STUDIES COLLABORATIVE PROJECT
In ELA students study LEGENDS, ancient traditional stories which (1) memorialize (2) a real human who (3)performed an extraordinary or heroic deed. Legends take place in the (4) relatively (compared to myths) recent past in (5) an actual environment. Legends are based on facts but greatly (6) exaggerated [I always say that a good legend is 50%-50%]. As a folktale, legends reflect the beliefs, traditions, and environment of a culture.
In groups of 4-5, students choose a person whom they are learning about, or will learn about, in social studies.
Individually group members research the person and their extraordinary deed.
Collaboratively, each group writes a legend, a story memorializing the important deed of the person, including the six elements of legends (see #1).
Groups turn their story into a play or puppet show and present the legend and then share the real facts known about the person and deed.
This project combine narrative and informative writing and reading; independent and interdependent aspects; is interdisciplinary; and values separate skills/talents, and multiple intelligences.
Note: For distance learning, groups can chose or be assigned a person and then collaborate on their legend and research; they could divide the planning of the legend and conducting research, based on their interests, skills, talents, and intelligences. For their presentation they can prepare a digital graphic rendition. Two students could work on the legend—author and illustrator, and two could work on the factual—explanation and illustrations or a news story with pictures.
9. WRITING A COLLABORATIVE STORY: A (Visual) Reading-Writing-Speaking Activity (also posted as Writing Strategy #4)
Groups are to collaboratively draft a SHORT STORY (characters, plot/problem, setting) with dialogue. Note: It is difficult NOT to create a story with a Rockwell picture or a Teenie Harris photograph.
Each group can then present their story in READERS' THEATER format with a narrator.
Idea: In Science or Social Studies classes or as an interdisciplinary writing, provide pictures that include characters but also an event or setting from the content being studied.
Adding a short RESEARCH component: Students can research the artist or photographer and the time period of the work (text).
FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT at the beginning of a fiction/narrative writing unit: Even though participants are not being graded on their writing (or at all),I have found that participants do want their story to sound good when they share it, so they find themselves working on WORD CHOICE and SENTENCE FLUENCY to make it sound good.
This also will be an informal assessment of what your students know about SETTING, CHARACTER MOTIVATION and PLOT STRUCTURE; teachers can refer back to the stories when teaching or discussing LITERARY ELEMENTS in later reading lessons.
It will also assess what writers already know about including and developing DETAILS and ORGANIZATION—transitions, pacing, introductions, conclusions so teachers learn what they need to teach during the year.
When students are presenting, teachers can jot on a list of + and -. I required students to submit their "scripts" but told them that I was not looking at mechanics or neatness and not grading (
Teachers can offer participation points but I found that, with engaging pictures, they all participated).
Benefits of COLLABORATIVE WRITING:
Group work provides instant and increased feedback and a sense of audience - elements often missing from the writing experience.
The reactions of their peers help student writers understand they are writing for a community of readers.
The activity reflects real-world writing situations where professionals often collaborate on presentations, reports, and projects.
8. RESEARCHING AND WRITING A (SCHOOL) COMMUNITY BOOK
Students interview school staff and create an OUR SCHOOL COMMUNITY writing project. This is an effective way for students to get to know the school staff and collaborate in small writing groups for a whole-grade project.
In poet-author's Raven Howell picture book MY COMMUNITY, the narrator takes readers through her day and the people in her community, such as Mailman Juan. Each community member is described in a short, rhyming poem.
After a read-aloud of the book, the 76 first graders I worked with were inspired to create their own book about their school community. In small groups, the students asked interview questions of staff members, such as teachers, administrators, the chef, nurse, and custodian. Based on the information obtained, each group collaborated on a 6-line rhyming poem.
I served as facilitator (and scribe) for each group as they went through the brainstorming and writing process.
First, they made a list of facts about the community member. In many cases the children added information that their interview had not supplied, but they knew from their classes.
Then they composed a line, and if it ended in a word that was difficult to rhyme, they revised the word order or found a synonym that worked. Students chanted rhyming words until they arrived at one that made sense and described the staff member.
As they included information from the list in their poem, they checked each fact off the list.
Each member of the 4-person groups contributed lines, words, and rhymes to their group poem. Some words came directly from the interviewees' interviews.
Last, the writers became illustrators, drawing illustrations to accompany their poetry.
When completed, I scanned and designed as a Powerpoint pdf so that our book could be emailed to parents, in color, w/o being printed (free publishing). Families could print the entire book or only print their child's pages. The book introduced parents to the school.
For this project, students employed strategies and skills and met standards in reading, writing, listening, critical thinking, vocabulary, word choice, word placement, rhyming, sentence building, rhythm (meter), using synonyms, revising, collaboration, synthesizing information, evaluating, illustrating, and interviewing-as-research.
This project can be adapted to any grade level (with more in-depth interviews and more sophisticated writing) covering any Community: school, classroom, neighborhood, town/city, government, local hospital, local businesses,…or even "communities" of persons studied in content area classes, i.e., The Civil War Community, A Community of Scientists, The 20th Century Art Community.
If written in poetry, this would be an effective project for National Poetry Month and a way to study poetic elements, especially with older grade levels.
7. THE CINDERELLA CULTURAL DIVERSITY PROJECT
There are thousands of variants of the CINDERELLA folktale from all over the world. The first recorded story featuring a Cinderella figure dates to Greece in the 6th century BCE, and the Chinese Yeh-Shen dates from the 9th century. The Cinderella tale most familiar is the French variant Cendrillon, written down by Charles Perrault in 1697 (and adapted by Disney). Cinderella fairy tales have been discovered in Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, in almost every culture. There are certain motifs which categorize these tales as Cinderella tales. Other than Disney’s version, the Cinderella character is a strong, resilient young woman (or in some cases, young man) who, with the magical help of her mother’s spirit, is reclaiming her rightful position in society, a story of justice.
These tales, available in many formats—picture books, folktale anthologies and collections, and the more authentic versions— are effective for teaching about diverse traditional cultures to all grade levels. Folktales are important as reflections of the beliefs, traditions, and environment of cultures.
Students can learn the motifs of a Cinderella, read variants in Folktale Book Clubs [for more info on different types of Book Clubs, see TALKING TEXTS: A Teachers’ Guide to Book Clubs across the Curriculum], conduct some research on the culture from the tale and from other sources, and write a play based on their tale, performing as a puppet show, designing puppets and scenery which reflect the clothing and hairstyles, physical attributes of the characters, the physical environment of the culture, etc.
This could be included as a cross-curricular project for English-Language Arts, World History or Ancient Civilizations, and Art—meeting multiple reading, writing, speaking, research, and disciplinary standards—in any grade level as Cinderella stories exist in picture book, short tale, and longer original versions with more complex vocabulary.
Students who are studying the Holocaust or reading Holocaust literature can conduct research for a purpose—to create an original story to share with current and future readers. During our Holocaust unit, readers-writers researched topics of interest and created "You Were There" books for our Historical Fiction bookshelf and for future English-Language Arts and Social Studies students studying this unit.
See additional details in the archived National Council of Teachers of English English Journal article “Making Research Matter.”
These were my directions for the project:
This project is adaptable to any research topic.
5. ELEMENTS OF EFFECTIVE & COLLABORATIVE PROJECTS These are ideas to consider when designing a unit or project in English-Language Arts and any content area.
Information on the TOWN PROJECT, an ELA, science, math, S/S interdisciplinary Reading-Writing-Speaking collaborative project, was posted as Writing Strategy #14. READER'S THEATER: A Collaborative Reading-Writing-Speaking Activity is posted as Reading Strategy #16.The HOME FRONT FAIR: An Interactive Collaborative Interdisciplinary Action-Research Project is posted as Strategy #3 below. I will be posting other READING-WRITING-SPEAKING project lessons at this location in the future.
3. THE HOME FRONT FAIR: An Interactive Collaborative Interdisciplinary Action-Research Project
Students took a Multiple Intelligence "test" and were grouped by their dominant intelligences to work on one of three Discovery Centers:
USO CANTEEN (musical-rhythmic; kinesthetic),
GENERAL STORE (visual-spatial; logical-mathematical)
RADIO NEWS SHOW (verbal-linguistic).
Groups collaboratively researched, designed, and created their Discovery Center, and each planned a 20-minute presentation for a Home Front Fair held on the evening of Dec 7. Everything students said, made, did, or wore had to have a citation card (a research skill). Examples: the singers' outfits, complete with stocking lines drawn on their legs (as women did because they could not get stockings) had citation cards available; students provided citation cards for the color, size, and amount of ration coupons for a various types of products for sale in the general store.
Middle school parents and community visitors circled through the live-action exhibits, spending 20 minutes at each; the entire cycle took 1 hour (plus and introduction).
In the USO Canteen, guests listened to students sing and play on instruments "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" with a snack of donuts as were served in the Ridley USO Canteens and learned to swing dance.
In the General Store, guests were given ration coupons and used them to buy groceries, based on the monthly income for their given profession, bought war bonds, and learned about the cars of the time period and gas rationing at TJ's gas station.
The news crew presented a 20-minute radio news show complete with news stories, weather, and sports, as well war news.
Veterans were invited to bring mementos for a display.
Students learned research skills and more about WWII and what the residents of their community may have experienced on the Home Front. One gentleman guest said, "I was overseas during the war and had no idea what was happening on the Home Front. I have learned a lot tonight."
The entire project is outlined in No More "Us" and "Them": Classroom Lessons & Activities to Promote Peer Respect. See a review by literacy expert Vicki Spandel.
2. RESEARCH THAT IS PURPOSEFUL
My university students turned their research on challenges affecting children and teens into picture books to read with children and teens. Students found this assignment to more relevant and useful than a research paper. There was even a graphic book, and one student’s 8-year-old child was her illustrator. Research projects were conducted on such topics as bullying, facing loss, peer relationships, mental illness, identity, LGBTQ parents, siblings, immigration, interracial relationships, abuse, racism, homelessness, autism...and the books included in-text citations and a Bibliography (Photo 1).
On other topics, such as the rainforest, students (grades 3 to university) created A-B-C books for reading audiences (Photo 2). And students can show and share what they have learned through their study and research in the content areas, such as a student book on the water cycle, starring Drippity Drop, a drop of water (Photo 3).
During our Holocaust unit, 8th grade readers-writers researched topics of interest and created You Were There books for our Historical Fiction bookshelf and for future students studying this SS-ELA unit. See details in the archived English Journal article"Making Research Matter." English Journal, Vol. 96, No. 4 (Mar., 2007), pp. 50-55.
Elementary, middle grade, and high school students can research, create books on any topics, and read them to elementary students or even their peers. Also see my Strategies for Informative Writing & Research #6 and 7. And for additional ideas, see my article.
1. SCAFFOLDING TEACHING CITATIONS A strategy for teaching citations—SCAFFOLDING through the grades; teaching the how, when, where, and why of citing Pictured is my example of ways to scaffold:
Start with terms that younger learners can understand and sources they can access but are "experts" or "authorities" on the topic being discussed or written. Writing/Drawing directions for making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Quote Mom who has been making them for over 20 years. Writing about feeding pets? Call the vet for a quote and refer to "our vet" or Dr. John, our dog's vet." Start with citing book titles (underlined in writing by 2nd grade; italics when typing).
As students progress, add authors and then publishers and publication years to text sources and more expert authorities and a credential when citing people.
By middle grades, students are citing information gleaned from Internet sources, full book citations, and other text materials.
When students are ready, add speeches and other types of texts and more complicated Internet citations.
In high school, students could use MLA for English and Social Studies research writings and APA for Sciences and Math.