I’m going to be assigning my seventh graders a history project in the spring term. Their goal is going to be to write a perfect five-page paper with bibliography, footnotes, and materials from primary sources. I expect that it will be quite challenging for them.
My colleagues, who know my students from long associations, have asked me to develop a set of five questions that they can choose from. Instead of letting them pick whatever topic they wish, my colleagues tell me, I should give them a limited range of options.
I’m thinking about giving my students these five questions to pick from:
- Explain how four crusaders (people) and four events of your choice shaped the women’s rights movement between the Seneca Falls Convention and the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote.
- Choose three leaders and three events that illustrate how the African-American community improved or declined between the Civil War and 1920.
- What three labor leaders and three historical events helped American workers win important from both the US government and their employers during the period 1880 to 1930?
- Between 1880 and 1920, America saw the appearance of the first multimillionaires: Pick two, and contrast how they rose to positions of wealth and fame in American society.
- Between 1850 and 1920, vast numbers of immigrants arrived in the United States, mostly from Europe but also from Asia. Pick one immigrant community and choose three leaders and three events in that immigrant community’s history that show how it found a place in American society.
What do you think? Help me tweak them and build better questions. I also need to develop a rubric that can be applied to this.
It’s been a long time since I’ve needed to think about research papers. This will be interesting.
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I think that you’re on target, Janet. They need to work on the forms of formal research, like footnotes and bibliography, but from a writing perspective they also need to practice choosing events to describe, and explaining them in greater detail than a textbook will provide.
I think the videos about American history writing showcase what a 7th grader is really capable of. They write good narrative paragraphs, but their writing tends either to the overly verbose or the minimalist. They haven’t yet hit that sweet spot of “flow”, where words come easily to them and the structure of their writing is elegant. But they CAN get there very rapidly with pointers and tips.
As far as why they will find it challenging… for me, they mostly write one-page papers. For their English class, they write three-page papers. It’s easy to increase the bull to fill five pages. But to learn how to write concisely and effectively in five pages is tough.
What skills do you want them to work on, beyond the form of a five page paper? From your recent writing videos and the way the questions are phrased, it sounds like they’ll practice analyzing events, and asserting and supporting an opinion.
It’s been a long time since I was in seventh grade. What does one expect from a writer of that experience level? Why will they find it challenging?