Five Steps to Better Basic Research

My seventh grade history class has an assignment where they have to write a paragraph about four people who were at the Continental Congress in 1775-1776. A lot of them were’ t ready to turn it in today.  The trouble is, they can’t find any information in the textbook.

This is much as I intended, because I want to talk about research strategies for the next few days that we have class, in order to prep them for a project we’ll be doing shortly.  I wanted them to get a sense of how to flounder, before I provide the life-saving strategies.

Here’s my five steps to better (basic) research:

  1. Look at the Book (“Easy Pickings”) — use the information on the assigned pages to build a framework.  Who is the person? What did they do?
  2. Look at the Index — an important person like Ben Franklin or Thomas Jefferson is almost always in the Index of the book.  Find the entry and look them up… chances are, they did more than just what’s on the assigned pages.
  3. Do I have general knowledge? — Have I learned anything at any other time about this person?
  4. Can I find a second source of information? — There are books, magazine articles, Wikipedia entries, and other sources of information… Where else can I go that is easily accessible?
  5. Can I find a primary document? — Can I find a document this person actually wrote? A letter, a will, a diary entry?
Later this month we’ll talk about writing strategies, I think, but my kids are already solid writers in a lot of ways.  So for the next few weeks, I’m going to guide them through the tactics and strategies of research, and we’ll see what comes of that.
What strategies do you teach your kids that I haven’t listed here?
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