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Tips and Tools for Student Research, Grades 3-5


by Anna Gratz Cockerille​

To research well, students must draw upon an array of reading and writing skills, flexibly, simultaneously, and confidently. They must skim through texts to locate relevant parts, read across and integrate information from multiple texts, accumulate knowledge and grow ideas, and read critically, considering the authorial intent of their sources. They must organize their thinking and their writing to communicate their learning with others. 

When students research, then, the full range of their literacy skills is on display.  Further, engaging in research is essential preparation for the kind of reading and thinking students will need to do as secondary and college students, and as informed citizens, attempting to make sense of the world around them. The opportunity for students to engage in research projects of all shapes and sizes is crucial.

When we teach kids to research well, we teach them to think well. Research means taking in facts and ideas as reported by someone else, and interpreting them in thoughtful ways. Inserting plenty of thinking instruction into research instruction is key. Here are a few ways to help students to move from sheer reporting of the facts to more in-depth, insightful interpretations as they research. 

  • Teach students to jot ideas while reading nonfiction the way they jot ideas in fiction, rather than just recording facts. They can push their thinking and writing using prompts (This makes me think…I’m wondering…This is important because…On the other hand…)
  • Invite students to share some of the ideas they are growing about the information they are learning with each other, and to talk for at least two minutes about a single idea with the goal of growing new ideas about the information.
  • Teach them to re-read texts they have already read, and to jot possible themes or life lessons they see.
  • Teach students to ask the kinds of questions that don’t have a ready answer. Teach them to formulate hypotheses by asking, Could it be… and to read on, jotting possible answers.
  • Teach students to add interpretations to their research writing. They might use transition phrases such as: It was possible that…, One reason this might have been so…, or One could hypothesize that…
  • Teach students to present multiple points of view in their writing and to add possible explanations for the opposing views.
  • Teach students to re-read their writing with an eye for parts that were not written in their own voices, and to go back to add their own interpretations to these parts, possibly using some of the above ideas.

Classrooms engaged in research are filled with energy, learning, and independence. Of course, all of this independence and reliance on a breadth of skills means teachers have their work cut out for them. Students will need vigilance, support, and cheerleading, in ways that will pay off long term. Join staff developers Mike Ochs and Jen DeSutter for this week's TCRWP Twitter Chat tomorrow to discuss writing and the research process. Plan to share and take away a multitude of tips to help support students as they put their nonfiction reading and writing skills to work to engage in deep, powerful inquiry. 

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Each Wednesday night at 7:30pm eastern, The Teacher's College Reading and Writing Project hosts a Twitter chat using the hashtag #TCRWP. Join @readwritemike & @jendesutter to chat about tips and tools for research in grades 3-5 tomorrow evening.  

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Not on Twitter? Take Heinemann’s free Twitter for Educators course here.


Cockerille_Anna_GratzAnna Gratz Cockerille, Coauthor of Bringing History to Life (Grade 4) in the Units of Study for Teaching Writing Series.

Anna was a teacher and a literacy coach in New York City and in Sydney, Australia, and later became a Staff Developer and Writer at TCRWP. She served as an adjunct instructor in the Literacy Specialist Program at Teachers College, and taught at several TCRWP institutes, including the content literacy institute, where she helped participants bring strong literacy instruction into social studies classrooms. Anna also has been a researcher for Lucy Calkins, contributing especially to Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement (Heinemann 2012), and Navigating Nonfiction in the Units of Study for Teaching Reading, Grades 3–5 series (Heinemann 2010). Most recently, Anna served as an editor for the Units of Study for Teaching Reading, K–5 series.

Topics: Lucy Calkins, Christine Hertz, Education, Literature, Reading, TCRWP, Teachers College, Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, Writing, Anna Gratz Cockerille, Cheryl Tyler, Elementary, Kristine Mraz, Language Arts, Literacy, Middle School, Nonfiction, Purposeful Play

Date Published: 04/18/17

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