Raise your hand if you are sick of teaching the dreaded “research paper.” Not to mention having to read the gems you usually end up with. I know,  I know, it’s my job to show them how to find the joy in learning how to research and prove their thesis that dolphins would make a great pet. But after a couple of weeks of pretending that it really matters that you format your work cited entries exactly like the latest MLA standard (God forbid you use the one from two years  ago),  and riding herd on them in the library as they complain that “they don’t have any books on my topic,” I’m ready to chuck the whole thing for a class wiki. I’m thinking next year, I hand the “research unit” off to the social studies department, who always complain that we English teachers don’t do it right.

It’s all yours, baby.

Every year my list of banned topics gets larger. Here’s this year’s list:

No: skateboarding, surfing, snowboarding, particular cars or planes, mass murderers/mafia/criminals, bios of sports stars, celebrities, or rock stars, animals just because they’re cute, video games, Disney or Disneyland, “all about” papers, “history of” papers.

“What’s left?” moaned one poor soul.

Also over the years, I’ve been getting a lot more hard-a## about them having a thesis. One of the reasons I’ve always dreaded these things was what I call the old “encyclopedia paper.” Although these days it’s more like the Wikipedia paper. That’s what the banned category, “all about” is all about. How many times have you looked at a one-word title over a color-printed photo example of that word, under a freshly purchased plastic cover with the stupid plastic sleeve thing that is supposed to hold the papers in, but only succeeds in sliding off? (I also banned those.)  Horses. Tarantulas. Elvis. Dolphins. Baseball. Hitler. Computers. France. Cheese. I just couldn’t cope any more.

“What topic do you have in mind?”


“What about llamas?”



“‘Cause I think they’re cool.”


So I try to start early and weed out that stuff. I tell them they have to have something non-trivial they want to prove/find out. They need to organize their research around questions. Not simple yes/no questions, or questions that you can find the answers to in 30 seconds on Google.

We start with lists of questions and play, “Is this a good research-type question or not?” Here are some from this week, so you can play along at home:

1. Why are flamingos pink?
2. Who invented the car?
3. What was the first video game?
4. Is global warming real?
5. Should I buy an Apple or a Windows computer?
6. What other explanations are there for UFO sightings?
7. How many rides have they had in the history of Disneyland, and what are they?
8. Why is the sky blue?
9. Does watching violent media make kids act more violently?
10. Why did the Titanic sink?

The answers tomorrow. (Not the answers to the questions themselves, sillies, just whether or not they’re good research questions.)

1. The hand: Almost back to normal. I have a tiny scar, and my middle finger sort of slants a little sideways toward my ring finger, but it works normally.
2. The cops: It’s been exactly 11 weeks since the cops showed up at school for me. I’m still waiting for the DA to make the call. I thought I was home free since I hadn’t heard anything, but I talked to my friend at the County, and she said I would have gotten a “We have declined to…” letter. So I’m still hanging on this one.
3. Why I’m lagging lately: It’s baseball season, and my boy is playing, and those of you with experience know how it sort of takes over. I’m also debating taking the CTEL exams in June (rather than December), and I’ve been sort of studying up. More on this in another post.