Research This.

Posted on April 24, 2009Filed Under Follow up, Research Papers | 4 Comments

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.


4 Responses to “Research This.”

  1. Gym334 on April 24th, 2009 10:57 pm

    It really would be more effective if it were taught by the history department. When I taught American history to Juniors I had them do a research project each quarter. I assigned topics on aspects of the period I was covering that nine weeks that I did not feel I needed to focus my teaching time on. For example “Different major campaigns in the Civil War Down here we call it The War of Northern Aggression, or Major Political and Military Figures). I then used the last week or so to have different students present their papers while I graded others. The more research you do, the better you get at it. I did the same thing with sixth and eight graders

  2. mrC on April 25th, 2009 7:43 pm

    I have said the same thing for years. Or at least a tie-in/crossover kind of thing. Thanks for the ideas to take to the SS people.

  3. mz.w on April 26th, 2009 2:10 pm

    i LOVE teaching the research paper/project! i ran it out of lang arts the first two years b/c that was my team model, but last year i ran it out of soc. studies and it was much more productive. depending on the ability of the student, they got to do an “everything” paper or i made them have a thesis…for some of them, an everything paper was almost too much, even with tons of structure and support. what drives me nuts is having to teach literary analysis and grading those essays, especially the first two. by the third one there is usually some improvement/maturation of thought, but still…poorly written research is easier to stomach than the bizarre things seventh graders come up with in commentary for lit analysis.

  4. J VanHaaften on April 27th, 2009 11:17 am

    Have you thought about teaching it from a current issues perspective? There are lots of things to argue about there…abortion, animal cruelty, etc. Sometimes that helps to fire them up. Also, I have found to avoid the “Wikipedia” paper, students are required to print out every source they use. Just a thought.:) I enjoy teaching the research paper to my 8th graders.

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