Tips for Teaching The Research Paper

research paper tipsAt my school, 3rd quarter in the English department means one thing: research paper time.  We do our best to build on the process every year so that seniors graduate with confidence and a working knowledge of writing research papers and I do think that in this case departmental support is important to effective teaching. Whether you are just starting the daunting task of planning the paper or are looking for a fresh take, I highly recommend the research paper resource product from Secondary Solutions, which can be purchased as part of the Essay Architect system or separately from TeachersPayTeachers.  This Common Core Standards Based (ELA: Writing) product on teaching research papers is full of everything you need to help students grasp the concept of completing research, plagiarism, organizing their sources, using source information, MLA format, deciphering credible Internet sources, and more!  In addition to the notes, handouts, and activities included in that resource, I would like to share a couple of my tips for teaching the research paper.

1. Think through the types of sources you want students using. We cannot reasonably expect students to decipher sources for credibility and usefulness unless we teach them where to start.  I usually require that my junior students use a variety of 4-7 sources, including a minimum of one encyclopedia, one book, and one credible online source. In my experience, if I don’t put this requirement out right at the beginning, students wait until the absolute last minute and then use less than optimal sources.  Check out this post for more info on teaching students how to determine the credibility of online sources.

2. Break it down into steps.  Procrastination is a serious sport in my high school and sometimes my students want to give up before they even start because the task seems to overwhelming.  Smaller steps help with accountability and attitude.  Depending on the level I am teaching I break down my due dates into something like this:

  • Week 1: Verification of sources
  • Week 2: Thesis and working bibliography
  • Week 3 or 4: Draft
  • Week 5 or 6: Final Paper Due Date

3. Be sure that students ask themselves, “So what?”. In the information age, it is no longer important to simply find the facts.  Students need to look into the causes, effects, or importance of their topics.  Right now, my juniors are writing about topics related to The Great Gatsby and the 1920s. I let each of them pick a different topic from a list I created so they don’t feel like they are all writing the same paper.  I  emphasize the importance of discussing more than timelines, dates, and facts.  I want them to take a critical view of the lasting cultural impact of their topic.  I also have students present their research after the paper deadline, which gives them more incentive to bring out the relevance of their topic, otherwise we will sit through presentation after presentation of dates and places…

4. Explicitly discuss plagiarism in all its many forms. I used to have a line in my research paper prompt that informed students of my zero tolerance for plagiarism policy and I left it at that. However, I’ve learned over the past few years that students don’t always know (or at least feign ignorance of) the definition of plagiarism.  Some students think that the only plagiarism is buying an essay or copying/pasting 100%.  We talk ad nauseam about issues of paraphrasing too closely and taking other people’s ideas.

5. Include time for peer critique, editing, and revisions.  After weeks of struggling through the research process it is so tempting to just collect those suckers and break out the red pen, but if we really want students to improve their writing we need to slog on until the very end with lots of instruction on the process that takes place AFTER the complete paper has been written.  PS Did I mention that this resource also has a peer editing checklist?  ;)

What are your research paper challenges, tips, or ideas?  What are your students researching this year?

Tips for Attacking the Common Core Narrative Writing Standards:

Common Core Narrative

I love teaching narrative writing to high school students!  I get so busy emphasizing effective argumentation and exposition, that narrative writing always seems like a breath of fresh air and a chance for students to get creative!  Here are my tips for teaching the common core narrative writing standards:

  • Know The Narrative Standards: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3a Engage and orient the reader by setting out a problem, situation, or observation, establishing one or multiple point(s) of view, and introducing a narrator and/or characters; create a smooth progression of experiences or events.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3b Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, description, reflection, and multiple plot lines, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3c Use a variety of techniques to sequence events so that they build on one another to create a coherent whole.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3d Use precise words and phrases, telling details, and sensory language to convey a vivid picture of the experiences, events, setting, and/or characters.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3e Provide a conclusion that follows from and reflects on what is experienced, observed, or resolved over the course of the narrative.
  • Teach Writing with Literature:  Give students a concrete professional sample to study before they start writing to actively teach techniques like dialogue, sequencing, multiple plot lines, pacing, and the other standards.  Here are some examples:
    • Read excerpts from Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift and teach students to write narrative satires, which critique current society in a meaningful and allegorical way.  Teenagers are masters of satire if channeled properly.
    • Read “The  Street of the Cañon” by Josephina Niggli and inspire students to write imaginary narratives that celebrate their culture.
    • Read “Earth on Turtle’s Back” or other origin myth and assign students to write their own narrative, explaining the origin of life, or natural phenomena.
    • Read “There Will Come Soft Rains” by Ray Bradbury and allow students to write narratives about what they think the future will look like.
    • Read excerpts from A Farewell to Manzanar Jean Wakatsuki Houston and James Houston. Have students write real narratives inspired by their own lives or family members’ lives.
  • Write Interdisciplinary Narratives:  Connect with other disciplines to create meaningful narrative assessments.  For example:
    • If your students are studying WWII in World History, have them write narratives from the trenches.  They can be love stories, battle stories, tales of camaraderie, or so many other options to include the interests of all students.  Be sure they include accurate historical information gleaned from their class.
    • If your students are studying the Gold Rush in US History, teach them to write imaginary narratives of failure or success in the Gold Rush.
    • If your students are studying about the laws of motion in physics, allow them to write elaborate narrative word problems in which the main character’s real life problem is solved with he help of physics.
    • Have student write mystery narratives in which the detective uses math principals to find the culprit.
  • Emphasize pre-writing: Multiple points of view, interconnected plot lines, smooth transitions, and a coherent pieces are produced through thorough planning.  Don’t rush the pre-writing stage.  Allow students to talk it out with a partner before writing so they can bounce new ideas off each other and take the story to the next level. You may even consider making this a partner effort.
  • Integrate Art: Whether it is drawn, painted, computer generated, or using any other medium, have students create art based on their narrative.  Here’s the trick: Art must be based only on sensory details included in the text.  If students are unable to complete the art at first, they need to go back and add more detail.
  • Use Technology: Students can submit their narratives to a class blog for others to comment on.  Adding a peer audience almost always brings up the level of writing.
  • Help Students Reflect: After narratives have been crafted, it is not enough to grade it and give it back. Students need to reflect on what is experienced, observed, or resolved over the course of the narrative and during the writing process.   This will help students have a greater appreciation for literature and their own skills.

What are your tips for teaching the narrative standard?  We’d love to hear your suggestions, questions, or comments!

20 FREE Writing Prompts for Spring

I’m so excited that we’re on the verge of Spring!  Such a beautiful time!  To celebrate the spring, I have added another 101 seasonal writing prompts for grades 7-10…this time, for spring.  And for you, my loyal blog readers, I have included 20 free in this post!

Here is a sampling of 20 spring writing prompts from 101 Writing Prompts for Spring:


  1. Work at Home Mom’s Week is the first week of May. Mothers all over the world have either chosen to work outside the home, work inside the home, or be a stay at home mom and not work. Which is the best choice, in your opinion? Why? Give details and examples to support your response.
  2. March is Women’s History Month. Choose an important woman from history and do a research report on her life and accomplishments.
  3. April 7th is World Health Organization Day. What is the World Health Organization and what do they do?
  4. March is Music in Our Schools Month. In many schools, music programs are being cuts as budgets dwindle. Write an argumentative paper on why music programs should not be cut from schools.
  5. Explain and respond to the following quote by Robin Williams: “Spring is nature’s way of saying, ‘Let’s party!'”
  6. National Defeat Diabetes Month is April.  What is diabetes and why are there two different types?  Why is diabetes such a dangerous disease?
  7. May is ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease Month.  Who was Lou Gehrig and why does he have a disease named after him?  What is the disease and how does it manifest itself?
  8. The second Sunday in May is Mother’s Day.  Many people have a special person other than a mother that they would like to celebrate.  Create a special day for that person who is special to you.  Write about why he or she should be celebrated each year.
  9. May is National Hamburger Month.  Imagine you have invented a new hamburger…what would it have on it?  Describe your burger in detail.
  10. You are completing the Spring cleaning your mom is making you do, when you come across a box you have never seen in your basement.  You wipe off the thick layer of dust, break open the lock, and open the box.  Describe what you see when you open the box.
  11. April is Grilled Cheese Month.  Describe in step-by-step format how to make a grilled cheese sandwich.
  12. Spring is a time for rebirth and change.  What three things would you most like to change in your life?
  13. Explain and respond to the following quote by Doug Larsen: Spring is when you feel like whistling even with a shoe full of slush. 
  14. April is National Poetry Month in the United States.  Read, analyze, and interpret Elaine Equi’s poem “National Poetry Month.”  What is the tone of the poem?  What feelings are you left with by reading this poem?  Write your own ode to poetry.
  15. The first week of May is Teacher Appreciation Week.  Write a letter to a teacher you appreciate, then send it.
  16. Some say that after a rain, a rainbow appears, and at the end of the rainbow is a pot of gold.  Pretend that you found the end of a rainbow.  Write a story about your adventure to the end of a rainbow, what you saw along the way, and what you found at the end of the rainbow.
  17. April 22 is Earth Day.  Write a poem about the earth, saving the planet, going green, endangered species, global warming, or any other topic related to the Earth.
  18. Write a 10-line ode to a chocolate bunny.
  19. Pretend you are an Easter egg about to be colored.  How would you want to yourself to be decorated to best illustrate your personality and interests?  Be descriptive.
  20. April is Alcohol Awareness Month.  Research statistics of drunk driving and the effects of alcohol.  Create a campaign informing your classmates.

You can purchase 101 Writing Prompts for Spring, as well as 101 Writing Prompts for Winter, and 101 Writing Prompts for Fall on TPT for just $5 each!  (Of course, 101 Writing Prompts for Summer is coming soon!)




20 Free Writing Prompts for Winter

Now that the holidays are officially over, we can get back into the swing of things. Need some ideas for writing prompts? I have created my 101 Writing Prompts for Winter, and thought I would help ring in the New Year with a free sneak peek! The following 20 prompts are a sampling of  the prompts from 101 Writing Prompts for Winter.

Research Prompts

World Peace Day is December 21.  What is World Peace Day and how is it celebrated?  How was it started, and why?

National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day is December 7.  What was Pearl Harbor and why is there a day of remembrance for it?

Research the origin of kissing under the mistletoe.  What is mistletoe?  Why has it become a symbol of winter?  Why do people kiss under it?

Research the symbols of winter, i.e. Christmas Tree, nativity scene, snowflakes, a star, mistletoe, poinsettias, etc.  What do each of these symbols represent, and why are they symbolic of winter?

Argumentative/Persuasive Prompts

You have been asked to choose a new sport for the Winter Olympics.  What sport would you choose?  Convince the committee to choose your sport.

You have been asked to write a proposal banning the manufacture and wear of ugly Christmas sweaters. Convince the powers that be that ugly Christmas sweaters should be outlawed.  Be sure to provide examples and details to support your argument.

The Boy Scouts of America was founded in February, 1910.  As a scout, young boys and young men work hard to earn badges for completing tasks and service projects.  If you received badges for the things you do, what badges would they be?  Write about a new badge that you think all boys/young men should have to earn, and why.

Descriptive/Narrative Prompts

Think about a time when you realized that not everyone had the same things as others.  Some have more money and objects, others have less.  Some people get to spend time with their families at the holidays, and others don’t.  Think about the time you realized that not everyone was in the same situation as you, and how it made you feel.

Think about the time you learned that there was no Santa Claus. When was that moment, how old were you, and how did it make you feel? Be sure to paint an image in the reader’s mind to take them on that journey of discovery with you.

The first week of December is Tolerance Week.  Describe a time where you were tolerant, or witnessed someone being either tolerant or intolerant.


Create a plan for your school on how to honor Black History Month.

Explain to someone who does not share your religious beliefs how you celebrate your religious holiday.

Families do not always get along at the holidays. Describe how family discord can be a problem at these times, and detail how to best handle these situations.

Response to Literature (Quotes, poems)

Explain and respond to the following quote by Bill Watterson: “I like these cold, gray winter days. Days like these let you savor a bad mood.”

Explain and respond to the following Japanese Proverb: One kind word can warm three winter months.

Analyze the poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost.  What is the poem’s tone?  To what is winter being compared?  What is the meaning of the poem? Be sure to cite specific lines from the text to support your analysis.

Creative Writing Prompts

National Haiku Poetry Day is December 22.  Choice three of the symbols of winter and write haikus about them.

Write an “ode” to something winter-related, i.e. a snowflake, a snowman, a fireplace, a Christmas tree, presents, etc.

Write a story that begins “It wasn’t until I looked at the present that I realized what it really was…”

Create a poem about the ugliest Christmas sweater ever seen.

Thanks for stopping by!

101 Writing Prompts for Winter!

More writing prompts for grades 7-10! 101 Writing Prompts for Winter includes writing prompts for Research papers, Argumentative/Persuasive Essays, Expository Essays, Descriptive/Narrative Essays, Response to Quote/Response to Literature (Poems) prompts, and Creative Writing prompts.

Topics include Christmas, Santa Claus, Chanukah, symbols of winter, quotes about winter, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, President’s Day, special winter holidays and celebrations, and more!

Sample prompts:
You have been asked to write a proposal banning the manufacture and wear of ugly Christmas sweaters. Convince the powers that be that ugly Christmas sweaters should be outlawed. Be sure to provide examples and details to support your argument.

Think about the time you learned that there was no Santa Claus. When was that moment, how old were you, and how did it make you feel. Be sure to paint an image in the reader’s mind to take them on that journey of discovery with you.

Families do not always get along at the holidays. Describe how family discord can be a problem at these times, and detail how to best handle these situations.

Explain and respond to the following quote by Bill Watterson: I like these cold, gray winter days. Days like these let you savor a bad mood.

Suggested poems for analysis (except for one, due to copyright) are also included. $5 at

Thanks for stopping by!