How To Teach 5th Graders To Write A Research Paper


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Students will use scaffolding to research and organize information for writing a research paper. A research paper scaffold provides students with clear support for writing expository papers that include a question (problem), literature review, analysis, methodology for original research, results, conclusion, and references. Students examine informational text, use an inquiry-based approach, and practice genre-specific strategies for expository writing. Depending on the goals of the assignment, students may work collaboratively or as individuals. A student-written paper about color psychology provides an authentic model of a scaffold and the corresponding finished paper. The research paper scaffold is designed to be completed during seven or eight sessions over the course of four to six weeks.

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O'Day, S. (2006) Setting the stage for creative writing: Plot scaffolds for beginning and intermediate writers. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

  • Research paper scaffolding provides a temporary linguistic tool to assist students as they organize their expository writing. Scaffolding assists students in moving to levels of language performance they might be unable to obtain without this support.

  • An instructional scaffold essentially changes the role of the teacher from that of giver of knowledge to leader in inquiry. This relationship encourages creative intelligence on the part of both teacher and student, which in turn may broaden the notion of literacy so as to include more learning styles.

  • An instructional scaffold is useful for expository writing because of its basis in problem solving, ownership, appropriateness, support, collaboration, and internalization. It allows students to start where they are comfortable, and provides a genre-based structure for organizing creative ideas.


Biancarosa, G., and Snow, C. E. (2004.) Reading next-A vision for action and research in middle and high school literacy: A report from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.

  • In order for students to take ownership of knowledge, they must learn to rework raw information, use details and facts, and write.

  • Teaching writing should involve direct, explicit comprehension instruction, effective instructional principles embedded in content, motivation and self-directed learning, and text-based collaborative learning to improve middle school and high school literacy.

  • Expository writing, because its organizational structure is rooted in classical rhetoric, needs to be taught.

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Connection (3-5 mins): Students should be seated on the carpet with a partner.  They will be expected to turn and talk throughout this lesson.  Researchers, today is a big day! Today, we will begin the actual research process.  All of you have selected topics, formulated questions to guide your research and checked out books from the library.  Now we will begin to look for answers to our questions.  First we must understand the structure of research paper.

Teach/Active Engagement (10-12 mins):  Teacher places an example research paper on the overhead (Acid Rain, Killer Rain).  Researches, do you notice how each heading in this paper is a question.  The questions helped guide the research process.  I am completing my research paper on Abraham Lincoln and I already formulated my three questions to help guide my research.  Teacher places graphic organizer on the overhead.  Teacher writes in research questions under each heading.  Sample questions are listed below.

1.    What was Lincoln’s childhood like?
2.    How did Lincoln decide to become president?
3.    What important laws did Lincoln create as president?

Now that I have those questions, I can use my sources to find the answers to those questions.  Remember to cite your sources on the graphic organizer as well.  Teacher opens a book about Abraham Lincoln (or the topic of study for the teacher).  I will record the title, author, and publishing information for this book because I know it is titled Abraham Lincoln’s Childhood, so I assume this book will help me answer my first question.  Teacher reads aloud the first few pages of the book. 

Researchers, I learned so much already!  I learned that Lincoln was born in Kentucky to parents who were farmers.  I think that is important to know about his childhood so I will record that under my first question.  I also learned that Lincoln only attended school for eighteen months.  I can’t even imagine what that must have been like for him.  I will include this detail under my first question as well. 

Did you notice how I took my time to read through the information.  This is a hard skill because we have to be critical readers and figure out what facts are most important to answer our questions.  Once you find facts that you want to include in your paper, you should write them on your graphic organizer.  This will help us create our paragraphs later on in the research process.  I will be walking around the room to help during the lesson and use your group mates for support if you are unsure about what information to include.  This is your research paper, so include facts you are interested in!  Off you go!

Workshop Time (15-20 mins): Students return to their seats and begin their research.  They have already formulated their research questions in a previous lesson and will only need to copy these questions onto the graphic organizer.  The majority of this workshop time will be spent with students reading their books and taking notes on the graphic organizer of information they find.  This lesson is a synthesis of many previous lessons and may need to be extended to another day depending on the academic level of students.

Exit Slip/Share (3-5 mins):  Students should turn in their graphic organizers at the end of the lesson.  The teacher can use this to judge if another workshop time is needed to complete this part of the assignment.  This is also a good way to see which students are copying from the book and those that are rewriting in their own words. 

Reflection: This lesson is very difficult for students.  It is important to make sure students are using sources that are on their reading level so they do not struggle to find answers to their questions.  The synthesis of information is difficult for students especially if they have a lot of resources.  I suggest allowing each student to start with one book and then if more resources are needed slowly introduce more.

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