From tsunamis to earthquakes, tornados to volcanos, landslides to avalanches, natural disasters happen. They teach us about geology and geography, weather and climate science. They are powerful and fascinating, whether they hit close to home or pop up in far away news.
Researching natural disasters give kids a chance to dig deeper into a topic of interest. They can learn about the research and report writing process and about a particular natural disaster.
Through this process, students
- Understand that reports are used to describe
- Use information texts to collect facts about natural disasters
- Write a report to describe a natural disaster.
Steps to writing a research report
Like any other writing, writing a research report is a process. Students need to learn how to conduct research and then how to put their findings together in a well organized report.
- Brainstorm topics and research questions
Start by brainstorming what you know about a topic. Then ask, what else would I like to know about this topic? This is a great group activity as one student’s idea may spark another. Students can use some of the wonderings or what else they would like to know to help focus their research.
- Consult informational resources
Students can use informational texts such as nonfiction books and internet resources to gather information. Students may also draw from news accounts of natural disasters or talk to eye witnesses or experts. Students should learn about choosing appropriate sources in this phase. This includes understanding primary and secondary sources, and also looking at the age of the information and who produced it.
- Take notes
There are several skills students need for effective note taking. They need to understand what information is relevant to their report. For example, if they are writing about how hurricanes form, lots of details about the effects of historic hurricanes aren’t relevant. They should know how to record sources so that they can go back to a source for clarification or cite the source as needed. Perhaps most important, they need to understand paraphrasing, direct quoting, and plagiarism.
- Organize your ideas
An outline is appropriate for organizing ideas in a report. It may be a formal outline or a graphic organizer that helps get ideas in order. Once students have an outline, they can organize their notes based on the outline.
- Use notes to write report
Using their outline and notes, students now actually draft their report, including introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. While students may be used to writing from beginning to end, many writers find writing the body paragraphs first and then writing the introduction and conclusion a useful process.
- Edit report
Students can share reports with a partner or small group to get feedback on areas where ideas may need clarification or where readers might have questions. You can also use editing checklists to make sure all the pieces of the report are done, that students have checked for run-on sentences, spelling errors, punctuation, and the like.
- Share report and reflect on learning
Students can read reports or parts of them aloud. You could host a museum of natural disasters featuring the reports. You could create a library of natural disasters for students to read at some point during the day. In addition, have students reflect on their learning.
I’ve put together a unit on writing research reports about natural disasters that takes you from brainstorming through to reflection. This series of lessons introduces students to informational texts and how to use these texts to find information about natural disasters in order to write a report. This unit contains 5 individual activities and a final project suitable for grades 4 – 7.