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How To Teach Research Reports From Start To Finish

Most students are used to creative writing activities. But research reports are quite different. It is important to teach students how to write these too.

Students are often most used to creative writing activities, that ask them to write from their own imagination or experience, but research reports ask them to do something different. Instead of drawing from what they already know or can imagine, they need to ask and answer questions with supporting data and information.

They need to learn how to focus a topic (so they don’t end up with a giant mishmash of “everything I know about dinosaurs.”) They need to know the difference between fact and opinion and to think critically about information sources and what information is relevant to their purpose. And they need to organize it all in a way that makes sense and helps convey their ideas. 

Teach research reports in 7 Steps

Writing research reports will have some familiar steps, but also some specific and important steps that are not part of other kinds of writing.

   1. Brainstorming topics for research reports

The first step in writing research reports is brainstorming. Teach students to brainstorm research report topics and research questions. Say you are writing about animals. Students might start by listing animals they are interested in. Encourage students to ask questions like What would happen if this animal went extinct? Or how does this animal survive the winter? 

For a brainstorming session, you can start with what you know about a topic and add in questions. Try brainstorming as a group activity as one person’s suggestion might spark an idea for somebody else. 

Most students are used to creative writing activities. But research reports are quite different. It is important to teach students how to write these too.

   2. Finding informational resources for research reports

To answer their research questions, students may need a variety of informational resources:

  • Nonfiction books related to the topic
  • Newspaper or magazine articles
  • Interviews (recorded or conducted by the student)
  • Documentaries or podcasts
  • Relevant websites

Students need to learn to do library and Internet research to locate sources. Another critical skill to teach at this stage is how to choose sources that are relevant, up-to-date, and reputable.

   3. Taking notes for research reports

Key takeaways for students at this stage of writing a research report include: 

  • Selecting information relevant to their topic
  • Recognizing fact, opinion, and bias in sources
  • The difference between paraphrasing and quoting
  • What plagiarism is (and that copying something from any source, including internet sources is plagiarism)
  • How to record sources for citations or future reference

   4. Organizing research reports

Show students different ways to organize their ideas, including outlines or a variety of graphic organizers. If standards require students to understand and use formal outlines, you’ll want to show them how to use various levels of details:

  1. Main idea
    1. Subtopic
    2. Subtopic
      1. Additional detail
      2. Additional detail
  2. Second main idea
    1. Subtopic
    2. Subtopic

Most students are used to creative writing activities. But research reports are quite different. It is important to teach students how to write these too.

   5. Drafting research reports

Explain that a research report has an introduction, body paragraphs (one or more for each main idea) and a conclusion. Students should use their outline or organizer as a guide, adding details and quotations from their notes. 

Encourage students to focus on the body paragraphs, the meat of their research reports, first. They can then more easily draft the introduction and conclusion by summarizing the key points.

   6. Editing and revising research reports

Like any kind of writing, research reports need editing. Teach students about high level editing and revising, by having students share reports with a partner or small group. For this activity, have students identify specifically what is working, and also where the research report needs clarification, where things are confusing, or where additional information might be useful. Have students revise their research based on the feedback. Explain that they may need to review their notes or revisit sources as part of this process. 

Then have students use an editing checklist to make sure all requirements of the research report are met and that the research report is free of run-on sentences, fragments, spelling or typographical errors, punctuation, and other issues normally identified through proofreading. 

Most students are used to creative writing activities. But research reports are quite different. It is important to teach students how to write these too.

    7. Sharing and reflecting

Beyond printing or submitting an electronic version of the research report, there are many ways for students to share. Go around the class and have students share the most interesting thing they learned or what they consider the takeaway of their report to be. Have students interview each other about their topic. Host a living museum. Create a website or class library on your topic. Have students share what they learned using a different media.

   8. Reflecting on writing research reports

Have students reflect on the process of writing research reports and on what they learned. What worked well? What was challenging? What will students be able to do better next time?

Writing research reports can be daunting for students, but teaching them how to write research reports doesn’t have to be daunting to you! I’ve created a downloadable series of lessons to teach students how to write a report about a natural disaster. 

This resource introduces students to information texts and how to use these texts to find information to write a report. The objectives of this unit are for students to:

  • Understand that reports are used to describe;
  • Use information texts to collect facts about natural disasters; and
  • Write a report to describe a natural disaster.

Get your copy and start teaching how to write research reports today >> https://topnotchteaching.com/downloads/natural-disasters-report-writing/

Students are often most used to creative writing activities, that ask them to write from their own imagination or experience, but research reports ask them to do something different. Instead of drawing from what they already know or can imagine, they need to ask and answer questions with supporting data and information.

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