Writing research reports is a skill students will use throughout their schooling. Helping students in grades 4–7 (or homeschool equivalent) learn the process of writing research reports is invaluable. Pair the process with an interesting topic—like natural disasters—and kids get intrigued and come out with new skills and a finished report.
7 steps to writing research reports
Writing research reports is different from other forms of creative writing or even persuasive writing. Students need to know how to choose a topic, evaluate and use informational resources, take notes, organize ideas, write the report, edit and revise their work, and present/evaluate their report.
1. Choose a topic
Sometimes students will be able to choose a topic on their own. Other times they will be assigned a topic. They might need to choose their focus even if given something to research. Start with what students know.
For example, ask them what they know about natural disasters. Have them list the kinds of natural disasters they know. Encourage them to share a few experiences with natural disasters or perhaps extreme weather. Then have students respond to prompts like: Things I know, Things I want to find out, Things I feel, Ways I could find out.
One tool I like to use is a topic wheel to help students address these ideas.
2. Use informational resources
Discuss and show students examples of different kinds of informational texts such as nonfiction books, Internet resources, news accounts, or interviews with eyewitnesses to gather information. Explain that resources are not created equal. They should use information from trusted organizations or experts and pay attention to how old the information is. They should also understand the difference between primary and secondary sources.
There are a number of ways to organize resources, including notecards, a spreadsheet, or a printed out tracking sheet. The goal is to keep track of resources used including title, author, and other information.
3. Take notes
Students must learn to paraphrase or use their own words when taking notes. If they use a direct quotation, they must clearly note that it is quoted material and attribute it properly. Explain what plagiarism is. Be sure to point out that even information on the Internet needs to be put into their own words. Taking notes, instead of copying and pasting information helps students avoid plagiarism and makes them pay more attention to what they are reading and considering for their report.
Students can take notes in a notebook, on notecards, or in a graphic organizer. Notes should include the source in case students need to clarify information or make a citation.
4. Organize ideas
A report plan helps students get ready for writing research reports. For students getting used to writing research reports, it can help to provide a framework with questions to answer or types of information to include to help them include appropriate information and organize it logically.
Students may also use outlines or other graphic organizers to put their ideas in a logical order before they start writing. If students have notes on notecards or sticky notes, they can move notes around themselves based on how they would like to organize the information.
5. Write the research report
Writing the research report seems like the biggest step—after all that’s what this whole project is about. Point out that the work students have already done—choosing a topic, doing the research and taking notes, and creating an organizing tool—makes drafting the research report much easier.
Identify the parts of a research report for students: an introduction, several body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Sometimes when writing research reports, students will need to include an outline, bibliography or list of references or citations or other specific parts as assigned. Headings, tables, charts, illustrations, and other visual representations may be part of research reports if they help convey information.
6. Revise and edit the research report
The work isn’t done when students have finished drafting. They still have two tasks before finalizing their research report—revising and editing. Working in pairs is a great way for students to see where their research report is unclear or where a reader might have questions. Talk about appropriate and helpful feedback. Encourage students to decide if the feedback will make their research report better. Point out that sometimes readers will have questions that they don’t know the answer to. They can address the question even if they can’t answer it, but should never make up the information for an answer.
Before turning in or otherwise publishing or sharing a research report, students should edit (sometimes called proofread) it for run-ons, fragments, spelling or punctuation errors, typos, and other grammatical issues.
7. Share the research report
Students can read part of their report to a group, give a presentation to the class, or host an online Natural Disasters webinar. You can also include peer assessment as part of this phase of writing a research report.
You can get the Natural Disaster Research Report pack that walks you through how to teach writing research reports and includes six parts:
- Topic Wheels
- Interesting Words Chart
- Graphic Outlines
- Data Charts
- Framework for Reports
Beyond writing research reports
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And parents, I’ve got you too! My products are designed for the classroom, but many are perfect for at home learning too. Want to walk through research reports with your child? You could with the Natural Disaster Research Report pack and online research. You could even adapt the process to a topic that your child is super excited about.
If you’re not up for research reports, but could use some phonics practice, here’s a freebie for you. Do you remember cootie catchers? Or maybe you called them fortune tellers? Kids still love them … and they are great for practicing blending and segmenting words.