Teaching the Research Paper – A Practical Approach

The MLA Style Manual
The MLA Style Manual (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have taught English at the 11th grade level for over ten years and quite frankly I have been through many different plans when teaching students how to write a research paper.

In my opinion, the research paper (namely a paper using source material for support) should be taught to students much earlier in their school career.  It is possible (and I have done it) to teach 6th grade students how to write a full fledged research paper.

History of Experimentation:

The first time I taught research paper I went through the basics with students, did the ancient note-card thing, went to the library for a week, pulled my hair out, and ended up with students who “wrote” a paper that was an amalgam of cut-and-pasted articles from the internet.  Some of them printed things from the internet and didn’t bother to realize that the URL was printed out at the bottom of the page.  Disaster.

I then hit upon an idea that consisted of them researching a period of history and writing a short story from the perspective of a person who lived during a specific historical event.  It was to be written in first person and they were to incorporate at least 20 facts in their short story, each fact properly cited.  Well, they wrote some good short stories, and learned how to research, but as far as making an argument about something and supporting it with evidence, I really feel I failed them.  They also used sources that were not peer reviewed and were just downright shady.

Current Approach:

  1. Using a synthesis question from the Advanced Placement Language and Composition Test (you can find them here) I supply my students with not only a prompt and an introduction to that prompt, but six ready made sources for them to use on their paper.
  2. I do not let them use the internet for research.
  3. They must use three of the sources from the packet I provide and two sources from our school’s pay-per-view database, EBSCO.
  4. I created a packet that walks them through how to:
    1. Set up a proper MLA style paper in MS Word.
    2. Access and properly navigate around EBSCO to find sources that are peer reviewed.
    3. Properly pick apart and analyze a prompt to find out what it requires of them.
    4. How to read sources for material they can use for evidence.
    5. Write a proper outline.
    6. How to insert citations into paragraphs using MS Word’s “References” tab.
    7. How to create a proper “Works Cited” page using MS Word’s “References” tab.
  5. Using the “Writing an Outline” section of the packet, they write an outline in small groups, making sure to follow the guidelines to the letter.  I explain to them that an outline is a “GAME PLAN” that is the core of their writing process.  Why change a huge essay when you can change a short outline when you make a mistake of logic?  The jocks totally get “game plan”.
  6. I write an essay on the smart board, setting it up for them, and at my desk I write an introductory paragraph with their suggestions, I write a body paragraph with their input and I write a conclusion paragraph…RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM.  They take notes.

When I am done with this process, I spend 2 days in the computer lab letting them find a source, a week of in class writing where they write an outline, and then I let them go to the computer lab for a week to type their paper.  (I have many students in my district who do not have computers at home).

I am placing the file for download that I use for the fill in the blank.  Simply print the key and then erase the answers and leave blanks for them to fill in.

Here is the fileHow to Write a paper

Good luck!

Published by Roger Colby, Novelist, Editor

Roger Colby is a novelist and teacher who has taught English for nearly two decades. He is also an avid reader of science fiction who feels, like many other sci-fi readers, that he has read everything. He writes science fiction for the reader who is looking for the next best thing, something to excite them into reading again. This blog is his journey as a writer and his musings about writing. He also edits manuscripts for a fee and is an expert at helping you reach your full potential as a writer.

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