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Building Research Skills, Grades 2-3

By Doris Dillon

A cross-curricular theme unit with activities, reproducibles, and tips

Grades

1–2, 3–5

If you put all the books in your school library in a pile on the floor and asked your students to find a book on boats, imagine the reaction you'd get! You can introduce your students to research skills with a similar scenario. The result: Students instantly understand the need for the Dewey decimal system and are eager to learn it.
 
Following are some of the other strategies you can integrates into students´ library and class time to help them build research and information skills they´ll use the rest of their lives. The activities are designed to support what´s going on in the classroom — whatever the topic — so you can pick them up and apply them to any subject your students are studying now.
 

Mapping the Library
After students have been introduced to the Dewey decimal system, they need to know where to go with that information. Help students develop location skills by having them map the library. Divide the class into teams of two or three, provide graph paper, then let them map. Where are the 100s? What kinds of books are there? (philosophy) The 200s? (religion) 300s? (folktales, holidays, nursery rhymes).
 
As a follow-up, have students graph the number of books in each section. Invite third graders to graph all (or most) of the library collection (In many school libraries, students will discover that there aren't too many 100s and 200s, but that the 300, 500, 700, and 900 shelves will give them a workout!)This information can help teachers and students plan research projects: If the class is studying important people in history, they´ll know at a glance if there are enough biographies to go around. Second graders can graph books in easy fiction, with one team taking A-B, another C-D, and so on. When their graphs are complete, ask: If you were an author, where would you fit on the graph?

 

The Password, Please

 

Children in grades 2 and 3 benefit from memory aids, so try playing a password game when they visit the library. Give students a clue at the beginning of the period, and then ask for the answer — their "password" — as they exit. For example, I might give this clue: the name of the person who decided how to organize all these books. (Students will really hang on to Dewey's first name: Melvin!) Students who guess incorrectly can listen to the next child in line and try again.

 

Mini-Projects for Young Researchers

 

Students can apply their growing knowledge of the Dewey decimal system with simple research projects that start with webs. I use math as a model, first webbing math words and ideas students know in blue. Then we read aloud Jon Scieszka's The Math Curse (Viking, 1995) about math in everyday life. As you discuss the book, add students' new ideas to the web in red. Complete the web by adding what students still want to know in green. This becomes the springboard for a group mini-research project, with students locating all the books they can on numbers and related subjects.).
 
Students then break into groups to conduct their own research. Animals are a popular topic for second and third grade. Invite each group to choose an animal, create a web on chart paper, then research specific questions, such as: What does the animal eat? Where does it live? What does it do in winter? Depending on availability of computers, students might create title pages on the computer, or they might word-process the entire report.

 

Overlapping Time Lines

 

Here´s a great way to help kids see how all those historical events they´re researching fit together: a time line that keeps on growing as children tackle new projects. Make a time line from adding-machine tape (a long strip of butcher paper works just as well) and mark off periods of time. Display the time line within students´ reach. Then:
  1. Choose a color to represent a research topic and give each student a  card in that color to record their discoveries. For example, an invention timeline might include a card from each child that records an invention and a date. (And for younger students, you can write in some of the information yourself on the cards to make the research easier.
  2. Next, have students use the cards to arrange themselves in chronological order, then place the cards in order on the time line.
  3. For each new area of study, repeat this exercise with a different color: for example, I use green for authors/illustrators, blue for Olympic events, orange for art, red for space. Encourage students to browse the evolving time line throughout the year. The color-coded cards  make it easy for them to see what else was happening at the time of whatever they are researching.

 

Note-Taking Basics

 

This note-taking activity helps kids focus on key words —not whole sentences —so they learn to select and synthesize information rather than copying word for word. Start by making task cards: index cards on which you´ve written subjects that students can research using the encyclopedia. At the top of each card, write the encyclopedia volume in which students can locate the information. Hand out the task cards, and have students use the encyclopedias to identify five key facts about their subjects. You might want to have students work in teams of two, reading over the material together to decide on and record key words. Students can then use the note cards to give a brief oral report in their own words.

 

The ABCs of Research

 

You can use any multi-faceted research topic as a focus for an ABC research book. (I often take this approach when kids are researching our state, California.) Assign a letter of the alphabet to each student. As students research the topic, they record one nugget of information that goes with their assigned letter. Kids can then illustrate their information and bind it together with their classmates' pages in ABC order.

 

Make a Dictionary

 

With this activity, students get to know one of the most useful reference tools —the dictionary —and collaborate to make their own interactive dictionaries for every topic you teach. Make a class set (or more) of the Flip Dictionary Reproducible (PDF). Then follow these steps.
  1. After reviewing parts of the dictionary, demonstrate how to use the reproducible. (An overhead will come in handy for this step.) First, fill in a word related to a research topic (space, animals, addition, etc.) in the top section. Next, write in a definition of that word in the next box. Illustrate that word with a picture or example in the lowerbox.
  2. Have students complete their own dictionary pages for other words related to the topic.
  3. Ask students to arrange their papers in alphabetical order.
  4. Cut to separate the three sections. Mix up the bottom sections so they are not in alphabetical order, and bind all three sections on the left.
  5. Let pairs of students take turns with the dictionary, trying to match words with definitions and pictures.

 

All-in-One Projects

 

Part of doing research is using more than one resource, and with this high-interest activity you can reinforce a wide range of skills —from reading maps to writing letters.
 
Begin by displaying an atlas. Show students how to use the key to locate national parks. Ask: Which park is closest to our school? What parks have you visited? What national park would you like to visit?
 
Invite children (individually or in small groups) to choose their destinations. (Guide their choices so that you don´t end up with half the class researching Yosemite or Yellowstone. You might suggest places near where grandparents live to make connections in children´s lives.) Have students write to the parks for information. If computers are available, students can compose their own letters on the word processor. Using the mail they receive (which they´ll be quite excited about) plus other resources such as encyclopedias, videos, and software programs, have children create travel posters that advertise their parks as summer vacation spots.
 
Encourage a multimedia approach. Students might use a die-cutting machine to cut letters for their titles, use a program like Print Shop Deluxe, incorporate photographs from CD-ROM programs, and so on. Students´ posters make a great display for a spring open-house, where they just might inspire a family trip! As an extension to this activity, distribute the Meet a Mentor Reproducible (PDF), below, and challenge students to create a natural resources map of your town!

 

Family Research

 

Keep the learning going at home by inviting students to work with family members to choose and answer a survey question. Distribute the Family Research Reproducible (PDF), below, for students to take home. Have them query family members, then graph the results for the class.
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Susan Cheyney

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