Friday, October 20, 2017

In the Classroom: A Community of Experts

When students have the opportunity to write a report on a topic they choose themselves, you may run into some research dilemmas. What if your library doesn’t have suitable sources? What if the reading level of websites is too advanced?

Professional nonfiction writers often have trouble finding information too. Even a nationwide or worldwide search may yield little information on a specific topic. For example, when I was working on No Monkeys, No Chocolate, I was frustrated that no one had ever written about the animals that interact with cocoa trees.

For my current work-in-progress about prehistoric creatures, I’m finding a lot of conflicting information in the scientific papers I’m reading. Some days I feel so confused because I just can’t tell which sources are the most reliable.

What do I do when I hit snags like these? I ask an expert. And there’s no reason your students can’t do the same thing.

Over the years, I’ve built relationships with scientists in various disciplines. These researchers are always happy to help me track down little-know resources or identify the leading theories among scientists in a particular field.

Your school can create a similar community of experts. Everyone is an expert in something. By surveying parents at the beginning of each school year, you can discover what they’re passionate about and whether they’re willing to answer questions on that topic from a child doing a report. You can also identify community workers who would be willing to assist students. It’s a great way to help students understand how professional writers go about their work.


  1. Great suggestion, Melissa! When we did Genius Hour we would often run into this problem. We would email the experts and my students were delighted when they answered back!

  2. Yes, Genius Hour would be the perfect time for this kind of research. Thanks, Jennifer.

  3. Perfect solution to involve the community and make learning connections in the real world. TY, Melissa.