Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Behind the Books: Getting Ready to Research, Part 4

Because it’s difficult to create authentic, self-driven research experiences for early elementary students, I’m in the midst of sharing a series of activities that will allow K-2 students to develop research skills, such as visual literacy and information literacy, without actually doing research. As a result, they’ll be ready to start doing authentic research in third grade.

Last week, I focused on the Visual Teaching Strategies method. You can scroll down and read that post if you like. Today, I’m going to continue my discussion.
What do taking notes during class and doing research for a report have in common? In both cases, students must decide what information is important enough to record. To help children learn this skill, I suggest that you pose a focus question or develop a wonder statement, and then work with students to extract relevant content from a fiction-nonfiction book pair.
As you read each book aloud and discuss the content, organize the pertinent information in a table, list, or diagram, as shown below, so that students have a visual record of the process. Then have students participate in an activity that involves synthesizing and integrating the information in the tables, lists, or diagrams.
Here are two examples:
Focus Question: How do animals depend on the place where they live?

Book Pair: Just Ducks by Nicola Davies & Hip-pocket Papa by Sandra Markle

Sample Tables: Guide your students in compiling tables on chart paper after reading the books.

Sample Activity: Students create a mural that compares what ducks and frogs need to survive and how those needs are met by their environment.

Wonder Statement: I wonder how a rain forest is different from a desert.

Book Pair: The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry & Here Is a Southwestern Desert by Madeliene Dunphy

Sample Lists: Guide your students in compiling lists on chart paper after reading the books.
Sample Activity: Students fill in blanks to create poems about one of the animals in the list. Then they draw a picture of the animal. All the poems are compiled in a whole-class see-saw book that compares the creatures and features of each environment.

For more examples and details about how to implement this method, please see Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction & Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science, K-2 by Melissa Stewart & Nancy Chesley

What’s next in getting ready for research? Next week I’ll discuss the role of graphic designers in creating books and other visual materials, including advertising. How does that relate to building research skills? Check back next week to find out.


  1. I just want you to know that I love this series of posts on research. These procedures make so much sense for the type of research that younger students can do. Unfortunately, many of the teachers only remember what they did as an accomplished researcher so they have unrealistic expectations or a hopeless "these students can't do research" attitude. Thank you!

  2. Thanks for your comment, Elsie. I totally agree.

    Here's another great idea I spotted on Twitter this morning:

  3. I learn so much by reading your posts, Melissa. Thank you!

  4. So glad you find it useful, Jilanne.