Saturday, October 31, 2009

Mission: Impossible

A FUN research paper? Surely, that must be an oxymoron.

But actually, my class has just embarked upon one of my favorite parts of the year: our research paper. And I'll tell you why.

1. The topics for their research papers are interesting & fun. They have some famous mystery to uncover. The list is about 50 items long and we're always adding to it. Topics range from Stonehenge, Bigfoot, and UFOs to Jack the Ripper, Lizzie Borden, and Patty Hearst's Kidnapping. We've got myths, legends, the supernatural, and unsolved crimes. The kids truly love it. Every year it's interesting to see which ones are the most popular. My first y ear, the monsters and other supernatural were very popular. This year the crimes are especially popular. They dig into the research diligently because they honestly want to know more about the topic.

2. It is not an essay. When they actually write their paper, it is a creative account of their research. How's that? They can present it in any format EXCEPT an essay: short story, letters, journals, police reports, interviews, play, movie script, magazine article, newspaper article... the possibilities are fairly endless but those are the basics. Examples: I'm studying Stonehenge and I decide the most likely explanation is an ancient place of worship. I decide to write a short story, but then I have to choose my perspective. Will I write it from the perspective of: a teenager living in that culture, a religious official building it, an archeologist on site, or myself? They use their research to create a fictional story and then weave the facts into it. It makes the research paper SO much more interesting to read, and it prevents them from all sounding the same. Plagiarism is much more easily spotted, too.

They have a lot of questions at first, because it's unusual. Mostly they're not sure how they're going to put the facts in the paper. But I show them student samples (that helps) and once we start working, they get it. I even tell some of them to write the story first, then go back and figure out where you can plug in your notes & knowledge. There are also some introductory days where I do little things to help them prepare for this new approach. I think this is ideal for any grade level, but if I were to do it with 11th & 12th graders, I would also do some sort of formal research paper, so they are equipped with that formal analysis skill as well. It probably is best for grades 7th-10th.

Now, I haven't posted any of my resources here because a colleague of mine shared this with me, and she got it from a conference. The woman who presented it at that conference has a website; I don't have her name here with me, but when I get it, I'll post the link. I'm hoping she has links & documents there you can hunt through.

So, what do you think? It's different from the traditional research paper, that's for sure. And I promise you: it is so fun. And who ever thought you could say THAT about a research paper?


  1. Love this idea. I'll be doing multi-genre research papers for the first time this year and I'll look forward to the link to the site!

    (PS Super cute redesign! :)

  2. This is an excellent idea! As a grad student, I have to write a lot of research papers on a lot of topics, and let me tell you, I hate it! The rigorous constraint of presenting some ideas in a highly terse technical manner, with no avenue for humor or elaborate examples is just insane.

    Your approach is really good, and I hope the students slowly come to love research paper writing even when they reach college and have to let go of creative writing in papers.

  3. Love it! I'm covering research 2nd semester with my sophomores and want the focus to be on world issues (i.e. war, hunger, disease). I am gathering ideas now, but had thought about mirroring what you describe above...where they are still researching, but having their end product be something they create based on their research work (like a PSA or something along those lines). Definitely makes for a much more interesting "read!"

  4. I love this! Do you have any student work that you could provide as an example?