Activism Research Plan: Pacing, Strategies, and Mentor Texts!

Middle School Movers and Shakers

teaching research

Arthur O’Shaughnessy in his 1874 poem “Ode” wrote: “Yet we are the movers and shakers/Of the world forever, it seems.” I love the term “mover and shaker” because it reminds me of dancing, but what it really lends is to people who make an impact on the world. It is no secret that one of my favorite units to teach is research. I love the choice, the process, and the hard work it takes to produce the product. I also love seeing middle schoolers wrap their brains around the formatting of this project (MLA), and how they get excited about solving problems. One of my favorite things, after all, is to solve problems.

The MLA Research Paper unit I do each winter going into spring focuses on activism. Students identify a problem in their school, community, or world and then research that problem, Inevitably, they see causes, effects, and hypothesize solutions as well. This post will walk you through some mentor texts and resources, strategies, and pacing of the overall unit.

How Do I Start?

Let’s talk about the plan. We just finished our whole class novel, Boys Without Names by Kashmira Sheth that focuses on child labor. Getting them to see outside of themselves is an opening to this conversation about solving problems. We have discussions about the world around them, and also what needs to happen in order to make a change in the world. I use an essay packet for this project because it allows me to lay out all of the pacing for the whole unit. This is particularly helpful if students are absent or if students want to work ahead. I also collaborate with my building librarian on research methods because she rocks at helping my kids find primary and secondary sources.

Click Here for a Link to My Student Essay Packet!

Procedure/Pacing (Writing Workshops Marked=WW:)

  1. See quality examples of research papers. Decide what are the necessary characteristics in research papers.

  2. Pick a topic. Submit topic approval letter from parent or guardian. Due to some of the topics being controversial, I get family buy-in about the project and also notify my administration/tech services team in case anything gets flagged in the research process.

  3. Review key research vocabulary terms. I use Quizlet for this.

  4. Also, I like to do a separate lesson on plagiarism. We watch a somewhat creepy video on plagiarism and play some games so they get the point.

  5. Library/teacher will teach a lesson on research including how to evaluate good sources. I love using memes in my teaching. Check out the packet.

  6. Library/teacher will teach a lesson on how to get to a database and fill out their source pages for notes. These are essentially graphic organizers for how students can set up their research notes.

  7. Create research questions and learn how to narrow down a topic. I am going to implement question floods this year. I plan on setting this up with the 5 W’s so students have some structure (Who, What, When, Where, Why).

  8. Research! Find evidence using databases, books, websites, etc.

  9. Create a draft of your introduction paragraph (WW)

  10. Separate your evidence into sub-headings. Mini-lesson on how to categorize your research. When I learned how to do research, this was separating my note cards into piles (WW). Many students notice during this step they need more research.

  11. Create body paragraphs with sub-heading sections. I always review how to incorporate evidence into this step of the process (WW).

  12. Create a conclusion paragraph. Review the steps of a conclusion (WW).

  13. Create a complete Rough Draft #1 of your research paper (WW with Conferences).

  14. Revise and edit. Students participate in a peer review with a checklist.

  15. Create a complete Rough Draft #2 of your research paper (WW with Conferences).

  16. Revise and edit. Students participate in a peer review with a checklist.

  17. Create a Works Cited page. (WW with Conferences)

  18. Create Final Draft of our research papers including the final draft of a Works Cited page

I always start this unit looking at mentor texts or exemplary essays to get students to notice how these papers are set up, what they include in terms of content, and how it should look overall. This also helps with getting kids about the mindset that they are editors and into the mindset that they are thinkers. Here are a couple of the ones I share with students:

Afterward, we examine and use an anchor chart to share what we notice in terms of formatting, quotations, and how they set up a claim statement. They keep these notes in their packets, and we keep them posted throughout the unit.

Key Writing Workshops

Like any good plan, there are key checkpoints along the way. Last year was the first year that I incorporated lengthy writing conferences with each student. Even though I felt like this took a ton of time each day in class, I saw the value in connecting with each student on their feedback. Their best draft papers showed evidence of understanding how to do revisions and not just an attempt made at “getting it right.”

Checkpoint #1: Creating the First Draft

Sixth-graders have only had limited experience putting together an academic paper, so we walk through all the steps together. We follow the same format:

  1. Directions

  2. Watch Me Write

  3. We Write

  4. You Write

  5. We Share

And so on. We do this for the introduction, sorting the research we have made, body paragraphs, and the conclusion. I also workshop with them how to put evidence into a paper.

Checkpoint #2: Rough Draft #1 with Feedback

After I receive a rough draft, we do our first round of conferences. I meet one-on-one with each student with the goal of 4-5 minutes with each one. I use my feedback form:

I got this idea for this from Laura Randazzo. She uses a different form at the high school level, but the concept is the same. Coding feedback allows me to give faster feedback. I use the same process for rounds of feedback with rough drafts:

  1. Students get feedback from me that is coded. I limit this to Formatting, Ideas, and Conventions for this round. I always have Kelly Gallagher’s voice in my mind that we are not trying to copyedit or mark their papers up so they can’t be seen anymore. We want students to understand feedback. They are just learning MLA formatting as well, so they need more feedback on this than in other areas.

  2. Students create a revision plan using the codes. They identify what the code is, what it means, and HOW they will fix it. This is my favorite part because more than half of my students will comment “I will fix it.” Insert a dramatic meme here because I always say, “Yes, I know...but how?” So often, we forget to realize we provide feedback, but our students do not know how to fix their mistakes.

  3. Students submit a revision plan. This is what we talk about in writing conferences. I go over this plan with them with their paper sitting in front of us. We use the writing conference form, and they take this with them when we are done discussing their paper.

Checkpoint #3: Rough Draft #2 with Feedback

By now, I have admitted to myself that I am exhausted, and they are starting to tire. Writing conferences on this round does not take as long because students are catching on as to how to fix their errors and make plans. We go through the same process as above. Except now when I give feedback, all six traits are fair game.

Checkpoint #4: Works Cited Page

We do this round of feedback in small groups. I prefer to make students use their flipbooks from Tracee Orman, but I also show them sites like EasyBib because it is a tool that they can use.

Some Awesome Research Resources I Use:

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