Getting kids to take notes for their research is both tedious and terrible. Which is why you will need all the tricks available to help them take neat, efficient, clear, and valuable notes.
Decide What Matters
Seriously, no amount of note taking is valuable without a clear focus. So before anything is Googled (or Binged, Yahooed, or whatever else) or book spines are cracked, decide what matters most.
Your students should identify the main idea that they need to learn about. For most K-5/6 research projects, there is a fairly obvious theme. For the upper grades, determination of what matters is left mostly up to the student. Which is why teaching the little ones this skill early and often matters so much.
Use my FREE sample from Teachers Pay Teachers to help your kids get started!
Start with the topic, and go from there.
The Focus Page is the beginning and end. It helps students to remember what is important in any research project: WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY and HOW. Without this information, the research lacks direction!
Find the Stuff that Matters
Your kids have determined the main things they need to find out. But how to find them?
You’ll need a few things: books and computers. For the books, head to your local library or school media center. Before you bring your class, check with the librarian or media specialist about researching protocols, which books can be checked out, and schedule availability.
When you bring your class to the library, have them bring something to write with and something to write on. The complete Research Note Taking bundle includes note taking pages WITH bibliographic citation forms, making keeping track of what resources were used WAY easier! Then let them loose to find books on their specific topics.
On the computer, use verified search engines and websites. Or use my handy pre-screened list. Even online, students should be writing down their information on note taking pages. Or they could also copy and paste important information into a new document. If they do that, be sure to remind them (several times) that they will need to restate everything they copied in their own words!
Remember that not everything written online is 100% correct, or even a little bit factually true. So students should ALWAYS verify their sources.
Keep Track of It All
So, your students checked out 1,000,000,000,000 books each for their research projects, and of course forgot which one book contained the vital information they needed RIGHT NOW!
Sticky notes to the rescue my friends!
Before you even start, give each child a few packs of the very small sticky notes. (These are AWESOME Teacher Wish List items, so request them early and often.) Make sure each child has the same colors and then color code away.
I pick six different colors (5W’s + 1H = 6 colors of sticky notes). Set one color for each of the W’s and the H. Whenever a student is reading a book on their topic and finds an important piece of information, have them flag it with the sticky note that best matches the category.
EX: Blue is for WHERE. I found information about WHERE Madam C. J. Walker was born. I flag that page/section/paragraph with my blue sticky note.
Later, when students are looking back through their books, they can easily find all the information that matches the 5W’s and the H.
But I’m Online…
It works just as well for online searches, too!
If your students are copying and pasting into a new document, have them format the text color to match the sticky note color. When they look back at their note taking work, they can easily find the specific information that they need by color instead of searching through everything forever.
For really big projects, set aside a day or time to look for specific information about the subject.
For example, Monday might be WHO day when students just look for information about the main people involved in their topic. Tuesday might be WHERE day when students just look for information about where their topic happened.
It does drag the projects out a little bit, but I’ve found that students are more successful when they are hyper-focused on one part of the project than when they have EVERYTHING to do all at once.
To Do Lists
Create To-Do Lists for your students. You can use a master one for everyone or individualize it for each child. Essentially, timeline out the project by day and in order. Include the major project benchmarks (first draft due, peer editing time, final project due, etc.) and what needs to happen to meet each benchmark.
As students work through their checklists, it will keep them on track of what they need to be researching to find and will help them to remember deadlines.
What are your best research and note taking tips for students (and their teachers)?