A teacher and a student looking through books on a book shelf. The teacher is teaching students how to research.

Eleven Simple and Effective Steps for teaching students how to research

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One of my favorite things to do in writing is teaching students how to research a topic they are interested in. For many students, writing is one of their least favorite subjects, but they all seem excited whenever they are given the chance to learn more about something they enjoy, and then share it with the class. 

However, teaching students how to research can be overwhelming at times. For many teachers, the lack of direct control can be very stressful. If not handled properly, students can end up producing work that does not truly reflect what they can do. Sometimes, what they end up with is just a mixed bag of random facts about a topic. If this sounds like you, fear not! In this blog post, I will share eleven simple and effective steps for teaching students how to research. If you are looking for printable or digital research bundles in Spanish, click here. 

A teacher and a student looking through books on a book shelf. The teacher is teaching students how to research.
Teaching students how to research doesn’t have to be rocket science! These eleven steps will turn your lesson from complete chaos into a soaring success!

Before we dive into this week’s blog post, have you seen my FREE teaching strategies guide for dual-language teachers? In this guide, I am sharing nine teaching strategies that will help you set your students on a path towards biliteracy and bilingualism. These are strategies you can start implementing immediately and see amazing results. Click here to get your own copy of the free guide. You can thank me later! 

Why teaching students research skills is important 

Teaching students research skills is crucial, especially in our modern world. How many of you have gone on Twitter or Facebook to find something being shared as a fact only to discover that some of the information had been twisted to fit a specific narrative? How many times have you come across information that is flat-out wrong or misleading? 

It is thanks to our “research powers” that we are able to weed through all the information we are bombarded with on a daily basis to determine what is real and what is not. 

Our students are being bombarded with that information, too. Therefore, as teachers, we must focus on teaching students how to do research. This way, they can become well-informed citizens. 

Teaching students about research 

Teaching students about research must always begin with a conversation between facts and opinions. Until our students understand the difference between the two, it will be very difficult for them to produce quality research. 

In addition, they must understand that not all sources are reputable. We want students to consume information intelligently. This means that we must teach them to verify the information they gather through multiple sources to determine its accuracy.

Finally, students should be allowed to research things they are passionate about. Assigning students a specific person or animal to research may not be engaging to them. Instead, create conditions that allow students to make choices that are still within your control will give you the best results. 

Teaching students how to research takes time and effort, but we cannot afford not to teach them this valuable skill. Especially in this day and age! 

A teacher and a student looking into a computer screen. The teacher is teaching students how to research online.
Teaching students how to research online will be a breeze with these eleven steps!

Eleven Steps for teaching students how to do research 

Because I know that teaching students how to do research can be overwhelming, I have outlined eleven steps that will guide you through the process. These steps will ensure that you are not forgetting any important steps. 

1. Spark their curiosity with an overarching theme

I have seen other teachers teaching students how to research by assigning each kid a person or an animal they will research. Now, I am not here to criticize other educators, but I disagree with this approach. Instead, choose an overarching theme, but allow students to pick who or what they will research. 

For example, in my classroom, we often research influential people in history. Influential people in history is our overarching theme, but students are free to choose who that person is. There is a level of control that you have to relinquish with this type of activity. You are basically giving your students a free pass to learn more about anyone who THEY think is influential. They may choose someone who you don’t see as influential. However, if they can support their claim with facts through research, they should be able to write about that person. 

That research process may also show them that the person they had in mind is not really that influential. This may cause them to reconsider and choose someone else. And that is exactly what we want! They are already making decisions based on their own research. 

What this looks like in the classroom…
  • Give students a theme (Influential black leaders, influential women, US Presidents, animals, US states, countries around the world…) Make sure the theme you selected is broad, so students have many options to choose from. 
  • Brainstorm possible topics of research with your students. 
  • Ask students to choose three topics to explore. 
  • Suggest initial sources for exploration 

2. Explore possible topics

The second step in teaching students how to research is to give them time to explore topics they are interested in. In the previous step, I mentioned that you should ask students to choose three possible topics for their research. Once they have done that, give students some time to do some preliminary research on each of them. Ask them to find some interesting facts about each person. 

Allowing students to go through this step will ensure that when they do pick a topic for their research, it is a topic they are truly interested in. There is nothing worse than watching a student make it through half of his research only to realize they don’t care for the topic they picked initially (trust me, I have been there!) Giving students a chance to explore different topics will help reduce the likelihood of that happening ten-fold. 

What this looks like in the classroom…
  • Give students time to explore the topics they selected
  • Give them sticky notes or index cards, so they can take down some information 
  • Ask students to think about the topic they are most interested in
  • Encourage students to consider the amount of information available for each topic in their decision 

A picture of books and a student doing research on her computer. The title how to teach students to research in eleven steps.
Read this blog post to learn about how to teach students to research in just eleven simple steps.

3. Determine what they already know vs. what they would like to know

Once students have decided what the topic of their research will be, it is time for them to think critically about the topic. Do they know anything about the topic already? Are there things they want to learn about? Is there anything they think they know but are not sure about? Allowing students to begin with this brainstorming activity will get their brains engaged and ready to learn more. 

4. Explain sources and plagiarism 

Perhaps one of the most important steps in teaching students how to research is to talk to them about citing sources and plagiarism. 

  • Citing sources 

Citing sources is a crucial step in research. We want students to understand the importance of giving credit to the sources they used. Even though they are not copying that person’s exact words (more about that in the next paragraph), they must let the reader know where the information is acquired. Explain to your students that this allows the reader to go to the source for additional information. 

This YouTube video does a pretty good job of showing students how to cite sources in their research.  BrainPop and BrainPopEspañol also have great videos about citing sources. Please, always watch videos on your own before sharing it with students to determine if it is appropriate for your class.

Don’t forget to give students a place to jot down their sources and remind them to do that throughout the process. 

  • Plagiarism

When it comes to plagiarism, students must learn that copying and pasting is a big no-no! Instead, they should read a section of information and summarize it in their own words. Providing a research packet where students can take notes will help prevent plagiarism. Students can use the packet to jot down words or phrases instead of whole sentences and paragraphs. 

5. Teaching students how to research – Begin with the basics 

When teaching students how to do research, we want to remind them who their audience is. I always tell my students that their audience is most likely someone who knows little to nothing about the topic they chose. Therefore, it is their job to provide all of the important information. 

I always give my students a research packet to guide them through this. Keep in mind that I teach fourth grade. If you teach in the higher grades, your students may be able to do this on their own. 

What this looks like in the classroom…

The research packet I give my students has some basic questions that students should be able to answer about their topic. If we go back to the example I used earlier about influential people, some of the questions would be:

  • When and where was this person born?
  • How would you describe their childhood?
  • Which schools did this person go to?

It is possible that my students won’t be able to answer all the questions in the packet, and that is ok! The packet is just a guide to help them focus on the basics. I always remind them that the reader knows nothing about this topic. It is their job to inform the reader. 

6. Teaching students how to research – Determining importance 

When teaching students how to do research, it is important to teach them about determining importance. They will most likely find a lot of information on the topic they chose, but not everything is relevant. Teaching students to focus on only the most important information is essential to helping them stay focused. 

This is another reason why I always give my students a research packet. The packet is streamlined and focused. As students research to answer the questions on the packet, they are automatically leaving out the facts that are not as important. 

7. Go a little further 

Once my students have the basic information for their research, I encourage them to dig a little deeper by creating a list of interesting facts. This allows students to bring in some of that “eye-catching” information that is not crucial to their research. It is interesting – not essential. I usually ask my students to find 5 to 7 interesting facts to add to their list. Each fact should be one sentence only. This will prevent it from overpowering the rest of their research. 

8. Determine validity 

Teaching students to determine the validity of a source is one of the hardest parts of teaching students how to research. Many of our students think that everything they read on the internet must be true. They don’t understand that anyone in the world can put out information. We must teach our students to consume information carefully by fact-checking. 

How can we teach students to check the validity of a source?
  • Find at least one other source to support each fact 
  • If it sounds unlikely, it probably is! Check again! 
  • Stick to well-known websites

I like to give my students a list of websites that I know they can trust. This reduces the likelihood that students are being fed false information. I have an entire blog post about kid-friendly websites for research that includes some of my favorite, most trusted sources. You can read that blog post by clicking here. 

A picture of a laptop and a book with the title "How to teach research to kids"
Wondering how to teach research to kids? Wonder no more!

9. Turn that information into text

One of the final steps in teaching students how to research is to show them how to take the information they gathered and present it to their audience. In order to do that, we must teach students how to organize and categorize that information and turn it into paragraphs. 

Organization and categorization

As I said before, I like to give my students a research packet to help them collect information. That research packet is organized in such a way that each section can be a paragraph in their research paper or presentation. 

If you choose not to use a research packet, you must have other ways for students to organize their information. Some teachers use index cards and envelopes. Others, use research notebooks. Whatever you choose to do, you must model to students how to combine all the information by categorizing which facts should go together. 

Again, I highly suggest creating a research packet for this. 

Writing paragraphs

Once students have categorized all the information they have, they will begin connecting those pieces together in sentences to form paragraphs. If you have taught text structure to your students, now would be a great time to review that. 

Regardless, teaching students how to piece different facts together to create a paragraph will require a lot of modeling. I like to do some shared writing and allow students to look at the information I have gathered to help me create paragraphs. 

A girl writing on her notebook. The title how to teach research skills - eleven tips.
These eleven steps on how to teach research skills will change your life!

10. Create a bibliography  

In the process of teaching students how to do research, nothing is as complicated as teaching them how to write a bibliography. Let’s face it, even adults are not sure how to do that. 

When it comes to writing a bibliography, keep in mind the age of your students and your state standards. For example, according to the Common Core, students are not required to produce a bibliography “following a standard format for citation” until grade 7. However, they are required to “provide a list of sources” starting in grade 4

What does this mean for your classroom?

If you teach upper elementary students, I would suggest teaching students to write down the name of the website they used and the URL. I don’t think it is age-appropriate to expect third, fourth, and even fifth-graders to write APA or MLA style sources. (And the Common Core seems to agree with me!) 

If you teach in the upper grades, you should begin talking to students about the standard ways to cite sources. I love the website Citation Machine because you can simply input the URL of the website you visited, and it creates the citation for you. I believe in teaching students to use all tools available at their disposal. 


11. Explore fun and engaging ways to share 

This is the best step in teaching students how to research. I love coming up with innovative ways to get my students to share their writing. In fact, I believe that writing celebrations are crucial to helping students develop a love for writing. 

My favorite way to have students share their research is with a virtual writing celebration. 

A picture of a research booklet and a paragraph about teaching students research skills.
When teaching students research skills, think about the entire process. The published piece is just as important as the research process. Finding ways to celebrate their hard work will get them excited for other similar projects in the future.

I have an entire blog post about writing celebrations. You can read that by clicking here. Basically, students create a digital presentation – a PowerPoint presentation, an eBook – and then record themselves reading what they wrote with a screencast. This is always a hit in my classroom! Remember, you can read more about it here

There you have it…

Eleven Simple and Effective Steps for teaching students how to research. Which steps do you already include in your research lessons? Did I forget anything important? Let me know in the comments below.
If you need a little more help with teaching students how to do research, you can purchase one of my research bundles in Spanish. Everything you need for teaching students how to research is included in the bundles. Make sure to check it out!

Before you go anywhere, don’t forget to download my FREE guide with nine teaching strategies for dual-language teachers. It’s a must-have! Click here to get your own copy.

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Hi, I'm Rebeca!

I help upper elementary dual language teachers with resources and ideas that promote bilingualism and biliteracy.  

Learn more about me and how I can help you here.

36 FREE Writing Prompts in spanish


36 FREE writing Prompts in Spanish