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How to Begin Doing Research Reports for Middle School Students

by Daniel Pinzow

Research reports are challenging for middle school students because the formal nature of research is generally introduced in the middle grades. Students are intimidated by the requirements asked of them, which include the structure of the report, especially if it is a nonfiction topic such as a history essay or a laboratory experiment. Every teacher must do four things to conquer their students' fear of writing research papers.

Structure the Report

This might not seem apparent, but middle school students crave and require structure, especially when you are introducing a new topic. An excellent example of structuring a report for science teachers is to use each heading of the scientific method when asking students to write a laboratory report. A sample laboratory report structure would include a topic, such as what the science class was examining; a problem/question; a hypothesis; the materials required to perform the experiment; the procedure; the data; and the conclusion -- in that order.

Paraphrasing

When asked to critically think, middle school students love to copy answers from their books to take shortcuts. If your students decide to copy answers, they must credit the author who wrote the answers. However, copying answers all the time is not good scholarship, so make your students write the facts in their own words. For example, in a book, the student might see this text: "World War I was sparked by Gavrilo Princip's assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914." The student could paraphrase this sentence as follows: "The assassination of Franz Ferdinand by Serbian Gavrilo Princip set off World War I."

Cite Sources

Whenever a student includes a fact from a book in his research report, he must include the author's name and the page number, if available, in parentheses after the sentence. If the student uses the author's exact words, he must place quotation marks around the words. For example, if a student quotes this sentence from a book written by J. Marbel, he would cite it as such: "Great Britain declared war on Germany on August 2, 1914 because they were part of the Triple Entente, and the other two members of the Entente, France and Russia, were already at war" (Marbel, p. 45). The example uses Modern Language Association citation style. Teachers can use MLA, American Psychological Association, Chicago or any other citation style they feel is appropriate for their students.

Tips

In high school and college, a teacher or professor should allow his students to use all necessary, scholarly sources to complete an assignment. However, middle school students are generally beginners in the world of research, so teachers should limit the number of sources. Two to four sources is generally best for a middle school research report. If you have that eager student who really wants to impress, you can allow him to add another source or two beyond your stipulated limit.

About the Author

Daniel Pinzow served as an urban science teacher for several years. He has expertise in a variety of subjects, ranging from biology to chemistry to history to sports. In addition, he has worked extensively in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) after-school programs.

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