Elementary or grade school is the time and place to introduce students to various subjects and skills. Writing a research report requires basic reading comprehension skills, the ability to find information from appropriate sources, the ability to make the connection to knowledge already obtained on the subject, note-taking, organizing, layout of a research report and knowledge of the basic writing process. Skills such as spelling and grammar will be a part of the writing and editing process.
Introduce your students to the word "research." Read the dictionary meaning aloud to the class. Explain that researching a subject involves patience and several steps. Tell them that as they get older, they may have to make field trips or interview people.2
List sample subjects suitable for elementary students. A good introductory category is animals. Mention that some other potential research subjects can be countries, geography, events in history and astronomy. Explain that before finding information, the students should think about what they know about the subject and what information they are looking for. For an animal, the subtopics will be habitat, diet, special characteristic features, how they reproduce and behaviors. Encourage older children to mention the class that the animal belongs to.3
Mention that a very important step is taking notes on the important information. Suggest the use of index cards for each subtopic. Tell the students that notes can be short phrases or keywords. Point out that sometimes more than one source of reference may be required.4
Collect students in groups for a brief demo on using the internet for research. Have them note down important Websites and introduce the search engines and search features of Websites. Encourage students to visit the town's public library with a parent or care-taking adult. Mention that the town library also gives computer access. Give the students a few days to research the subject in encyclopedias, magazines or the internet.5
Introduce or review the basic writing process. Discuss the stages, namely, planning, drafting, revising, editing, proofreading and publishing. Have students observe pieces of non-fiction writing that they research. Explain that a research report should have a good title, topic sentence and an introductory paragraph, at least one paragraph on details and a concluding paragraph. Mention that the body of the report can have subtitles. Explain that a good article answers the 5 Ws and H whenever relevant, namely: Who, What, Where, When, Why and How. If required, compare and contrast narrative, descriptive and explanatory writing styles with examples.6
Introduce students in the higher elementary grades to the Modern Language Association (MLA) style for citing publications used in research. See Resources for the MLA Style. Explain the following formats used to mention references at the end for a book, magazine or Website by giving a few real examples on the board. The formats are as follows:
Author's Last Name, First Name. Title of the book. City: Publishing company, year of publication.
Author's Last Name, First Name. "Title of the article in double quotes." Name of the magazine. Issue month, year: page numbers.
Full name of Website.
Check student work and allow students to have parents read the report and give editing inputs, although not too much help. Have individual students iterate through the editing and proofreading process before publishing.