Teaching American history through research is a delicate process in which the teacher must be sure that students are constantly finding new facts and not simply recycling old ones. Students must be forced to use sources different from the ones they normally use. The teacher must also keep a close watch on the students progress to make sure they do not get bogged down in their research.
The first step is to encourage the students to find a subject they enjoy or as least can tolerate. This will help to ensure the student does not become overly stressed and bored with the project and give up. Give the students ample time, maybe 2-3 days even, to find the right subject to research.
The next step is to have the students find different sources. This can be especially difficult for high schoolers as their limited library and the frequency of these projects focusing on U.S. history means they already have recycled sources and facts several times. Encourage the students to go to a different library or even have them order books through library loan programs. Many times books from hundreds of miles away can be shipped to your town for free.
The final step is to help them write their actual report. Sure they have new facts from their sources, but teach them how to have the sources interact with eachother. Make them present evidence in support of their main argument. Again, you must help them with this as many should not be expected to do this type of writing on their own.
The most important part for the teacher in this process will be helping the student find resources. If done correctly, each research project will be more difficult than the last and the most difficult research the student has done. If you are demanding new levels of work from the student you too must raise your level of work. Help the students to find books and sources and go pick up books from libraries. Remeber that you are a source as well and that interviews with experts are legitimate sources in research. If you see a student unable to find a new source, give them one. If you have the right level of challenge to these projects many students will not be able to do them by themselves, therefore you must step in. Maybe just one simple push will get them going, maybe it will take 3 or 4 times for you to intervene before they write a great report. Remember that if the finished project is good the student has learned, no matter what help they got.