Teacher Tips how to Develop Students Research Skills

High school students are often good at coming up with an answer…but not explaining how or why they got that answer. Research is an important skill but is often lacking among students, both at the secondary and post-secondary level, and for an obvious reason: Research can be hard. So, how can teachers develop students’ research skills? Many educational websites, such as scholastic.com, provide ideas.

First, begin small, during students’ freshman or sophomore year in high school. Students must get used to doing a thorough job. The first step in preparing students for the rigor of research is to require answers in complete sentences. Unless a student gets used to writing in complete sentences he or she is unlikely to handle the rigors of citation, a necessity in research. If a student is still at the blurb or bullet point level, research is still far off.

Next, make students explain why. A complete sentence is good but is not a thorough answer by itself. “The Soviet Union decided to place nuclear missiles in Cuba in 1962” is a complete sentence but is far from thorough. By requiring students to explain “why” the teacher can garner a better response, one closer to research-savviness. “The Soviet Union decided to place nuclear missiles in Cuba in 1962 because Cuba was only 90 miles south of Florida” is a far superior answer to the first response. If students are required to answer in complete sentences as sophomores, requiring “why” would be an appropriate next step for juniors.

As incoming seniors, high school students should be able to answer and provide a brief explanation in complete sentence format. Now they must be able to explain where they got the “why” from. Who provided the information? This may be the most difficult step for students to take because they have long been used to getting information from only one source: Their textbook. Teachers should begin the process of teaching citation by providing a handout to the class for students to regularly refer back to when confusion arises.

First, the teacher must outline his or her expectations. Is in-text citation preferred, or should there be footnotes? One wide-ranging expectation for high school seniors, regardless of in-text or footnote citation, is a bibliography or reference page. At the end of a paper a student must list, in order of use, his or her research resources. After finding his or her research sources a student may cite them on a reference page in a word processing document, later to alter the order based on their use in the paper.

When explaining what authors and experts say, or when explaining where information comes from, a student should always cite the source. This is a complex process and may be difficult to fully impart to beginning high school seniors. While most students will understand that direct quotes from authors and experts should be cited, students may have a tough time citing paraphrased general ideas gleaned from a reading. In the beginning, teachers should require all quotes to be cited, and by the end of the senior year require that all paraphrased ideas and evidence be fully cited as well.

To save space in the student’s a paper, the teacher may consider using footnote citations. After a quote or paraphrased idea, a student can use a superscript number, going in numerical order, to allow the reader to jump to the reference page to see the source of information. The popular website Wikipedia uses footnote citations and may be a good visual aid for students learning the process. Without footnote citations much space in the paper would be taken up by saying “according to Doe (2007)” or “according to Smith (2009)” many times, with any jumping back and forth from resource to resource in the paper requiring a new in-text citation to avoid confusion.

On the reference page or bibliography the teacher must specify the format for citation. There are three widely-accepted formats: APA (American Psychological Association), MLA, and Chicago styles. According to Purdue University, APA format is the most widely accepted, meaning that teachers should probably use it when teaching research. The MLA, Modern Language Association, format is not as common but is used more often for high school students. The Chicago Manual style is the least common research citation format and is used by the Humanities field.