Scaffolding Methods for Research Paper Writing

Scaffolding Methods for Research Paper Writing

  • Resources & Preparation
  • Instructional Plan
  • Related Resources

Students will use scaffolding to research and organize information for writing a research paper. A research paper scaffold provides students with clear support for writing expository papers that include a question (problem), literature review, analysis, methodology for original research, results, conclusion, and references. Students examine informational text, use an inquiry-based approach, and practice genre-specific strategies for expository writing. Depending on the goals of the assignment, students may work collaboratively or as individuals. A student-written paper about color psychology provides an authentic model of a scaffold and the corresponding finished paper. The research paper scaffold is designed to be completed during seven or eight sessions over the course of four to six weeks.

Featured Resources

  • Research Paper Scaffold : This handout guides students in researching and organizing the information they need for writing their research paper.
  • Inquiry on the Internet: Evaluating Web Pages for a Class Collection : Students use Internet search engines and Web analysis checklists to evaluate online resources then write annotations that explain how and why the resources will be valuable to the class.

From Theory to Practice

  • Research paper scaffolding provides a temporary linguistic tool to assist students as they organize their expository writing. Scaffolding assists students in moving to levels of language performance they might be unable to obtain without this support.
  • An instructional scaffold essentially changes the role of the teacher from that of giver of knowledge to leader in inquiry. This relationship encourages creative intelligence on the part of both teacher and student, which in turn may broaden the notion of literacy so as to include more learning styles.
  • An instructional scaffold is useful for expository writing because of its basis in problem solving, ownership, appropriateness, support, collaboration, and internalization. It allows students to start where they are comfortable, and provides a genre-based structure for organizing creative ideas.
  • In order for students to take ownership of knowledge, they must learn to rework raw information, use details and facts, and write.
  • Teaching writing should involve direct, explicit comprehension instruction, effective instructional principles embedded in content, motivation and self-directed learning, and text-based collaborative learning to improve middle school and high school literacy.

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

Computers with Internet access and printing capability

  • Research Paper Scaffold
  • Example Research Paper Scaffold
  • Example Student Research Paper
  • Internet Citation Checklist
  • Research Paper Scoring Rubric
  • Permission Form (optional)


Student objectives.

Students will

  • Formulate a clear thesis that conveys a perspective on the subject of their research
  • Practice research skills, including evaluation of sources, paraphrasing and summarizing relevant information, and citation of sources used
  • Logically group and sequence ideas in expository writing
  • Organize and display information on charts, maps, and graphs

Session 1: Research Question

You should approve students’ final research questions before Session 2. You may also wish to send home the Permission Form with students, to make parents aware of their child’s research topic and the project due dates.

Session 2: Literature Review—Search

Prior to this session, you may want to introduce or review Internet search techniques using the lesson Inquiry on the Internet: Evaluating Web Pages for a Class Collection . You may also wish to consult with the school librarian regarding subscription databases designed specifically for student research, which may be available through the school or public library. Using these types of resources will help to ensure that students find relevant and appropriate information. Using Internet search engines such as Google can be overwhelming to beginning researchers.

Session 3: Literature Review—Notes

Students need to bring their articles to this session. For large classes, have students highlight relevant information (as described below) and submit the articles for assessment before beginning the session.

Checking Literature Review entries on the same day is best practice, as it gives both you and the student time to plan and address any problems before proceeding. Note that in the finished product this literature review section will be about six paragraphs, so students need to gather enough facts to fit this format.

Session 4: Analysis

Session 5: original research.

Students should design some form of original research appropriate to their topics, but they do not necessarily have to conduct the experiments or surveys they propose. Depending on the appropriateness of the original research proposals, the time involved, and the resources available, you may prefer to omit the actual research or use it as an extension activity.

Session 6: Results (optional)

Session 7: conclusion, session 8: references and writing final draft, student assessment / reflections.

  • Observe students’ participation in the initial stages of the Research Paper Scaffold and promptly address any errors or misconceptions about the research process.
  • Observe students and provide feedback as they complete each section of the Research Paper Scaffold.
  • Provide a safe environment where students will want to take risks in exploring ideas. During collaborative work, offer feedback and guidance to those who need encouragement or require assistance in learning cooperation and tolerance.
  • Involve students in using the Research Paper Scoring Rubric for final evaluation of the research paper. Go over this rubric during Session 8, before they write their final drafts.
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A Guide to Writing a Scientific Paper: A Focus on High School Through Graduate Level Student Research

Renee a. hesselbach.

1 NIEHS Children's Environmental Health Sciences Core Center, University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

David H. Petering

2 Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Craig A. Berg

3 Curriculum and Instruction, University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Henry Tomasiewicz

Daniel weber.

This article presents a detailed guide for high school through graduate level instructors that leads students to write effective and well-organized scientific papers. Interesting research emerges from the ability to ask questions, define problems, design experiments, analyze and interpret data, and make critical connections. This process is incomplete, unless new results are communicated to others because science fundamentally requires peer review and criticism to validate or discard proposed new knowledge. Thus, a concise and clearly written research paper is a critical step in the scientific process and is important for young researchers as they are mastering how to express scientific concepts and understanding. Moreover, learning to write a research paper provides a tool to improve science literacy as indicated in the National Research Council's National Science Education Standards (1996), and A Framework for K–12 Science Education (2011), the underlying foundation for the Next Generation Science Standards currently being developed. Background information explains the importance of peer review and communicating results, along with details of each critical component, the Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results , and Discussion . Specific steps essential to helping students write clear and coherent research papers that follow a logical format, use effective communication, and develop scientific inquiry are described.


A key part of the scientific process is communication of original results to others so that one's discoveries are passed along to the scientific community and the public for awareness and scrutiny. 1 – 3 Communication to other scientists ensures that new findings become part of a growing body of publicly available knowledge that informs how we understand the world around us. 2 It is also what fuels further research as other scientists incorporate novel findings into their thinking and experiments.

Depending upon the researcher's position, intent, and needs, communication can take different forms. The gold standard is writing scientific papers that describe original research in such a way that other scientists will be able to repeat it or to use it as a basis for their studies. 1 For some, it is expected that such articles will be published in scientific journals after they have been peer reviewed and accepted for publication. Scientists must submit their articles for examination by other scientists familiar with the area of research, who decide whether the work was conducted properly and whether the results add to the knowledge base and are conveyed well enough to merit publication. 2 If a manuscript passes the scrutiny of peer-review, it has the potential to be published. 1 For others, such as for high school or undergraduate students, publishing a research paper may not be the ultimate goal. However, regardless of whether an article is to be submitted for publication, peer review is an important step in this process. For student researchers, writing a well-organized research paper is a key step in learning how to express understanding, make critical connections, summarize data, and effectively communicate results, which are important goals for improving science literacy of the National Research Council's National Science Education Standards, 4 and A Framework for K–12 Science Education, 5 and the Next Generation Science Standards 6 currently being developed and described in The NSTA Reader's Guide to A Framework for K–12 Science Education. 7 Table 1 depicts the key skills students should develop as part of the Science as Inquiry Content Standard. Table 2 illustrates the central goals of A Framework for K–12 Science Education Scientific and Engineering Practices Dimension.

Key Skills of the Science as Inquiry National Science Education Content Standard

National Research Council (1996).

Important Practices of A Framework for K–12 Science Education Scientific and Engineering Practices Dimension

National Research Council (2011).

Scientific papers based on experimentation typically include five predominant sections: Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion . This structure is a widely accepted approach to writing a research paper, and has specific sections that parallel the scientific method. Following this structure allows the scientist to tell a clear, coherent story in a logical format, essential to effective communication. 1 , 2 In addition, using a standardized format allows the reader to find specific information quickly and easily. While readers may not have time to read the entire research paper, the predictable format allows them to focus on specific sections such as the Abstract , Introduction , and Discussion sections. Therefore, it is critical that information be placed in the appropriate and logical section of the report. 3

Guidelines for Writing a Primary Research Article

The Title sends an important message to the reader about the purpose of the paper. For example, Ethanol Effects on the Developing Zebrafish: Neurobehavior and Skeletal Morphogenesis 8 tells the reader key information about the content of the research paper. Also, an appropriate and descriptive title captures the attention of the reader. When composing the Title , students should include either the aim or conclusion of the research, the subject, and possibly the independent or dependent variables. Often, the title is created after the body of the article has been written, so that it accurately reflects the purpose and content of the article. 1 , 3

The Abstract provides a short, concise summary of the research described in the body of the article and should be able to stand alone. It provides readers with a quick overview that helps them decide whether the article may be interesting to read. Included in the Abstract are the purpose or primary objectives of the experiment and why they are important, a brief description of the methods and approach used, key findings and the significance of the results, and how this work is different from the work of others. It is important to note that the Abstract briefly explains the implications of the findings, but does not evaluate the conclusions. 1 , 3 Just as with the Title , this section needs to be written carefully and succinctly. Often this section is written last to ensure it accurately reflects the content of the paper. Generally, the optimal length of the Abstract is one paragraph between 200 and 300 words, and does not contain references or abbreviations.

All new research can be categorized by field (e.g., biology, chemistry, physics, geology) and by area within the field (e.g., biology: evolution, ecology, cell biology, anatomy, environmental health). Many areas already contain a large volume of published research. The role of the Introduction is to place the new research within the context of previous studies in the particular field and area, thereby introducing the audience to the research and motivating the audience to continue reading. 1

Usually, the writer begins by describing what is known in the area that directly relates to the subject of the article's research. Clearly, this must be done judiciously; usually there is not room to describe every bit of information that is known. Each statement needs one or more references from the scientific literature that supports its validity. Students must be reminded to cite all references to eliminate the risk of plagiarism. 2 Out of this context, the author then explains what is not known and, therefore, what the article's research seeks to find out. In doing so, the scientist provides the rationale for the research and further develops why this research is important. The final statement in the Introduction should be a clearly worded hypothesis or thesis statement, as well as a brief summary of the findings as they relate to the stated hypothesis. Keep in mind that the details of the experimental findings are presented in the Results section and are aimed at filling the void in our knowledge base that has been pointed out in the Introduction .

Materials and Methods

Research utilizes various accepted methods to obtain the results that are to be shared with others in the scientific community. The quality of the results, therefore, depends completely upon the quality of the methods that are employed and the care with which they are applied. The reader will refer to the Methods section: (a) to become confident that the experiments have been properly done, (b) as the guide for repeating the experiments, and (c) to learn how to do new methods.

It is particularly important to keep in mind item (b). Since science deals with the objective properties of the physical and biological world, it is a basic axiom that these properties are independent of the scientist who reported them. Everyone should be able to measure or observe the same properties within error, if they do the same experiment using the same materials and procedures. In science, one does the same experiment by exactly repeating the experiment that has been described in the Methods section. Therefore, someone can only repeat an experiment accurately if all the relevant details of the experimental methods are clearly described. 1 , 3

The following information is important to include under illustrative headings, and is generally presented in narrative form. A detailed list of all the materials used in the experiments and, if important, their source should be described. These include biological agents (e.g., zebrafish, brine shrimp), chemicals and their concentrations (e.g., 0.20 mg/mL nicotine), and physical equipment (e.g., four 10-gallon aquariums, one light timer, one 10-well falcon dish). The reader needs to know as much as necessary about each of the materials; however, it is important not to include extraneous information. For example, consider an experiment involving zebrafish. The type and characteristics of the zebrafish used must be clearly described so another scientist could accurately replicate the experiment, such as 4–6-month-old male and female zebrafish, the type of zebrafish used (e.g., Golden), and where they were obtained (e.g., the NIEHS Children's Environmental Health Sciences Core Center in the WATER Institute of the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee). In addition to describing the physical set-up of the experiment, it may be helpful to include photographs or diagrams in the report to further illustrate the experimental design.

A thorough description of each procedure done in the reported experiment, and justification as to why a particular method was chosen to most effectively answer the research question should also be included. For example, if the scientist was using zebrafish to study developmental effects of nicotine, the reader needs to know details about how and when the zebrafish were exposed to the nicotine (e.g., maternal exposure, embryo injection of nicotine, exposure of developing embryo to nicotine in the water for a particular length of time during development), duration of the exposure (e.g., a certain concentration for 10 minutes at the two-cell stage, then the embryos were washed), how many were exposed, and why that method was chosen. The reader would also need to know the concentrations to which the zebrafish were exposed, how the scientist observed the effects of the chemical exposure (e.g., microscopic changes in structure, changes in swimming behavior), relevant safety and toxicity concerns, how outcomes were measured, and how the scientist determined whether the data/results were significantly different in experimental and unexposed control animals (statistical methods).

Students must take great care and effort to write a good Methods section because it is an essential component of the effective communication of scientific findings.

The Results section describes in detail the actual experiments that were undertaken in a clear and well-organized narrative. The information found in the Methods section serves as background for understanding these descriptions and does not need to be repeated. For each different experiment, the author may wish to provide a subtitle and, in addition, one or more introductory sentences that explains the reason for doing the experiment. In a sense, this information is an extension of the Introduction in that it makes the argument to the reader why it is important to do the experiment. The Introduction is more general; this text is more specific.

Once the reader understands the focus of the experiment, the writer should restate the hypothesis to be tested or the information sought in the experiment. For example, “Atrazine is routinely used as a crop pesticide. It is important to understand whether it affects organisms that are normally found in soil. We decided to use worms as a test organism because they are important members of the soil community. Because atrazine damages nerve cells, we hypothesized that exposure to atrazine will inhibit the ability of worms to do locomotor activities. In the first experiment, we tested the effect of the chemical on burrowing action.”

Then, the experiments to be done are described and the results entered. In reporting on experimental design, it is important to identify the dependent and independent variables clearly, as well as the controls. The results must be shown in a way that can be reproduced by the reader, but do not include more details than needed for an effective analysis. Generally, meaningful and significant data are gathered together into tables and figures that summarize relevant information, and appropriate statistical analyses are completed based on the data gathered. Besides presenting each of these data sources, the author also provides a written narrative of the contents of the figures and tables, as well as an analysis of the statistical significance. In the narrative, the writer also connects the results to the aims of the experiment as described above. Did the results support the initial hypothesis? Do they provide the information that was sought? Were there problems in the experiment that compromised the results? Be careful not to include an interpretation of the results; that is reserved for the Discussion section.

The writer then moves on to the next experiment. Again, the first paragraph is developed as above, except this experiment is seen in the context of the first experiment. In other words, a story is being developed. So, one commonly refers to the results of the first experiment as part of the basis for undertaking the second experiment. “In the first experiment we observed that atrazine altered burrowing activity. In order to understand how that might occur, we decided to study its impact on the basic biology of locomotion. Our hypothesis was that atrazine affected neuromuscular junctions. So, we did the following experiment..”

The Results section includes a focused critical analysis of each experiment undertaken. A hallmark of the scientist is a deep skepticism about results and conclusions. “Convince me! And then convince me again with even better experiments.” That is the constant challenge. Without this basic attitude of doubt and willingness to criticize one's own work, scientists do not get to the level of concern about experimental methods and results that is needed to ensure that the best experiments are being done and the most reproducible results are being acquired. Thus, it is important for students to state any limitations or weaknesses in their research approach and explain assumptions made upfront in this section so the validity of the research can be assessed.

The Discussion section is the where the author takes an overall view of the work presented in the article. First, the main results from the various experiments are gathered in one place to highlight the significant results so the reader can see how they fit together and successfully test the original hypotheses of the experiment. Logical connections and trends in the data are presented, as are discussions of error and other possible explanations for the findings, including an analysis of whether the experimental design was adequate. Remember, results should not be restated in the Discussion section, except insofar as it is absolutely necessary to make a point.

Second, the task is to help the reader link the present work with the larger body of knowledge that was portrayed in the Introduction . How do the results advance the field, and what are the implications? What does the research results mean? What is the relevance? 1 , 3

Lastly, the author may suggest further work that needs to be done based on the new knowledge gained from the research.

Supporting Documentation and Writing Skills

Tables and figures are included to support the content of the research paper. These provide the reader with a graphic display of information presented. Tables and figures must have illustrative and descriptive titles, legends, interval markers, and axis labels, as appropriate; should be numbered in the order that they appear in the report; and include explanations of any unusual abbreviations.

The final section of the scientific article is the Reference section. When citing sources, it is important to follow an accepted standardized format, such as CSE (Council of Science Editors), APA (American Psychological Association), MLA (Modern Language Association), or CMS (Chicago Manual of Style). References should be listed in alphabetical order and original authors cited. All sources cited in the text must be included in the Reference section. 1

When writing a scientific paper, the importance of writing concisely and accurately to clearly communicate the message should be emphasized to students. 1 – 3 Students should avoid slang and repetition, as well as abbreviations that may not be well known. 1 If an abbreviation must be used, identify the word with the abbreviation in parentheses the first time the term is used. Using appropriate and correct grammar and spelling throughout are essential elements of a well-written report. 1 , 3 Finally, when the article has been organized and formatted properly, students are encouraged to peer review to obtain constructive criticism and then to revise the manuscript appropriately. Good scientific writing, like any kind of writing, is a process that requires careful editing and revision. 1

A key dimension of NRC's A Framework for K–12 Science Education , Scientific and Engineering Practices, and the developing Next Generation Science Standards emphasizes the importance of students being able to ask questions, define problems, design experiments, analyze and interpret data, draw conclusions, and communicate results. 5 , 6 In the Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) program at the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, we found the guidelines presented in this article useful for high school science students because this group of students (and probably most undergraduates) often lack in understanding of, and skills to develop and write, the various components of an effective scientific paper. Students routinely need to focus more on the data collected and analyze what the results indicated in relation to the research question/hypothesis, as well as develop a detailed discussion of what they learned. Consequently, teaching students how to effectively organize and write a research report is a critical component when engaging students in scientific inquiry.


This article was supported by a Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) grant (Award Number R25RR026299) from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences of the National Institutes of Health. The SEPA program at the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee is part of the Children's Environmental Health Sciences Core Center, Community Outreach and Education Core, funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (Award Number P30ES004184). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health or the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Disclosure Statement

No competing financial interests exist.

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5 Methods to Teach Students How to do Research Papers

When teaching students how to construct research papers, the scaffolding method is an effective option. This method allows students to research and then organize their information. The scaffold provides understandable support for expository papers. Students greatly benefit from having the majority of the research and proper structure in place before even starting the paper.

With well-prepared references, students are able to:

  • Study informational text
  • Practice strategies that are genre-specific for expository writing
  • Use an inquiry-based approach
  • Work individually
  • Work collaboratively

The following tips and methodologies build off the initial preparation:

  • Students formulate a logical thesis that expresses a perspective on their research subject.
  • Students practice their research skills. This includes evaluating their sources, summarizing and paraphrasing significant information, and properly citing their sources.
  • The students logically group and then sequence their ideas in expository writing.
  •  They should arrange and then display their information on maps, graphs and charts.
  • A well-written exposition is focused on the topic and lists events in chronological order.

Formulating a research question

An example research paper scaffold and student research paper should be distributed to students. The teacher should examine these with the students, reading them aloud.

Using the example research paper, discuss briefly how a research paper answers a question. This example should help students see how a question can lead to a literature review, which leads to analysis, research, results and finally, a conclusion.

Give students a blank copy of the research paper Scaffold and explain that the procedures used in writing research papers follow each section of the scaffold. Each of those sections builds on the one before it; describe how each section will be addressed in future sessions.

Consider using Internet research lessons to help students understand how to research using the web.

Have students collect and print at least five articles to help them answer their research question. Students should use a highlighter to mark which sections pertain specifically to their question. This helps students remain focused on their research questions.

The five articles could offer differing options regarding their research questions. Be sure to inform students that their final paper will be much more interesting if it examines several different perspectives instead of just one.

Have students bring their articles to class. For a large class, teachers should have students highlight the relevant information in their articles and then submit them for assessment prior to the beginning of class.

Once identification is determined as accurate, students should complete the Literature Review section of the scaffold and list the important facts from their articles on the lines numbered one through five.

Students need to compare the information they have found to find themes.

Explain that creating a numbered list of potential themes, taken from different aspects proposed in the literature collected, can be used for analysis.

The student’s answer to the research question is the conclusion of the research paper. This section of the research paper needs to be just a few paragraphs. Students should include the facts supporting their answer from the literature review.

Students may want to use the conclusion section of their paper to point out the similarities and/or discrepancies in their findings. They may also want to suggest that further studies be done on the topic.

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  • Published: 02 December 2020

Enhancing senior high school student engagement and academic performance using an inclusive and scalable inquiry-based program

  • Locke Davenport Huyer   ORCID: 1 , 2   na1 ,
  • Neal I. Callaghan   ORCID: 1 , 3   na1 ,
  • Sara Dicks 4 ,
  • Edward Scherer 4 ,
  • Andrey I. Shukalyuk 1 ,
  • Margaret Jou 4 &
  • Dawn M. Kilkenny   ORCID: 1 , 5  

npj Science of Learning volume  5 , Article number:  17 ( 2020 ) Cite this article

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The multi-disciplinary nature of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers often renders difficulty for high school students navigating from classroom knowledge to post-secondary pursuits. Discrepancies between the knowledge-based high school learning approach and the experiential approach of future studies leaves some students disillusioned by STEM. We present Discovery , a term-long inquiry-focused learning model delivered by STEM graduate students in collaboration with high school teachers, in the context of biomedical engineering. Entire classes of high school STEM students representing diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds engaged in iterative, problem-based learning designed to emphasize critical thinking concomitantly within the secondary school and university environments. Assessment of grades and survey data suggested positive impact of this learning model on students’ STEM interests and engagement, notably in under-performing cohorts, as well as repeating cohorts that engage in the program on more than one occasion. Discovery presents a scalable platform that stimulates persistence in STEM learning, providing valuable learning opportunities and capturing cohorts of students that might otherwise be under-engaged in STEM.

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High school students with diverse STEM interests often struggle to understand the STEM experience outside the classroom 1 . The multi-disciplinary nature of many career fields can foster a challenge for students in their decision to enroll in appropriate high school courses while maintaining persistence in study, particularly when these courses are not mandatory 2 . Furthermore, this challenge is amplified by the known discrepancy between the knowledge-based learning approach common in high schools and the experiential, mastery-based approaches afforded by the subsequent undergraduate model 3 . In the latter, focused classes, interdisciplinary concepts, and laboratory experiences allow for the application of accumulated knowledge, practice in problem solving, and development of both general and technical skills 4 . Such immersive cooperative learning environments are difficult to establish in the secondary school setting and high school teachers often struggle to implement within their classroom 5 . As such, high school students may become disillusioned before graduation and never experience an enriched learning environment, despite their inherent interests in STEM 6 .

It cannot be argued that early introduction to varied math and science disciplines throughout high school is vital if students are to pursue STEM fields, especially within engineering 7 . However, the majority of literature focused on student interest and retention in STEM highlights outcomes in US high school learning environments, where the sciences are often subject-specific from the onset of enrollment 8 . In contrast, students in the Ontario (Canada) high school system are required to complete Level 1 and 2 core courses in science and math during Grades 9 and 10; these courses are offered as ‘applied’ or ‘academic’ versions and present broad topics of content 9 . It is not until Levels 3 and 4 (generally Grades 11 and 12, respectively) that STEM classes become subject-specific (i.e., Biology, Chemistry, and/or Physics) and are offered as “university”, “college”, or “mixed” versions, designed to best prepare students for their desired post-secondary pursuits 9 . Given that Levels 3 and 4 science courses are not mandatory for graduation, enrollment identifies an innate student interest in continued learning. Furthermore, engagement in these post-secondary preparatory courses is also dependent upon achieving successful grades in preceding courses, but as curriculum becomes more subject-specific, students often yield lower degrees of success in achieving course credit 2 . Therefore, it is imperative that learning supports are best focused on ensuring that those students with an innate interest are able to achieve success in learning.

When given opportunity and focused support, high school students are capable of successfully completing rigorous programs at STEM-focused schools 10 . Specialized STEM schools have existed in the US for over 100 years; generally, students are admitted after their sophomore year of high school experience (equivalent to Grade 10) based on standardized test scores, essays, portfolios, references, and/or interviews 11 . Common elements to this learning framework include a diverse array of advanced STEM courses, paired with opportunities to engage in and disseminate cutting-edge research 12 . Therein, said research experience is inherently based in the processes of critical thinking, problem solving, and collaboration. This learning framework supports translation of core curricular concepts to practice and is fundamental in allowing students to develop better understanding and appreciation of STEM career fields.

Despite the described positive attributes, many students do not have the ability or resources to engage within STEM-focused schools, particularly given that they are not prevalent across Canada, and other countries across the world. Consequently, many public institutions support the idea that post-secondary led engineering education programs are effective ways to expose high school students to engineering education and relevant career options, and also increase engineering awareness 13 . Although singular class field trips are used extensively to accomplish such programs, these may not allow immersive experiences for application of knowledge and practice of skills that are proven to impact long-term learning and influence career choices 14 , 15 . Longer-term immersive research experiences, such as after-school programs or summer camps, have shown successful at recruiting students into STEM degree programs and careers, where longevity of experience helps foster self-determination and interest-led, inquiry-based projects 4 , 16 , 17 , 18 , 19 .

Such activities convey the elements that are suggested to make a post-secondary led high school education programs successful: hands-on experience, self-motivated learning, real-life application, immediate feedback, and problem-based projects 20 , 21 . In combination with immersion in university teaching facilities, learning is authentic and relevant, similar to the STEM school-focused framework, and consequently representative of an experience found in actual STEM practice 22 . These outcomes may further be a consequence of student engagement and attitude: Brown et al. studied the relationships between STEM curriculum and student attitudes, and found the latter played a more important role in intention to persist in STEM when compared to self-efficacy 23 . This is interesting given that student self-efficacy has been identified to influence ‘motivation, persistence, and determination’ in overcoming challenges in a career pathway 24 . Taken together, this suggests that creation and delivery of modern, exciting curriculum that supports positive student attitudes is fundamental to engage and retain students in STEM programs.

Supported by the outcomes of identified effective learning strategies, University of Toronto (U of T) graduate trainees created a novel high school education program Discovery , to develop a comfortable yet stimulating environment of inquiry-focused iterative learning for senior high school students (Grades 11 & 12; Levels 3 & 4) at non-specialized schools. Built in strong collaboration with science teachers from George Harvey Collegiate Institute (Toronto District School Board), Discovery stimulates application of STEM concepts within a unique term-long applied curriculum delivered iteratively within both U of T undergraduate teaching facilities and collaborating high school classrooms 25 . Based on the volume of medically-themed news and entertainment that is communicated to the population at large, the rapidly-growing and diverse field of biomedical engineering (BME) were considered an ideal program context 26 . In its definition, BME necessitates cross-disciplinary STEM knowledge focused on the betterment of human health, wherein Discovery facilitates broadening student perspective through engaging inquiry-based projects. Importantly, Discovery allows all students within a class cohort to work together with their classroom teacher, stimulating continued development of a relevant learning community that is deemed essential for meaningful context and important for transforming student perspectives and understandings 27 , 28 . Multiple studies support the concept that relevant learning communities improve student attitudes towards learning, significantly increasing student motivation in STEM courses, and consequently improving the overall learning experience 29 . Learning communities, such as that provided by Discovery , also promote the formation of self-supporting groups, greater active involvement in class, and higher persistence rates for participating students 30 .

The objective of Discovery , through structure and dissemination, is to engage senior high school science students in challenging, inquiry-based practical BME activities as a mechanism to stimulate comprehension of STEM curriculum application to real-world concepts. Consequent focus is placed on critical thinking skill development through an atmosphere of perseverance in ambiguity, something not common in a secondary school knowledge-focused delivery but highly relevant in post-secondary STEM education strategies. Herein, we describe the observed impact of the differential project-based learning environment of Discovery on student performance and engagement. We identify the value of an inquiry-focused learning model that is tangible for students who struggle in a knowledge-focused delivery structure, where engagement in conceptual critical thinking in the relevant subject area stimulates student interest, attitudes, and resulting academic performance. Assessment of study outcomes suggests that when provided with a differential learning opportunity, student performance and interest in STEM increased. Consequently, Discovery provides an effective teaching and learning framework within a non-specialized school that motivates students, provides opportunity for critical thinking and problem-solving practice, and better prepares them for persistence in future STEM programs.

Program delivery

The outcomes of the current study result from execution of Discovery over five independent academic terms as a collaboration between Institute of Biomedical Engineering (graduate students, faculty, and support staff) and George Harvey Collegiate Institute (science teachers and administration) stakeholders. Each term, the program allowed senior secondary STEM students (Grades 11 and 12) opportunity to engage in a novel project-based learning environment. The program structure uses the problem-based engineering capstone framework as a tool of inquiry-focused learning objectives, motivated by a central BME global research topic, with research questions that are inter-related but specific to the curriculum of each STEM course subject (Fig. 1 ). Over each 12-week term, students worked in teams (3–4 students) within their class cohorts to execute projects with the guidance of U of T trainees ( Discovery instructors) and their own high school teacher(s). Student experimental work was conducted in U of T teaching facilities relevant to the research study of interest (i.e., Biology and Chemistry-based projects executed within Undergraduate Teaching Laboratories; Physics projects executed within Undergraduate Design Studios). Students were introduced to relevant techniques and safety procedures in advance of iterative experimentation. Importantly, this experience served as a course term project for students, who were assessed at several points throughout the program for performance in an inquiry-focused environment as well as within the regular classroom (Fig. 1 ). To instill the atmosphere of STEM, student teams delivered their outcomes in research poster format at a final symposium, sharing their results and recommendations with other post-secondary students, faculty, and community in an open environment.

figure 1

The general program concept (blue background; top left ) highlights a global research topic examined through student dissemination of subject-specific research questions, yielding multifaceted student outcomes (orange background; top right ). Each program term (term workflow, yellow background; bottom panel ), students work on program deliverables in class (blue), iterate experimental outcomes within university facilities (orange), and are assessed accordingly at numerous deliverables in an inquiry-focused learning model.

Over the course of five terms there were 268 instances of tracked student participation, representing 170 individual students. Specifically, 94 students participated during only one term of programming, 57 students participated in two terms, 16 students participated in three terms, and 3 students participated in four terms. Multiple instances of participation represent students that enrol in more than one STEM class during their senior years of high school, or who participated in Grade 11 and subsequently Grade 12. Students were surveyed before and after each term to assess program effects on STEM interest and engagement. All grade-based assessments were performed by high school teachers for their respective STEM class cohorts using consistent grading rubrics and assignment structure. Here, we discuss the outcomes of student involvement in this experiential curriculum model.

Student performance and engagement

Student grades were assigned, collected, and anonymized by teachers for each Discovery deliverable (background essay, client meeting, proposal, progress report, poster, and final presentation). Teachers anonymized collective Discovery grades, the component deliverable grades thereof, final course grades, attendance in class and during programming, as well as incomplete classroom assignments, for comparative study purposes. Students performed significantly higher in their cumulative Discovery grade than in their cumulative classroom grade (final course grade less the Discovery contribution; p  < 0.0001). Nevertheless, there was a highly significant correlation ( p  < 0.0001) observed between the grade representing combined Discovery deliverables and the final course grade (Fig. 2a ). Further examination of the full dataset revealed two student cohorts of interest: the “Exceeds Expectations” (EE) subset (defined as those students who achieved ≥1 SD [18.0%] grade differential in Discovery over their final course grade; N  = 99 instances), and the “Multiple Term” (MT) subset (defined as those students who participated in Discovery more than once; 76 individual students that collectively accounted for 174 single terms of assessment out of the 268 total student-terms delivered) (Fig. 2b, c ). These subsets were not unrelated; 46 individual students who had multiple experiences (60.5% of total MTs) exhibited at least one occasion in achieving a ≥18.0% grade differential. As students participated in group work, there was concern that lower-performing students might negatively influence the Discovery grade of higher-performing students (or vice versa). However, students were observed to self-organize into groups where all individuals received similar final overall course grades (Fig. 2d ), thereby alleviating these concerns.

figure 2

a Linear regression of student grades reveals a significant correlation ( p  = 0.0009) between Discovery performance and final course grade less the Discovery contribution to grade, as assessed by teachers. The dashed red line and intervals represent the theoretical 1:1 correlation between Discovery and course grades and standard deviation of the Discovery -course grade differential, respectively. b , c Identification of subgroups of interest, Exceeds Expectations (EE; N  = 99, orange ) who were ≥+1 SD in Discovery -course grade differential and Multi-Term (MT; N  = 174, teal ), of which N  = 65 students were present in both subgroups. d Students tended to self-assemble in working groups according to their final course performance; data presented as mean ± SEM. e For MT students participating at least 3 terms in Discovery , there was no significant correlation between course grade and time, while ( f ) there was a significant correlation between Discovery grade and cumulative terms in the program. Histograms of total absences per student in ( g ) Discovery and ( h ) class (binned by 4 days to be equivalent in time to a single Discovery absence).

The benefits experienced by MT students seemed progressive; MT students that participated in 3 or 4 terms ( N  = 16 and 3, respectively ) showed no significant increase by linear regression in their course grade over time ( p  = 0.15, Fig. 2e ), but did show a significant increase in their Discovery grades ( p  = 0.0011, Fig. 2f ). Finally, students demonstrated excellent Discovery attendance; at least 91% of participants attended all Discovery sessions in a given term (Fig. 2g ). In contrast, class attendance rates reveal a much wider distribution where 60.8% (163 out of 268 students) missed more than 4 classes (equivalent in learning time to one Discovery session) and 14.6% (39 out of 268 students) missed 16 or more classes (equivalent in learning time to an entire program of Discovery ) in a term (Fig. 2h ).

Discovery EE students (Fig. 3 ), roughly by definition, obtained lower course grades ( p  < 0.0001, Fig. 3a ) and higher final Discovery grades ( p  = 0.0004, Fig. 3b ) than non-EE students. This cohort of students exhibited program grades higher than classmates (Fig. 3c–h ); these differences were significant in every category with the exception of essays, where they outperformed to a significantly lesser degree ( p  = 0.097; Fig. 3c ). There was no statistically significant difference in EE vs. non-EE student classroom attendance ( p  = 0.85; Fig. 3i, j ). There were only four single day absences in Discovery within the EE subset; however, this difference was not statistically significant ( p  = 0.074).

figure 3

The “Exceeds Expectations” (EE) subset of students (defined as those who received a combined Discovery grade ≥1 SD (18.0%) higher than their final course grade) performed ( a ) lower on their final course grade and ( b ) higher in the Discovery program as a whole when compared to their classmates. d – h EE students received significantly higher grades on each Discovery deliverable than their classmates, except for their ( c ) introductory essays and ( h ) final presentations. The EE subset also tended ( i ) to have a higher relative rate of attendance during Discovery sessions but no difference in ( j ) classroom attendance. N  = 99 EE students and 169 non-EE students (268 total). Grade data expressed as mean ± SEM.

Discovery MT students (Fig. 4 ), although not receiving significantly higher grades in class than students participating in the program only one time ( p  = 0.29, Fig. 4a ), were observed to obtain higher final Discovery grades than single-term students ( p  = 0.0067, Fig. 4b ). Although trends were less pronounced for individual MT student deliverables (Fig. 4c–h ), this student group performed significantly better on the progress report ( p  = 0.0021; Fig. 4f ). Trends of higher performance were observed for initial proposals and final presentations ( p  = 0.081 and 0.056, respectively; Fig. 4e, h ); all other deliverables were not significantly different between MT and non-MT students (Fig. 4c, d, g ). Attendance in Discovery ( p  = 0.22) was also not significantly different between MT and non-MT students, although MT students did miss significantly less class time ( p  = 0.010) (Fig. 4i, j ). Longitudinal assessment of individual deliverables for MT students that participated in three or more Discovery terms (Fig. 5 ) further highlights trend in improvement (Fig. 2f ). Greater performance over terms of participation was observed for essay ( p  = 0.0295, Fig. 5a ), client meeting ( p  = 0.0003, Fig. 5b ), proposal ( p  = 0.0004, Fig. 5c ), progress report ( p  = 0.16, Fig. 5d ), poster ( p  = 0.0005, Fig. 5e ), and presentation ( p  = 0.0295, Fig. 5f ) deliverable grades; these trends were all significant with the exception of the progress report ( p  = 0.16, Fig. 5d ) owing to strong performance in this deliverable in all terms.

figure 4

The “multi-term” (MT) subset of students (defined as having attended more than one term of Discovery ) demonstrated favorable performance in Discovery , ( a ) showing no difference in course grade compared to single-term students, but ( b outperforming them in final Discovery grade. Independent of the number of times participating in Discovery , MT students did not score significantly differently on their ( c ) essay, ( d ) client meeting, or ( g ) poster. They tended to outperform their single-term classmates on the ( e ) proposal and ( h ) final presentation and scored significantly higher on their ( f ) progress report. MT students showed no statistical difference in ( i ) Discovery attendance but did show ( j ) higher rates of classroom attendance than single-term students. N  = 174 MT instances of student participation (76 individual students) and 94 single-term students. Grade data expressed as mean ± SEM.

figure 5

Longitudinal assessment of a subset of MT student participants that participated in three ( N  = 16) or four ( N  = 3) terms presents a significant trend of improvement in their ( a ) essay, ( b ) client meeting, ( c ) proposal, ( e ) poster, and ( f ) presentation grade. d Progress report grades present a trend in improvement but demonstrate strong performance in all terms, limiting potential for student improvement. Grade data are presented as individual student performance; each student is represented by one color; data is fitted with a linear trendline (black).

Finally, the expansion of Discovery to a second school of lower LOI (i.e., nominally higher aggregate SES) allowed for the assessment of program impact in a new population over 2 terms of programming. A significant ( p  = 0.040) divergence in Discovery vs. course grade distribution from the theoretical 1:1 relationship was found in the new cohort (S 1 Appendix , Fig. S 1 ), in keeping with the pattern established in this study.

Teacher perceptions

Qualitative observation in the classroom by high school teachers emphasized the value students independently placed on program participation and deliverables. Throughout the term, students often prioritized Discovery group assignments over other tasks for their STEM courses, regardless of academic weight and/or due date. Comparing within this student population, teachers spoke of difficulties with late and incomplete assignments in the regular curriculum but found very few such instances with respect to Discovery -associated deliverables. Further, teachers speculated on the good behavior and focus of students in Discovery programming in contrast to attentiveness and behavior issues in their school classrooms. Multiple anecdotal examples were shared of renewed perception of student potential; students that exhibited poor academic performance in the classroom often engaged with high performance in this inquiry-focused atmosphere. Students appeared to take a sense of ownership, excitement, and pride in the setting of group projects oriented around scientific inquiry, discovery, and dissemination.

Student perceptions

Students were asked to consider and rank the academic difficulty (scale of 1–5, with 1 = not challenging and 5 = highly challenging) of the work they conducted within the Discovery learning model. Considering individual Discovery terms, at least 91% of students felt the curriculum to be sufficiently challenging with a 3/5 or higher ranking (Term 1: 87.5%, Term 2: 93.4%, Term 3: 85%, Term 4: 93.3%, Term 5: 100%), and a minimum of 58% of students indicating a 4/5 or higher ranking (Term 1: 58.3%, Term 2: 70.5%, Term 3: 67.5%, Term 4: 69.1%, Term 5: 86.4%) (Fig. 6a ).

figure 6

a Histogram of relative frequency of perceived Discovery programming academic difficulty ranked from not challenging (1) to highly challenging (5) for each session demonstrated the consistently perceived high degree of difficulty for Discovery programming (total responses: 223). b Program participation increased student comfort (94.6%) with navigating lab work in a university or college setting (total responses: 220). c Considering participation in Discovery programming, students indicated their increased (72.4%) or decreased (10.1%) likelihood to pursue future experiences in STEM as a measure of program impact (total responses: 217). d Large majority of participating students (84.9%) indicated their interest for future participation in Discovery (total responses: 212). Students were given the opportunity to opt out of individual survey questions, partially completed surveys were included in totals.

The majority of students (94.6%) indicated they felt more comfortable with the idea of performing future work in a university STEM laboratory environment given exposure to university teaching facilities throughout the program (Fig. 6b ). Students were also queried whether they were (i) more likely, (ii) less likely, or (iii) not impacted by their experience in the pursuit of STEM in the future. The majority of participants (>82%) perceived impact on STEM interests, with 72.4% indicating they were more likely to pursue these interests in the future (Fig. 6c ). When surveyed at the end of term, 84.9% of students indicated they would participate in the program again (Fig. 6d ).

We have described an inquiry-based framework for implementing experiential STEM education in a BME setting. Using this model, we engaged 268 instances of student participation (170 individual students who participated 1–4 times) over five terms in project-based learning wherein students worked in peer-based teams under the mentorship of U of T trainees to design and execute the scientific method in answering a relevant research question. Collaboration between high school teachers and Discovery instructors allowed for high school student exposure to cutting-edge BME research topics, participation in facilitated inquiry, and acquisition of knowledge through scientific discovery. All assessments were conducted by high school teachers and constituted a fraction (10–15%) of the overall course grade, instilling academic value for participating students. As such, students exhibited excitement to learn as well as commitment to their studies in the program.

Through our observations and analysis, we suggest there is value in differential learning environments for students that struggle in a knowledge acquisition-focused classroom setting. In general, we observed a high level of academic performance in Discovery programming (Fig. 2a ), which was highlighted exceptionally in EE students who exhibited greater academic performance in Discovery deliverables compared to normal coursework (>18% grade improvement in relevant deliverables). We initially considered whether this was the result of strong students influencing weaker students; however, group organization within each course suggests this is not the case (Fig. 2d ). With the exception of one class in one term (24 participants assigned by their teacher), students were allowed to self-organize into working groups and they chose to work with other students of relatively similar academic performance (as indicated by course grade), a trend observed in other studies 31 , 32 . Remarkably, EE students not only excelled during Discovery when compared to their own performance in class, but this cohort also achieved significantly higher average grades in each of the deliverables throughout the program when compared to the remaining Discovery cohort (Fig. 3 ). This data demonstrates the value of an inquiry-based learning environment compared to knowledge-focused delivery in the classroom in allowing students to excel. We expect that part of this engagement was resultant of student excitement with a novel learning opportunity. It is however a well-supported concept that students who struggle in traditional settings tend to demonstrate improved interest and motivation in STEM when given opportunity to interact in a hands-on fashion, which supports our outcomes 4 , 33 . Furthermore, these outcomes clearly represent variable student learning styles, where some students benefit from a greater exchange of information, knowledge and skills in a cooperative learning environment 34 . The performance of the EE group may not be by itself surprising, as the identification of the subset by definition required high performers in Discovery who did not have exceptionally high course grades; in addition, the final Discovery grade is dependent on the component assignment grades. However, the discrepancies between EE and non-EE groups attendance suggests that students were engaged by Discovery in a way that they were not by regular classroom curriculum.

In addition to quantified engagement in Discovery observed in academic performance, we believe remarkable attendance rates are indicative of the value students place in the differential learning structure. Given the differences in number of Discovery days and implications of missing one day of regular class compared to this immersive program, we acknowledge it is challenging to directly compare attendance data and therefore approximate this comparison with consideration of learning time equivalence. When combined with other subjective data including student focus, requests to work on Discovery during class time, and lack of discipline/behavior issues, the attendance data importantly suggests that students were especially engaged by the Discovery model. Further, we believe the increased commute time to the university campus (students are responsible for independent transit to campus, a much longer endeavour than the normal school commute), early program start time, and students’ lack of familiarity with the location are non-trivial considerations when determining the propensity of students to participate enthusiastically in Discovery . We feel this suggests the students place value on this team-focused learning and find it to be more applicable and meaningful to their interests.

Given post-secondary admission requirements for STEM programs, it would be prudent to think that students participating in multiple STEM classes across terms are the ones with the most inherent interest in post-secondary STEM programs. The MT subset, representing students who participated in Discovery for more than one term, averaged significantly higher final Discovery grades. The increase in the final Discovery grade was observed to result from a general confluence of improved performance over multiple deliverables and a continuous effort to improve in a STEM curriculum. This was reflected in longitudinal tracking of Discovery performance, where we observed a significant trend of improved performance. Interestingly, the high number of MT students who were included in the EE group suggests that students who had a keen interest in science enrolled in more than one course and in general responded well to the inquiry-based teaching method of Discovery , where scientific method was put into action. It stands to reason that students interested in science will continue to take STEM courses and will respond favorably to opportunities to put classroom theory to practical application.

The true value of an inquiry-based program such as Discovery may not be based in inspiring students to perform at a higher standard in STEM within the high school setting, as skills in critical thinking do not necessarily translate to knowledge-based assessment. Notably, students found the programming equally challenging throughout each of the sequential sessions, perhaps somewhat surprising considering the increasing number of repeat attendees in successive sessions (Fig. 6a ). Regardless of sub-discipline, there was an emphasis of perceived value demonstrated through student surveys where we observed indicated interest in STEM and comfort with laboratory work environments, and desire to engage in future iterations given the opportunity. Although non-quantitative, we perceive this as an indicator of significant student engagement, even though some participants did not yield academic success in the program and found it highly challenging given its ambiguity.

Although we observed that students become more certain of their direction in STEM, further longitudinal study is warranted to make claim of this outcome. Additionally, at this point in our assessment we cannot effectively assess the practical outcomes of participation, understanding that the immediate effects observed are subject to a number of factors associated with performance in the high school learning environment. Future studies that track graduates from this program will be prudent, in conjunction with an ever-growing dataset of assessment as well as surveys designed to better elucidate underlying perceptions and attitudes, to continue to understand the expected benefits of this inquiry-focused and partnered approach. Altogether, a multifaceted assessment of our early outcomes suggests significant value of an immersive and iterative interaction with STEM as part of the high school experience. A well-defined divergence from knowledge-based learning, focused on engagement in critical thinking development framed in the cutting-edge of STEM, may be an important step to broadening student perspectives.

In this study, we describe the short-term effects of an inquiry-based STEM educational experience on a cohort of secondary students attending a non-specialized school, and suggest that the framework can be widely applied across virtually all subjects where inquiry-driven and mentored projects can be undertaken. Although we have demonstrated replication in a second cohort of nominally higher SES (S 1 Appendix , Supplementary Fig. 1 ), a larger collection period with more students will be necessary to conclusively determine impact independent of both SES and specific cohort effects. Teachers may also find this framework difficult to implement depending on resources and/or institutional investment and support, particularly if post-secondary collaboration is inaccessible. Offerings to a specific subject (e.g., physics) where experiments yielding empirical data are logistically or financially simpler to perform may be valid routes of adoption as opposed to the current study where all subject cohorts were included.

As we consider Discovery in a bigger picture context, expansion and implementation of this model is translatable. Execution of the scientific method is an important aspect of citizen science, as the concepts of critical thing become ever-more important in a landscape of changing technological landscapes. Giving students critical thinking and problem-solving skills in their primary and secondary education provides value in the context of any career path. Further, we feel that this model is scalable across disciplines, STEM or otherwise, as a means of building the tools of inquiry. We have observed here the value of differential inclusive student engagement and critical thinking through an inquiry-focused model for a subset of students, but further to this an engagement, interest, and excitement across the body of student participants. As we educate the leaders of tomorrow, we suggest that use of an inquiry-focused model such as Discovery could facilitate growth of a data-driven critical thinking framework.

In conclusion, we have presented a model of inquiry-based STEM education for secondary students that emphasizes inclusion, quantitative analysis, and critical thinking. Student grades suggest significant performance benefits, and engagement data suggests positive student attitude despite the perceived challenges of the program. We also note a particular performance benefit to students who repeatedly engage in the program. This framework may carry benefits in a wide variety of settings and disciplines for enhancing student engagement and performance, particularly in non-specialized school environments.

Study design and implementation

Participants in Discovery include all students enrolled in university-stream Grade 11 or 12 biology, chemistry, or physics at the participating school over five consecutive terms (cohort summary shown in Table 1 ). Although student participation in educational content was mandatory, student grades and survey responses (administered by high school teachers) were collected from only those students with parent or guardian consent. Teachers replaced each student name with a unique coded identifier to preserve anonymity but enable individual student tracking over multiple terms. All data collected were analyzed without any exclusions save for missing survey responses; no power analysis was performed prior to data collection.

Ethics statement

This study was approved by the University of Toronto Health Sciences Research Ethics Board (Protocol # 34825) and the Toronto District School Board External Research Review Committee (Protocol # 2017-2018-20). Written informed consent was collected from parents or guardians of participating students prior to the acquisition of student data (both post-hoc academic data and survey administration). Data were anonymized by high school teachers for maintenance of academic confidentiality of individual students prior to release to U of T researchers.

Educational program overview

Students enrolled in university-preparatory STEM classes at the participating school completed a term-long project under the guidance of graduate student instructors and undergraduate student mentors as a mandatory component of their respective course. Project curriculum developed collaboratively between graduate students and participating high school teachers was delivered within U of T Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering (FASE) teaching facilities. Participation allows high school students to garner a better understanding as to how undergraduate learning and career workflows in STEM vary from traditional high school classroom learning, meanwhile reinforcing the benefits of problem solving, perseverance, teamwork, and creative thinking competencies. Given that Discovery was a mandatory component of course curriculum, students participated as class cohorts and addressed questions specific to their course subject knowledge base but related to the defined global health research topic (Fig. 1 ). Assessment of program deliverables was collectively assigned to represent 10–15% of the final course grade for each subject at the discretion of the respective STEM teacher.

The Discovery program framework was developed, prior to initiation of student assessment, in collaboration with one high school selected from the local public school board over a 1.5 year period of time. This partner school consistently scores highly (top decile) in the school board’s Learning Opportunities Index (LOI). The LOI ranks each school based on measures of external challenges affecting its student population therefore schools with the greatest level of external challenge receive a higher ranking 35 . A high LOI ranking is inversely correlated with socioeconomic status (SES); therefore, participating students are identified as having a significant number of external challenges that may affect their academic success. The mandatory nature of program participation was established to reach highly capable students who may be reluctant to engage on their own initiative, as a means of enhancing the inclusivity and impact of the program. The selected school partner is located within a reasonable geographical radius of our campus (i.e., ~40 min transit time from school to campus). This is relevant as participating students are required to independently commute to campus for Discovery hands-on experiences.

Each program term of Discovery corresponds with a five-month high school term. Lead university trainee instructors (3–6 each term) engaged with high school teachers 1–2 months in advance of high school student engagement to discern a relevant overarching global healthcare theme. Each theme was selected with consideration of (a) topics that university faculty identify as cutting-edge biomedical research, (b) expertise that Discovery instructors provide, and (c) capacity to showcase the diversity of BME. Each theme was sub-divided into STEM subject-specific research questions aligning with provincial Ministry of Education curriculum concepts for university-preparatory Biology, Chemistry, and Physics 9 that students worked to address, both on-campus and in-class, during a term-long project. The Discovery framework therefore provides students a problem-based learning experience reflective of an engineering capstone design project, including a motivating scientific problem (i.e., global topic), subject-specific research question, and systematic determination of a professional recommendation addressing the needs of the presented problem.

Discovery instructors were volunteers recruited primarily from graduate and undergraduate BME programs in the FASE. Instructors were organized into subject-specific instructional teams based on laboratory skills, teaching experience, and research expertise. The lead instructors of each subject (the identified 1–2 trainees that built curriculum with high school teachers) were responsible to organize the remaining team members as mentors for specific student groups over the course of the program term (~1:8 mentor to student ratio).

All Discovery instructors were familiarized with program expectations and trained in relevant workspace safety, in addition to engagement at a teaching workshop delivered by the Faculty Advisor (a Teaching Stream faculty member) at the onset of term. This workshop was designed to provide practical information on teaching and was co-developed with high school teachers based on their extensive training and experience in fundamental teaching methods. In addition, group mentors received hands-on training and guidance from lead instructors regarding the specific activities outlined for their respective subject programming (an exemplary term of student programming is available in S 2 Appendix) .

Discovery instructors were responsible for introducing relevant STEM skills and mentoring high school students for the duration of their projects, with support and mentorship from the Faculty Mentor. Each instructor worked exclusively throughout the term with the student groups to which they had been assigned, ensuring consistent mentorship across all disciplinary components of the project. In addition to further supporting university trainees in on-campus mentorship, high school teachers were responsible for academic assessment of all student program deliverables (Fig. 1 ; the standardized grade distribution available in S 3 Appendix ). Importantly, trainees never engaged in deliverable assessment; for continuity of overall course assessment, this remained the responsibility of the relevant teacher for each student cohort.

Throughout each term, students engaged within the university facilities four times. The first three sessions included hands-on lab sessions while the fourth visit included a culminating symposium for students to present their scientific findings (Fig. 1 ). On average, there were 4–5 groups of students per subject (3–4 students per group; ~20 students/class). Discovery instructors worked exclusively with 1–2 groups each term in the capacity of mentor to monitor and guide student progress in all project deliverables.

After introducing the selected global research topic in class, teachers led students in completion of background research essays. Students subsequently engaged in a subject-relevant skill-building protocol during their first visit to university teaching laboratory facilities, allowing opportunity to understand analysis techniques and equipment relevant for their assessment projects. At completion of this session, student groups were presented with a subject-specific research question as well as the relevant laboratory inventory available for use during their projects. Armed with this information, student groups continued to work in their classroom setting to develop group-specific experimental plans. Teachers and Discovery instructors provided written and oral feedback, respectively , allowing students an opportunity to revise their plans in class prior to on-campus experimental execution.

Once at the relevant laboratory environment, student groups executed their protocols in an effort to collect experimental data. Data analysis was performed in the classroom and students learned by trial & error to optimize their protocols before returning to the university lab for a second opportunity of data collection. All methods and data were re-analyzed in class in order for students to create a scientific poster for the purpose of study/experience dissemination. During a final visit to campus, all groups presented their findings at a research symposium, allowing students to verbally defend their process, analyses, interpretations, and design recommendations to a diverse audience including peers, STEM teachers, undergraduate and graduate university students, postdoctoral fellows and U of T faculty.

Data collection

Teachers evaluated their students on the following associated deliverables: (i) global theme background research essay; (ii) experimental plan; (iii) progress report; (iv) final poster content and presentation; and (v) attendance. For research purposes, these grades were examined individually and also as a collective Discovery program grade for each student. For students consenting to participation in the research study, all Discovery grades were anonymized by the classroom teacher before being shared with study authors. Each student was assigned a code by the teacher for direct comparison of deliverable outcomes and survey responses. All instances of “Final course grade” represent the prorated course grade without the Discovery component, to prevent confounding of quantitative analyses.

Survey instruments were used to gain insight into student attitudes and perceptions of STEM and post-secondary study, as well as Discovery program experience and impact (S 4 Appendix ). High school teachers administered surveys in the classroom only to students supported by parental permission. Pre-program surveys were completed at minimum 1 week prior to program initiation each term and exit surveys were completed at maximum 2 weeks post- Discovery term completion. Surveys results were validated using a principal component analysis (S 1 Appendix , Supplementary Fig. 2 ).

Identification and comparison of population subsets

From initial analysis, we identified two student subpopulations of particular interest: students who performed ≥1 SD [18.0%] or greater in the collective Discovery components of the course compared to their final course grade (“EE”), and students who participated in Discovery more than once (“MT”). These groups were compared individually against the rest of the respective Discovery population (“non-EE” and “non-MT”, respectively ). Additionally, MT students who participated in three or four (the maximum observed) terms of Discovery were assessed for longitudinal changes to performance in their course and Discovery grades. Comparisons were made for all Discovery deliverables (introductory essay, client meeting, proposal, progress report, poster, and presentation), final Discovery grade, final course grade, Discovery attendance, and overall attendance.

Statistical analysis

Student course grades were analyzed in all instances without the Discovery contribution (calculated from all deliverable component grades and ranging from 10 to 15% of final course grade depending on class and year) to prevent correlation. Aggregate course grades and Discovery grades were first compared by paired t-test, matching each student’s course grade to their Discovery grade for the term. Student performance in Discovery ( N  = 268 instances of student participation, comprising 170 individual students that participated 1–4 times) was initially assessed in a linear regression of Discovery grade vs. final course grade. Trends in course and Discovery performance over time for students participating 3 or 4 terms ( N  = 16 and 3 individuals, respectively ) were also assessed by linear regression. For subpopulation analysis (EE and MT, N  = 99 instances from 81 individuals and 174 instances from 76 individuals, respectively ), each dataset was tested for normality using the D’Agostino and Pearson omnibus normality test. All subgroup comparisons vs. the remaining population were performed by Mann–Whitney U -test. Data are plotted as individual points with mean ± SEM overlaid (grades), or in histogram bins of 1 and 4 days, respectively , for Discovery and class attendance. Significance was set at α ≤ 0.05.

Reporting summary

Further information on research design is available in the Nature Research Reporting Summary linked to this article.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available upon reasonable request from the corresponding author DMK. These data are not publicly available due to privacy concerns of personal data according to the ethical research agreements supporting this study.

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This study has been possible due to the support of many University of Toronto trainee volunteers, including Genevieve Conant, Sherif Ramadan, Daniel Smieja, Rami Saab, Andrew Effat, Serena Mandla, Cindy Bui, Janice Wong, Dawn Bannerman, Allison Clement, Shouka Parvin Nejad, Nicolas Ivanov, Jose Cardenas, Huntley Chang, Romario Regeenes, Dr. Henrik Persson, Ali Mojdeh, Nhien Tran-Nguyen, Ileana Co, and Jonathan Rubianto. We further acknowledge the staff and administration of George Harvey Collegiate Institute and the Institute of Biomedical Engineering (IBME), as well as Benjamin Rocheleau and Madeleine Rocheleau for contributions to data collation. Discovery has grown with continued support of Dean Christopher Yip (Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, U of T), and the financial support of the IBME and the National Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) PromoScience program (PROSC 515876-2017; IBME “Igniting Youth Curiosity in STEM” initiative co-directed by DMK and Dr. Penney Gilbert). LDH and NIC were supported by Vanier Canada graduate scholarships from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and NSERC, respectively . DMK holds a Dean’s Emerging Innovation in Teaching Professorship in the Faculty of Engineering & Applied Science, U of T.

Author information

These authors contributed equally: Locke Davenport Huyer, Neal I. Callaghan.

Authors and Affiliations

Institute of Biomedical Engineering, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada

Locke Davenport Huyer, Neal I. Callaghan, Andrey I. Shukalyuk & Dawn M. Kilkenny

Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada

Locke Davenport Huyer

Translational Biology and Engineering Program, Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada

Neal I. Callaghan

George Harvey Collegiate Institute, Toronto District School Board, Toronto, ON, Canada

Sara Dicks, Edward Scherer & Margaret Jou

Institute for Studies in Transdisciplinary Engineering Education & Practice, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada

Dawn M. Kilkenny

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LDH, NIC and DMK conceived the program structure, designed the study, and interpreted the data. LDH and NIC ideated programming, coordinated execution, and performed all data analysis. SD, ES, and MJ designed and assessed student deliverables, collected data, and anonymized data for assessment. SD assisted in data interpretation. AIS assisted in programming ideation and design. All authors provided feedback and approved the manuscript that was written by LDH, NIC and DMK.

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Correspondence to Dawn M. Kilkenny .

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Davenport Huyer, L., Callaghan, N.I., Dicks, S. et al. Enhancing senior high school student engagement and academic performance using an inclusive and scalable inquiry-based program. npj Sci. Learn. 5 , 17 (2020).

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teaching research paper to high school students

POWER Library

Teaching Research Skills to K-12 Students in The Classroom

students taking notes in the classroom

Research is at the core of knowledge. Nobody is born with an innate understanding of quantum physics. But through research , the knowledge can be obtained over time. That’s why teaching research skills to your students is crucial, especially during their early years.

But teaching research skills to students isn’t an easy task. Like a sport, it must be practiced in order to acquire the technique. Using these strategies, you can help your students develop safe and practical research skills to master the craft.

What Is Research?

By definition, it’s a systematic process that involves searching, collecting, and evaluating information to answer a question. Though the term is often associated with a formal method, research is also used informally in everyday life!

Whether you’re using it to write a thesis paper or to make a decision, all research follows a similar pattern.

  • Choose a topic : Think about general topics of interest. Do some preliminary research to make sure there’s enough information available for you to work with and to explore subtopics within your subject.
  • Develop a research question : Give your research a purpose; what are you hoping to solve or find?
  • Collect data : Find sources related to your topic that will help answer your research questions. 
  • Evaluate your data : Dissect the sources you found. Determine if they’re credible and which are most relevant.
  • Make your conclusion : Use your research to answer your question! 

Why Do We Need It?

Research helps us solve problems. Trying to answer a theoretical question? Research. Looking to buy a new car? Research. Curious about trending fashion items? Research! 

Sometimes it’s a conscious decision, like when writing an academic paper for school. Other times, we use research without even realizing it. If you’re trying to find a new place to eat in the area, your quick Google search of “food places near me” is research!

Whether you realize it or not, we use research multiple times a day, making it one of the most valuable lifelong skills to have. And it’s why — as educators —we should be teaching children research skills in their most primal years. 

Teaching Research Skills to Elementary Students

In elementary school, children are just beginning their academic journeys. They are learning the essentials: reading, writing, and comprehension. But even before they have fully grasped these concepts, you can start framing their minds to practice research.

According to curriculum writer and former elementary school teacher, Amy Lemons , attention to detail is an essential component of research. Doing puzzles, matching games, and other memory exercises can help equip students with this quality before they can read or write. 

Improving their attention to detail helps prepare them for the meticulous nature of research. Then, as their reading abilities develop, teachers can implement reading comprehension activities in their lesson plans to introduce other elements of research. 

One of the best strategies for teaching research skills to elementary students is practicing reading comprehension . It forces them to interact with the text; if they come across a question they can’t answer, they’ll need to go back into the text to find the information they need. 

Some activities could include completing compare/contrast charts, identifying facts or questioning the text, doing background research, and setting reading goals. Here are some ways you can use each activity:

  • How it translates : Step 3, collect data; Step 4, evaluate your data
  • Questioning the text : If students are unsure which are facts/not facts, encourage them to go back into the text to find their answers. 
  • How it translates : Step 3, collect data; Step 4, evaluate your data; Step 5, make your conclusion
  • How it translates : Step 1, choose your topic
  • How it translates : Step 2, develop a research question; Step 5, make your conclusion

Resources for Elementary Research

If you have access to laptops or tablets in the classroom, there are some free tools available through Pennsylvania’s POWER Kids to help with reading comprehension. Scholastic’s BookFlix and TrueFlix are 2 helpful resources that prompt readers with questions before, after, and while they read. 

  • BookFlix : A resource for students who are still new to reading. Students will follow along as a book is read aloud. As they listen or read, they will be prodded to answer questions and play interactive games to test and strengthen their understanding. 

teaching research paper to high school students

  • TrueFlix : A resource for students who are proficient in reading. In TrueFlix, students explore nonfiction topics. It’s less interactive than BookFlix because it doesn’t prompt the reader with games or questions as they read. (There are still options to watch a video or listen to the text if needed!)

teaching research paper to high school students

Teaching Research Skills to Middle School Students

By middle school, the concept of research should be familiar to students. The focus during this stage should be on credibility . As students begin to conduct research on their own, it’s important that they know how to determine if a source is trustworthy.

Before the internet, encyclopedias were the main tool that people used for research. Now, the internet is our first (and sometimes only) way of looking information up. 

Unlike encyclopedias which can be trusted, students must be wary of pulling information offline. The internet is flooded with unreliable and deceptive information. If they aren’t careful, they could end up using a source that has inaccurate information!

teaching research paper to high school students

How To Know If A Source Is Credible

In general, credible sources are going to come from online encyclopedias, academic journals, industry journals, and/or an academic database. If you come across an article that isn’t from one of those options, there are details that you can look for to determine if it can be trusted.

  • The author: Is the author an expert in their field? Do they write for a respected publication? If the answer is no, it may be good to explore other sources.
  • Citations: Does the article list its sources? Are the sources from other credible sites like encyclopedias, databases, or journals? No list of sources (or credible links) within the text is usually a red flag. 
  • Date: When was the article published? Is the information fresh or out-of-date? It depends on your topic, but a good rule of thumb is to look for sources that were published no later than 7-10 years ago. (The earlier the better!)
  • Bias: Is the author objective? If a source is biased, it loses credibility.

An easy way to remember what to look for is to utilize the CRAAP test . It stands for C urrency (date), R elevance (bias), A uthority (author), A ccuracy (citations), and P urpose (bias). They’re noted differently, but each word in this acronym is one of the details noted above. 

If your students can remember the CRAAP test, they will be able to determine if they’ve found a good source.

Resources for Middle School Research

To help middle school researchers find reliable sources, the database Gale is a good starting point. It has many components, each accessible on POWER Library’s site. Gale Litfinder , Gale E-books , or Gale Middle School are just a few of the many resources within Gale for middle school students.

teaching research paper to high school students

Teaching Research Skills To High Schoolers

The goal is that research becomes intuitive as students enter high school. With so much exposure and practice over the years, the hope is that they will feel comfortable using it in a formal, academic setting. 

In that case, the emphasis should be on expanding methodology and citing correctly; other facets of a thesis paper that students will have to use in college. Common examples are annotated bibliographies, literature reviews, and works cited/reference pages.

  • Annotated bibliography : This is a sheet that lists the sources that were used to conduct research. To qualify as annotated , each source must be accompanied by a short summary or evaluation. 
  • Literature review : A literature review takes the sources from the annotated bibliography and synthesizes the information in writing.
  • Works cited/reference pages : The page at the end of a research paper that lists the sources that were directly cited or referenced within the paper. 

Resources for High School Research

Many of the Gale resources listed for middle school research can also be used for high school research. The main difference is that there is a resource specific to older students: Gale High School . 

If you’re looking for some more resources to aid in the research process, POWER Library’s e-resources page allows you to browse by grade level and subject. Take a look at our previous blog post to see which additional databases we recommend.

Visit POWER Library’s list of e-resources to start your research!

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Teaching students to write good papers.

This module is designed to help you teach students to write good papers. You will find useful examples of activities that guide students through the writing process. This resource will be helpful for anyone working with students on research papers, book reviews, and other analytical essays. The Center for Teaching and Learning also has comprehensive writing resources featuring general writing tips, citation guidelines, model papers, and ways to get more help at Yale.

There are several steps TFs and faculty can take to prepare students to write good papers. If you are responsible for making writing assignments, remember that most students need to practice the basic elements of writing — purpose, argument, evidence, style — and that these skills are best practiced in shorter, focused assignments. Opt for shorter essays and papers throughout the semester in lieu of long, end-of-semester research papers. Build opportunities for revision and refinement into your assignments and lesson plans.

For each assignment, there are steps you can take to help students produce better writing . First, use strategies for making sure students understand the assignment. Use individual meetings, short, in-class writing exercises or small-group activities to make sure students can articulate what their paper will accomplish (describe, compare/contrast, explain, argue) and to what standard.

Second, guide students in selecting and analyzing primary and secondary source material. Use in-class activities to teach students: the difference between types of sources and their uses; strategies for evaluating a source and its value in a given argument; and examples of how to incorporate source material into an argument or other text with proper citation .

Finally, teach them to construct strong thesis statements and support their arguments with evidence. Use model documents to introduce students to strong, arguable statements. Give students practice developing statements from scratch and refining statements that lack importance or clarity . Ask students to analyze the relationship between thesis statements and supporting evidence in short essays. Teach them to use the active voice .

Students who have never gone through a thorough revision process are used to handing in and receiving poor grades on first drafts. These students will lack confidence in their ability to produce good writing. Do all you can to let your students experience good writing through revision. Require drafts of papers, or parts of papers, so students can learn to apply the standards of good writing to make their papers better. Have students read and comment on each other’s papers to give them practice reading for clarity, style, persuasiveness, etc.

By focusing on the process of writing, not just the product, you will help students write better papers and gain confidence along the way.

For those of you who work with teaching fellows, we also include an  agenda  for teaching these skills to others and a workshop  evaluation form .


teaching research paper to high school students


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How to teach research skills to high school students: 12 tips

by mindroar | Oct 10, 2021 | blog | 0 comments

Teachers often find it difficult to decide how to teach research skills to high school students. You probably feel students should know how to do research by high school. But often students’ skills are lacking in one or more areas.

Today we’re not going to give you research skills lesson plans for high school. But we will give you 12 tips for how to teach research skills to high school students. Bonus, the tips will make it quick, fun, and easy.

One of my favorite ways of teaching research skills to high school students is to use the Crash Course Navigating Digital Information series.

The videos are free and short (between ten and fifteen minutes each). They cover information such as evaluating the trustworthiness of sources, using Wikipedia, lateral reading, and understanding how the source medium can affect the message.

Another thing I like to integrate into my lessons are the Crash Course Study Skills videos . Again, they’re free and short. Plus they are an easy way to refresh study skills such as:

  • note-taking
  • writing papers
  • editing papers
  • getting organized
  • and studying for tests and exams.

If you’re ready to get started, we’ll give you links to great resources that you can integrate into your lessons. Because often students just need a refresh on a particular skill and not a whole semester-long course.

1. Why learn digital research skills?

Tip number one of how to teach research skills to high school students. Address the dreaded ‘why?’ questions upfront. You know the questions: Why do we have to do this? When am I ever going to use this?

If your students understand why they need good research skills and know that you will show them specific strategies to improve their skills, they are far more likely to buy into learning about how to research effectively.

An easy way to answer this question is that students spend so much time online. Some people spend almost an entire day online each week.

It’s amazing to have such easy access to information, unlike the pre-internet days. But there is far more misinformation and disinformation online.

A webpage, Facebook post, Instagram post, YouTube video, infographic, meme, gif, TikTok video (etc etc) can be created by just about anyone with a phone. And it’s easy to create them in a way that looks professional and legitimate.

This can make it hard for people to know what is real, true, evidence-based information and what is not.

The first Crash Course Navigating Digital Information video gets into the nitty-gritty of why we should learn strategies for evaluating the information we find (online or otherwise!).

An easy way to answer the ‘why’ questions your high schoolers will ask, the video is an excellent resource.

2. Teaching your students to fact check

Tip number two for teaching research skills to high school students is to teach your students concrete strategies for how to check facts.

It’s surprising how many students will hand in work with blatant factual errors. Errors they could have avoided had they done a quick fact check.

An easy way to broach this research skill in high school is to watch the second video in the Crash Course Navigating Digital Information series. It explains what fact-checking is, why people should do it, and how to make it a habit.

You can explain to your students that they’ll write better papers if they learn to fact-check. But they’ll also make better decisions if they make fact-checking a habit.

The video looks at why people are more likely to believe mis- or disinformation online. And it shows students a series of questions they can use to identify mis- or disinformation.

The video also discusses why it’s important to find a few generally reliable sources of information and to use those as a way to fact-check other online sources.

3. Teaching your students how and why to read laterally

This ties in with tip number 2 – teach concrete research strategies – but it is more specific. Fact-checking tends to be checking what claim sources are making, who is making the claim, and corroborating the claim with other sources.

But lateral reading is another concrete research skills strategy that you can teach to students. This skill helps students spot inaccurate information quickly and avoid wasting valuable research time.

One of the best (and easiest!) research skills for high school students to learn is how to read laterally. And teachers can demonstrate it so, so easily. As John Green says in the third Crash Course Navigating Digital Information video , just open another tab!

The video also shows students good websites to use to check hoaxes and controversial information.

Importantly, John Green also explains that students need a “toolbox” of strategies to assess sources of information. There’s not one magic source of information that is 100% accurate.

4. Teaching your students how to evaluate trustworthiness

Deciding who to trust online can be difficult even for those of us with lots of experience navigating online. And it is made even more difficult by how easy it now is to create a professional-looking websites.

This video shows students what to look for when evaluating trustworthiness. It also explains how to take bias, opinion, and political orientations into account when using information sources.

The video explains how reputable information sources gather reliable information (versus disreputable sources). And shows how reputable information sources navigate the situation when they discover their information is incorrect or misleading.

Students can apply the research skills from this video to news sources, novel excerpts, scholarly articles, and primary sources. Teaching students to look for bias, political orientation, and opinions within all sources is one of the most valuable research skills for high school students.

5. Teaching your students to use Wikipedia

Now, I know that Wikipedia can be the bane of your teacherly existence when you are reading essays. I know it can make you want to gouge your eyes out with a spoon when you read the same recycled article in thirty different essays. But, teaching students how to use Wikipedia as a jumping-off point is a useful skill.

Wikipedia is no less accurate than other online encyclopedia-type sources. And it often includes hyperlinks and references that students can check or use for further research. Plus it has handy-dandy warnings for inaccurate and contentious information.

Part of how to teach research skills to high school students is teaching them how to use general reference material such as encyclopedias for broad information. And then following up with how to use more detailed information such as primary and secondary sources.

The Crash Course video about Wikipedia is an easy way to show students how to use it more effectively.

6. Teaching your students to evaluate evidence

Another important research skill to teach high school students is how to evaluate evidence. This skill is important, both in their own and in others’ work.

An easy way to do this is the Crash Course video about evaluating evidence video. The short video shows students how to evaluate evidence using authorship, the evidence provided, and the relevance of the evidence.

It also gives examples of ways that evidence can be used to mislead. For example, it shows that simply providing evidence doesn’t mean that the evidence is quality evidence that supports the claim being made.

The video shows examples of evidence that is related to a topic, but irrelevant to the claim. Having an example of irrelevant evidence helps students understand the difference between related but irrelevant evidence and evidence that is relevant to the claim.

Finally, the video gives students questions that they can use to evaluate evidence.

7. Teaching your students to evaluate photos and videos

While the previous video about evidence looked at how to evaluate evidence in general, this video looks specifically at video and photographic evidence.

The video looks at how videos and photos can be manipulated to provide evidence for a claim. It suggests that seeking out the context for photos and videos is especially important as a video or photo is easy to misinterpret. This is especially the case if a misleading caption or surrounding information is provided.

The video also gives tools that students can use to discover hoaxes or fakes. Similarly, it encourages people to look for the origin of the photo or video to find the creator. And to then use that with contextual information to decide whether the photo or video is reliable evidence for a claim.

8. Teaching your students to evaluate data and infographics

Other sources of evidence that students (and adults!) often misinterpret or are misled by are data and infographics. Often people take the mere existence of statistics or other data as evidence for a claim instead of investigating further.

Again the Crash Course video suggests seeking out the source and context for data and infographics. It suggests that students often see data as neutral and irrefutable, but that data is inherently biased as it is created by humans.

The video gives a real-world example of how data can be manipulated as a source of evidence by showing how two different news sources represented global warming data.

9. Teaching your students how search engines work and why to use click restraint

Another video from the Crash Course Navigating Digital Information series is the video about how search engines work and click restraint . This video shows how search engines decide which information to list at the top of the search results. It also shows how search engines decide what information is relevant and of good quality.

The video gives search tips for using search engines to encourage the algorithms to return more reliable and accurate results.

This video is important when you are want to know how to teach research skills to high school students. This is because many students don’t understand why the first few results on a search are not necessarily the best information available.

10. Teach your students how to evaluate social media sources

One of the important research skills high school students need is to evaluate social media posts. Many people now get news and information from social media sites that have little to no oversight or editorial control. So, being able to evaluate posts for accuracy is key.

This video in the Crash Course Navigating Digital Information series also explains that social media sites are free to use because they make money from advertising. The advertising money comes from keeping people on the platform (and looking at the ads).

How do they keep people on the platform? By using algorithms that gather information about how long people spend on or react to different photos, posts and videos. Then, the algorithms will send viewers more content that is similar to the content that they view or interact with.

This prioritizes content that is controversial, shocking, engaging, attractive. It also reinforces the social norms of the audience members using the platform.

By teaching students how to combat the way that social media algorithms work, you can show them how to gather more reliable and relevant information in their everyday lives. Further, you help students work out if social media posts are relevant to (reliable for) their academic work.

11. Teaching your students how to cite sources

Another important research skill high school students need is how to accurately cite sources. A quick Google search turned up a few good free ideas:

  • This lesson plan from the Brooklyn Library for grades 4-11. It aligns with the common core objectives and provides worksheets for students to learn to use MLA citation.
  • This blog post about middle-school teacher Jody Passanini’s experiences trying to teach students in English and History how to cite sources both in-text and at the end with a reference list.
  • This scavenger hunt lesson by 8th grade teacher on ReadWriteThink. It has a free printout asking students to prove assertions (which could be either student- or teacher-generated) with quotes from the text and a page number. It also has an example answer using the Catching Fire (Hunger Games) novel.
  • The Chicago Manual of Style has this quick author-date citation guide .
  • This page by Purdue Online Writing Lab has an MLA citation guide , as well as links to other citation guides such as APA.

If you are wanting other activities, a quick search of TPT showed these to be popular and well-received by other teachers:

  • Laura Randazzo’s 9th edition MLA in-text and end-of-text citation activities
  • Tracee Orman 8th edition MLA cheet sheet
  • The Daring English Teacher’s MLA 8th edition citation powerpoint

12. Teaching your students to take notes

Another important skill to look at when considering how to teach research skills to high school students is whether they know how to take effective notes.

The Crash Course Study Skills note-taking video is great for this. It outlines three note-taking styles – the outline method, the Cornell method, and the mind map method. And it shows students how to use each of the methods.

This can help you start a conversation with your students about which styles of note-taking are most effective for different tasks.

For example, mind maps are great for seeing connections between ideas and brain dumps. The outline method is great for topics that are hierarchical. And the Cornell method is great for topics with lots of specific vocabulary.

Having these types of metacognitive discussions with your students helps them identify study and research strategies. It also helps them to learn which strategies are most effective in different situations.

Teaching research skills to high school students . . .

Doesn’t have to be

  • time-consuming

The fantastic Crash Course Navigating Digital Information videos are a great way to get started if you are wondering how to teach research skills to high school students.

If you decide to use the videos in your class, you can buy individual worksheets if you have specific skills in mind. Or you can buy the full bundle if you think you’ll end up watching all of the videos.

Got any great tips for teaching research skills to high school students?

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Language Arts Classroom

Teaching Research Papers with High School Students

Teaching research papers with high school students? Here are guidelines to make this writing unit a success. Teaching the research paper requires various tools.

Teaching research papers with high school students? Teaching students how to write a research paper is an important part of an ELA class. Here are guidelines to make this writing unit a success.

Teaching research papers with high school students requires teaching ethical research. Teaching students how to write a research paper includes following the writing process, organizing student essays, & connecting gramamr to writing. Conferencing with students makes teaching research papers easier. This process of how to teach research to high school students walks through research paper lesson plans. Teaching the research paper in high school English classes meets writing standards.

Lawyers, political organizers, advertisers, real estate agents: most jobs require ethical research and then a written report. As a citizen, I research concepts important to my community and family. As knowledge in our world grows, student will only have more reasons to be ethical digital citizens.

Providing students with a sustainable foundation is a humbling responsibility. Teachers know that teaching students how to write a research paper is important. While teaching students how to research, I share those sentiments with them. I want students to know I take research seriously, and my expectation is that they will as well. My research paper lesson plans take into account the seriousness of ethical research.

prepare your high school writing unit

What is the best way to teach research papers to students?

The best way to teach research papers to students is by breaking down the process into manageable steps. Start with teaching them how to choose a topic, conduct research, and create an outline/list/graphic organizer. Then guide them in writing drafts, revising and editing their papers, and properly citing sources.

Even after teaching for a decade, I sometimes overwhelm myself with this duty. I handle teaching research papers with four ideas in my mind.

outline expectations for high school writers

Provide clear expectations.

Idea one, be clear.

A feeling I always hated as a student was the unknown . Sure, part of the learning process is not knowing everything and making mistakes. I, as the teacher, don’t want to be the source of frustration though. I never want my classes to wander down a path that won’t advance them toward our end goal: a well-researched paper. Part of teaching research skills to high school students is providing clear expectations.

As writing in the ELA classroom becomes more digital, I simply give writers tools on our online learning platform. That way, I can remind them to check a certain section or page as we collaborate on their writing.

Research lesson plans high school: include a writing overview for expectations.

Give a writing overview.

Idea two, provide an overview.

Every teacher grades a little differently. Sometimes, terminology differs. Throw in the stress of research, and you might have a classroom of overwhelmed students. An overview before teaching research papers can relax everyone!

I start every writing unit with clear expectations, terminology, and goals. I cover a presentation with students, and then I upload it to Google Classroom. Students know to consult that presentation for clarity. Initially, covering the basics may seem wasteful, but it saves all of us time because students know my expectations.

Furthermore, parents and tutors appreciate my sharing that information. As students work independently (inside or outside of class), they can take it upon themselves to consult expectations. Their responsibility with this prepares them for their futures. Finally, having established that overview with students during virtual classes was invaluable.

Research lesson plans high school: give students an overview.

Show an overview of research.

Idea three, clearly explain research.

Before you begin teaching students how to research, outline what strong research looks like. You might consider these questions:

  • What (if any) secondary sources will I accept? What about Wikipedia?
  • Should students use a balance of books and online material? Do they have access to books?
  • Are dates for certain topics important? Will I not accept research from before a certain date?

I’m not answering these questions for you, but I’ve seen teachers provide such guidelines while teaching research skills to high school students. Whatever parameters you have for teaching the research paper, share those with students.

domain-specific vocabulary

Define domain-specific vocabulary.

Idea four, don’t assume classes share the same domain-specific vocabulary.

High school classes are likely familiar with the writing process, yet the research process brings more vocabulary with which they might not be familiar.

Providing definitions for the most basic concepts enables me to walk through expectations and clarify concepts. Examples might include:

  • Informational text
  • Search engine
  • Credible sources
  • Claim, counterclaim
  • Research question
  • Journal articles

Plus, by providing definitions to terms, scaffolding occurs naturally. Academic writing has terms we teachers might use casually, but some students maybe have not heard of them.

Add this revision and editing sheet to your high school writing unit. Perfect addition to any Writing curriculum high school.

How can we model ethical research?

After outlining expectations to young writers, we begin research. Some schools rely on Google Scholar, and others use Explora or EBSCO. Sign students into your databases, and run them through the program.

I stress to young writers that conducting oneself with honesty and integrity is crucial to writing. When teaching research papers with high school students, I connect these ethics to their very near futures. Aside from the basics of documenting and citing, I highlight these two points.

Teaching the research paper will require teaching thorough research.

  • Citing material. This includes direct quotes and paraphrasing. I review both of those concepts throughout our research and writing. The majority of a paper should be the writer’s thoughts, supported by research. Students need those concepts repeated, and they are important, so I spend time emphasizing them.

Often, I turn the basics of research into a writing mini lesson . Modeling ethical research is a very specific part of ELA classes. I understand that other classes require research and that parents might teach research skills as well.

Still, to have a functioning society, students must view relevant information with critical eyes. Teaching young citizens how to write a research paper includes clear guidelines for research and one-on-one conferencing.

Teaching research papers with high school students requires teaching ethical research. Teaching students how to write a research paper includes following the writing process, organizing student essays, & connecting gramamr to writing. Conferencing with students makes teaching research papers easier. This process of how to teach research to high school students walks through research paper lesson plans. Teaching the research paper in high school English classes meets writing standards.

How can we encourage strong writing?

Hopefully, students write with passion. Hopefully, they want to show or prove their statements. Teaching students how to write a research paper is easier when students enjoy their topics.

I cover grammar with students (all year), and I always make the connection for them to implement those lessons. Teaching them to write a research paper requires some focus on writing skills. Primarily, they will work on strong verbs and syntax.

Teaching research papers will require a discussion of verb use

Look at verbs.

Students possess strong verbs in their vocabularies. Sometimes in writing, humans create a fast rough draft, myself included. Every verb is a linking verb, and every sentence reads subject + linking verb + predicate adjective. (Nothing is wrong with a linking verb, but writers should break from the mold.) When I see that a paper can be improved with strong verbs, we conference about ways to improve the verbs without thesaurus abuse.

Ask students to pick their least favorite paragraph in a research paper and to highlight every verb . Chances are, they are not conveying their message because of weak verbs. Help them turn the predicate adjectives into verbs or think of an action that will convey their meaning. Additionally as you continue teaching students how to research, you’ll cross strong verbs in research. Point out those verbs to your classes.

Teaching students how to write a research paper requires sentence structure lessons.

Examine syntax.

Just as every sentence shouldn’t contain a linking verb, not every sentence should be a simple sentence. Sentence syntax takes practice, and often teamwork! Ask students to provide a sentence that needs improvement. Break the sentence down into phrases and clauses. (If it is a simple sentence, ask for another sentence to attach.) What is the best arrangement? What is the student’s goal? Would a conjunctive adverb lead readers to a conclusion? What if a subordinating conjunction started the sentence, or, should the dependent clause come second in the complex sentence? Play with the language of papers! By connecting grammar to writing, you have empowered learners to improve their writing.

Sentence structure is also part of teaching students how to write a research paper because the information must be factual. Sometimes students report information incorrectly, and sometimes, their sentence structure is to blame. Focus on a return to simple syntax for ethical research, and then work on sentence diversity if possible.

All parts of an ELA classroom fit together like puzzle pieces, and when teaching research papers, that neatly assembled puzzle sits on display. By giving classes clear expectations, you are ready to guide them through ethical research and through strengthening their writing. Teaching the research paper is a large task, so you should know what you want to accomplish.

scaffold writing units

Is scaffolding teaching research papers possible?

Overall, a research unit takes me 2-3 weeks with high school students. Every teacher has different methodologies, but if I allow writing research papers for about a month, writers become bored. Fifteen working days for research, revision, and publishing is my average time frame. Going longer, and different aspects fall apart, and we lose momentum.

Scaffolding is built into our days. Outline the writing process with your calendar, and add days that follow the writing process. Pieces to consider:

writing errors

Scaffold writing errors.

Overall, writing errors are an inevitable part of the learning process. As teachers, it is crucial that we address these errors in a way that not only corrects them but also helps students understand why they occurred in the first place. When it comes to research papers, grammatical errors can significantly affect the credibility and clarity of the information presented.

One effective way to scaffold writing errors is by focusing on the actual problems that classes have in their papers. When we conference, I jot down common errors and then cover them as a class.

editing and revising days

Include revising and editing days.

Young writers should take ownership of the writing process which includes revising and editing. This can be achieved by dedicating specific days in the research unit for revising and editing. By allotting time for these crucial steps, writers will learn to critically analyze their work and make necessary improvements.

During the revision phase, students can focus on the overall structure and organization of their research paper. They should evaluate if their arguments are clear and logical, if the evidence supports their claims effectively, and if there is a smooth flow of ideas throughout the paper. This stage allows them to refine their content and ensure that it aligns with their desired objectives.

After revising, students should move toward publishing and sharing with their peers.

Your turn, writing teachers: What questions do you have left?

All activities mentioned in this post (except the common errors bundle) are included in my writing bundle for freshmen and sophomores .

What questions remain? Do you have different advice to offer teachers?

What do you focus on with when teaching research papers? Read how Melissa from Reading and Writing Haven differentiates when teaching research writing .  

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This writing unit contains everything needed for a successful research unit or writing unit.

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Empowering Students by Teaching Research-Paper Writing as a Foundational Methods Course

  • First Online: 16 September 2021

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Teaching research-paper writing in a step-wise and interactive fashion exposes students to methodology and empowers them. Contemporary undergraduates have generally not learned how to write research papers, and teaching methodology has long been a challenge. Seeking to accomplish both simultaneously gives students an applied way to better understand their political science courses and, more importantly, provides them with experiences that transform them as learners. The process includes high-impact educational practices which compel students to (a) integrate across the curriculum; (b) engage in “real” research; (c) experience learning as a social process; and (d) make revising and rethinking habitual. Undergraduates thus become more capable and confident learners with a greater ability to succeed in future endeavors.

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Baglione, L. A. 2020. Writing a Research Paper in Political Science: A Practical Guide to Inquiry, Structure, and Methods. Thousand Oaks: CQ/Sage.

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High-Impact Educational Practices . n.d. American Association of Colleges and Universities. Accessed July 25, 2020. .

Kuh, G. C. 2008. High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter . Washington, DC: American Association of Colleges and Universities.

Levintova, E. M., and A. K. Staudinger, eds. 2018. Gender in the Political Science Classroom . Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

National Commission on Writing in America’s Schools and Colleges (NCWASC). 2003. The Neglected R: The Need for a Writing Revolution. New York: College Entrance Examination Board. .

Tugend, A. 2017. Who Benefits from the Expansion of A.P. Classes? New York Times, September 7, 2017. .

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Baglione, L.A. (2021). Empowering Students by Teaching Research-Paper Writing as a Foundational Methods Course. In: Mallinson, D.J., Marin Hellwege, J., Loepp, E.D. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Political Research Pedagogy. Political Pedagogies. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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The Daring English Teacher on Teachers Pay Teachers Secondary ELA resources Middle School ELA High School English

Teaching the Research Paper Part 1: Introducing the Research Paper and Preparing Students for the Assignment

Teaching the Research Paper Part 1: Introducing the Research Paper and Preparing Students for the Assignment

There are three things every teacher should do before taking their students to the computer lab to research information for their research papers: teach the difference between reliable and unreliable sources, check to make sure every student has a self-generated research question, and help prepare students with key phrases and words to search.

Whenever I begin teaching the research paper , I always share with my students the story of how I wrote my Master’s thesis paper. It was a 50 page paper with 50 different sources.

I don’t do this to toot my own horn. I don’t do this to scare my students away from post-secondary education. I don’t do this to make the students feel like their research assignment is petty and small. I do this so that I can explain the process of research to them and so that they know I was once in their shoes.

So how exactly do you write a 50-page research paper that has 50 unique, credible sources? One source at a time.

Teaching the Research Paper: 3 Critical Steps to Take

Teaching the research paper: find credible sources.

When teaching the research paper to my secondary ELA students, I first show them about research and credible sources. Before students can even begin looking for their sources, they have to know how to distinguish between reliable and unreliable sources. Being able to do so is the first step in finding a reliable source.


Once I feel my students have a firm understanding of the sources they will be looking at, we then dive into the research topic, and the students select their issues related to the main topic.

Teaching the Research Paper: Create Questions

One of the critical parts of teaching the research paper to students is having them come up with their self-generated research questions. To do this, I encourage students to work collaboratively and talk about their research topics.

Students can work in small groups to see what their peers would like to know about that matter.

Working in small groups first provides extra support for EL and struggling students. From there, students come up with their questions to answer. There is also a graphic organizer in my Research Paper Writing resource that is especially helpful during this process.

Teaching the Research Paper: Brainstorm Key Words

Once students have a self-generated question, it is time to get students to think about keywords and phrases they will use in their search for sources. All too often I see students typing precise, wordy questions into a search engine. This only creates frustration for the students as well as the teacher.

Taking half a class to discuss keywords and phrases helps students tremendously, and it even speeds up the research process because students can find credible sources a lot easier. When teaching keywords and phrases to my students, I encourage them to type no more than four words into the search engine. I tell them that they must think of the most important words directly related to their topic.

To help students think about keywords and phrases they can use in the search engine, have them think about hashtags for their research topic. This fun, easy, and engaging strategy will get students thinking about what to research and what is explicitly related to their subject.

Teaching the Research Paper: A Research Paper Writing Instructional Unit

Take the stress out of teaching your students how to write a research paper with this complete research writing unit ! This comprehensive and complete research paper writing unit will help you teach your students how to write a research paper. Now available in print + digital!

This step-by-step resource teaches your students the eight steps of research writing, and it includes every single thing you could need for a successful research writing unit! Plus, it is updated for 9th edition MLA!

The editable teaching presentation (which comes in both PowerPoint and Google Slides®) is ideal for direct instruction and includes multiple days of guided instruction! The research writing presentation introduces students to the eight steps for completing a research project: selecting topics, generating questions, brainstorming, researching and gathering credible information, organizing and outlining, writing the first draft, peer editing, and finalizing the paper.

Research Paper Teaching Unit

Take the stress out of teaching your students how to write a research paper with  this complete research writing unit ! This comprehensive and complete research paper writing unit will help you teach your students how to write a research paper. Now available in print + digital!

Read more about teaching the research paper

Read more about research in the classroom with Part 2 which covers research paper topics and Part 3 which includes using Google Apps for research.

THANK YOU! I've had to sit through some painfully tedious COLLEGE classes because so many students aren't learning this in K12 that we're required to take classes on things like how to do a search. I greatly appreciate those of you who are teaching these important skills!

Is there a part 2?

Hi Deena, Thank you for reaching out. Yes. There is a part 2 and a part 3. I will link them to this post!

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Teaching Research Papers with High School Students

Research papers with high school students requires a balancing act. Follow these tips to get students successfully writing. #HighSchoolELA #LessonPlans

Stuck on teaching research papers? To effectively teach research papers, teachers must use different angles and methods to reach high school students.

Melissa: Differentiate

Research writing is not something that is one-size-fits all. We have to differentiate units to make them relevant and to fit different readiness levels. Using teaching approaches like stations, color coding, and flipped lessons helps us to meet students at their readiness levels.

Lauralee: 3 Simple Ideas

Keep three ideas in mind to focus students: ethical research, clear expectations, and strong writing. Everything that you teach and work on with students can be traced back to one of those concepts. Read how not to complicate research papers for you or your students.

Teaching research writing is a part of any high school ELA course. These tips for your writing lessons will help you and your students succeed.

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Teaching the Research Process Through Podcasting

Sharing their podcasts with peers gives students motivation to conduct research and develop skills they’ll need later to write essays.

Group of senior teenage students together using portable audio player with a laptop computer in school reference library

I have to be honest: I’ve often dreaded teaching research papers in my high school English classes. When students would turn in their papers, they would have composition issues that needed to be addressed, and there were so many other problems: questionable sources, MLA formatting mistakes, instances of plagiarism. Often I wouldn’t even know where to start assessing this work, even though these are all skills I consider essential in my classroom. Eventually I came to realize that they didn’t all have to be taught at the same time.

I also needed to find ways to help motivate my students to take ownership of their research process because the biggest problem with the papers was their incredible blandness. Without proper guidance, students miss the point of research: to look into a question and develop new questions, insights, and ideas as they search. For too many of them, a research paper is just a bunch of facts with a list of works cited at the end. No wonder they, and I, have often been bored to tears by the process and the result.

Because my 11th-grade students had been listening to podcasts to expand their knowledge base about the world for the argument essay on the AP exam, and because I’ve been trying to embrace a more experimental spirit in my teaching, this past year I decided to have students create podcasts in their first research project instead of papers. It was successful for many reasons—among other things, it separated the research process and the writing process, making both teaching and assessing skills easier—and I will definitely do it again. Here’s how I did it, and what I learned.

Choosing and Narrowing Topics

In the past, my students researched assigned topics. Because this year was a difficult one—our town was devastated by the Camp Fire in November—I decided that more choice was in order, to counteract the extraordinary and understandable lack of motivation for schoolwork that students were struggling with.

I had them form small groups and set them to work discussing topics they might work on. When they realized they really could research anything, they became excited, choosing topics like conspiracy theories, the rise of YouTubers, medical terminology, memes, cults, and how people become politicians.

Next the groups created research questions. These would evolve as they did the research, but they needed a starting place—I’ve learned that working out their own questions helps students focus their research. One group started with the question “What are conspiracy theories?” As they looked into the subject, that changed to “How do we know conspiracy theories aren’t true?” and then to “Why do people believe conspiracy theories?” The group created a rather nuanced podcast about the psychology behind these theories.

During this project, I taught my students many skills in the research process, including how to determine that sources are credible and how to cite them correctly. The most effective strategy by far was using professional podcasts as mentor texts.

Using Mentor Texts

We listened to several podcasts before and during the research process. Some of the ones that most engaged students were Serial , Radiolab , Invisibilia , Hidden Brain , StoryCorps , The Moth , Revisionist History , This American Life , and The NPR Politics Podcast . We analyzed them by asking questions such as:

  • What parts of this are interesting? Boring? Why?

  • How is it structured? What do the creators do at the beginning, at the end, and during transitions? How do they build their story or argument?

  • What is the main idea or insight that this podcast is illuminating? How does it make its argument, if there is one? What rhetorical strategies does it use?
  • What sound effects, music, and other tools does it use, and for what effect?

  • What else do you notice?

As we listened, students took notes on the aspects of each podcast that they wanted to emulate, and ones they wanted to avoid. Each time we finished listening to a podcast, we compared notes, eventually coming to a consensus on what created the most effective structures and arguments. By the time students started researching their topics, the process and purpose of research was much clearer to them: They realized that they would need to come to some conclusions about the significance of the information they found, and structure their evidence and commentary to support those conclusions.

When it came time to record, I had some equipment—professional mics I had secured through a project—but no idea how to use it. One student had some YouTubing experience, and he and his group were soon off and running, but the rest of us wrestled with the process until one of my resourceful girls discovered a very user-friendly app called Anchor . It was free, and with it my students were able to record, cut, mix, and publish their podcasts using just their phones. The results were surprisingly polished, and my students were justifiably proud of their final podcasts.

Why This Worked

Although I felt guilty at first about my lack of preparation for this project, I’ve learned that when trying new ideas in teaching, the best strategy is to fire, and then aim. I’m generally an overthinker, and if I wait until a lesson is perfect, it often never makes it into the classroom.

My students struggled with the technology of recording, but they were so engaged in solving the puzzle that they forgot to get bored. They were also quite anxious about creating a publishable product that would be listened to by their peers, rather than a paper that only I would see. They were deeply invested in creating an interesting, meaningful podcast. In the end they worked harder on the analysis and synthesis—and did far more thinking—than they would have done if I were the only audience.

This assignment introduced students to the purpose and structure of research, something that was reflected in our more traditional research paper later in the year. They learned from the feedback I gave them and from the work they did on formulating and structuring arguments, and they gained an understanding of why people do research in real life.

Now that I’ve tried this idea, I can make it even better next year. That’s the joy of teaching experimentally: I can try just about anything because I don’t have to be perfect—there’s always a next time. And that makes teaching so much more engaging for everybody in my classroom, including me.

  • Research Skills

50 Mini-Lessons For Teaching Students Research Skills

Please note, I am no longer blogging and this post hasn’t updated since April 2020.

For a number of years, Seth Godin has been talking about the need to “ connect the dots” rather than “collect the dots” . That is, rather than memorising information, students must be able to learn how to solve new problems, see patterns, and combine multiple perspectives.

Solid research skills underpin this. Having the fluency to find and use information successfully is an essential skill for life and work.

Today’s students have more information at their fingertips than ever before and this means the role of the teacher as a guide is more important than ever.

You might be wondering how you can fit teaching research skills into a busy curriculum? There aren’t enough hours in the day! The good news is, there are so many mini-lessons you can do to build students’ skills over time.

This post outlines 50 ideas for activities that could be done in just a few minutes (or stretched out to a longer lesson if you have the time!).

Learn More About The Research Process

I have a popular post called Teach Students How To Research Online In 5 Steps. It outlines a five-step approach to break down the research process into manageable chunks.

Learn about a simple search process for students in primary school, middle school, or high school Kathleen Morris

This post shares ideas for mini-lessons that could be carried out in the classroom throughout the year to help build students’ skills in the five areas of: clarify, search, delve, evaluate , and cite . It also includes ideas for learning about staying organised throughout the research process.

Notes about the 50 research activities:

  • These ideas can be adapted for different age groups from middle primary/elementary to senior high school.
  • Many of these ideas can be repeated throughout the year.
  • Depending on the age of your students, you can decide whether the activity will be more teacher or student led. Some activities suggest coming up with a list of words, questions, or phrases. Teachers of younger students could generate these themselves.
  • Depending on how much time you have, many of the activities can be either quickly modelled by the teacher, or extended to an hour-long lesson.
  • Some of the activities could fit into more than one category.
  • Looking for simple articles for younger students for some of the activities? Try DOGO News or Time for Kids . Newsela is also a great resource but you do need to sign up for free account.
  • Why not try a few activities in a staff meeting? Everyone can always brush up on their own research skills!

teaching research paper to high school students

  • Choose a topic (e.g. koalas, basketball, Mount Everest) . Write as many questions as you can think of relating to that topic.
  • Make a mindmap of a topic you’re currently learning about. This could be either on paper or using an online tool like .
  • Read a short book or article. Make a list of 5 words from the text that you don’t totally understand. Look up the meaning of the words in a dictionary (online or paper).
  • Look at a printed or digital copy of a short article with the title removed. Come up with as many different titles as possible that would fit the article.
  • Come up with a list of 5 different questions you could type into Google (e.g. Which country in Asia has the largest population?) Circle the keywords in each question.
  • Write down 10 words to describe a person, place, or topic. Come up with synonyms for these words using a tool like .
  • Write pairs of synonyms on post-it notes (this could be done by the teacher or students). Each student in the class has one post-it note and walks around the classroom to find the person with the synonym to their word.

teaching research paper to high school students

  • Explore how to search Google using your voice (i.e. click/tap on the microphone in the Google search box or on your phone/tablet keyboard) . List the pros and cons of using voice and text to search.
  • Open two different search engines in your browser such as Google and Bing. Type in a query and compare the results. Do all search engines work exactly the same?
  • Have students work in pairs to try out a different search engine (there are 11 listed here ). Report back to the class on the pros and cons.
  • Think of something you’re curious about, (e.g. What endangered animals live in the Amazon Rainforest?). Open Google in two tabs. In one search, type in one or two keywords ( e.g. Amazon Rainforest) . In the other search type in multiple relevant keywords (e.g. endangered animals Amazon rainforest).  Compare the results. Discuss the importance of being specific.
  • Similar to above, try two different searches where one phrase is in quotation marks and the other is not. For example, Origin of “raining cats and dogs” and Origin of raining cats and dogs . Discuss the difference that using quotation marks makes (It tells Google to search for the precise keywords in order.)
  • Try writing a question in Google with a few minor spelling mistakes. What happens? What happens if you add or leave out punctuation ?
  • Try the daily search challenges from Google. The questions help older students learn about choosing keywords, deconstructing questions, and altering keywords.
  • Explore how Google uses autocomplete to suggest searches quickly. Try it out by typing in various queries (e.g. How to draw… or What is the tallest…). Discuss how these suggestions come about, how to use them, and whether they’re usually helpful.
  • Watch this video  from to learn more about how search works .
  • Take a look at  20 Instant Google Searches your Students Need to Know  by Eric Curts to learn about “ instant searches ”. Try one to try out. Perhaps each student could be assigned one to try and share with the class.
  • Experiment with typing some questions into Google that have a clear answer (e.g. “What is a parallelogram?” or “What is the highest mountain in the world?” or “What is the population of Australia?”). Look at the different ways the answers are displayed instantly within the search results — dictionary definitions, image cards, graphs etc.

What is the population of Australia

  • Watch the video How Does Google Know Everything About Me?  by Scientific American. Discuss the PageRank algorithm and how Google uses your data to customise search results.
  • Brainstorm a list of popular domains   (e.g. .com,, or your country’s domain) . Discuss if any domains might be more reliable than others and why (e.g. .gov or .edu) .
  • Discuss (or research) ways to open Google search results in a new tab to save your original search results  (i.e. right-click > open link in new tab or press control/command and click the link).
  • Try out a few Google searches (perhaps start with things like “car service” “cat food” or “fresh flowers”). A re there advertisements within the results? Discuss where these appear and how to spot them.
  • Look at ways to filter search results by using the tabs at the top of the page in Google (i.e. news, images, shopping, maps, videos etc.). Do the same filters appear for all Google searches? Try out a few different searches and see.
  • Type a question into Google and look for the “People also ask” and “Searches related to…” sections. Discuss how these could be useful. When should you use them or ignore them so you don’t go off on an irrelevant tangent? Is the information in the drop-down section under “People also ask” always the best?
  • Often, more current search results are more useful. Click on “tools” under the Google search box and then “any time” and your time frame of choice such as “Past month” or “Past year”.
  • Have students annotate their own “anatomy of a search result” example like the one I made below. Explore the different ways search results display; some have more details like sitelinks and some do not.

Anatomy of a google search result

  • Find two articles on a news topic from different publications. Or find a news article and an opinion piece on the same topic. Make a Venn diagram comparing the similarities and differences.
  • Choose a graph, map, or chart from The New York Times’ What’s Going On In This Graph series . Have a whole class or small group discussion about the data.
  • Look at images stripped of their captions on What’s Going On In This Picture? by The New York Times. Discuss the images in pairs or small groups. What can you tell?
  • Explore a website together as a class or in pairs — perhaps a news website. Identify all the advertisements .
  • Have a look at a fake website either as a whole class or in pairs/small groups. See if students can spot that these sites are not real. Discuss the fact that you can’t believe everything that’s online. Get started with these four examples of fake websites from Eric Curts.
  • Give students a copy of my website evaluation flowchart to analyse and then discuss as a class. Read more about the flowchart in this post.
  • As a class, look at a prompt from Mike Caulfield’s Four Moves . Either together or in small groups, have students fact check the prompts on the site. This resource explains more about the fact checking process. Note: some of these prompts are not suitable for younger students.
  • Practice skim reading — give students one minute to read a short article. Ask them to discuss what stood out to them. Headings? Bold words? Quotes? Then give students ten minutes to read the same article and discuss deep reading.

teaching research paper to high school students

All students can benefit from learning about plagiarism, copyright, how to write information in their own words, and how to acknowledge the source. However, the formality of this process will depend on your students’ age and your curriculum guidelines.

  • Watch the video Citation for Beginners for an introduction to citation. Discuss the key points to remember.
  • Look up the definition of plagiarism using a variety of sources (dictionary, video, Wikipedia etc.). Create a definition as a class.
  • Find an interesting video on YouTube (perhaps a “life hack” video) and write a brief summary in your own words.
  • Have students pair up and tell each other about their weekend. Then have the listener try to verbalise or write their friend’s recount in their own words. Discuss how accurate this was.
  • Read the class a copy of a well known fairy tale. Have them write a short summary in their own words. Compare the versions that different students come up with.
  • Try out MyBib — a handy free online tool without ads that helps you create citations quickly and easily.
  • Give primary/elementary students a copy of Kathy Schrock’s Guide to Citation that matches their grade level (the guide covers grades 1 to 6). Choose one form of citation and create some examples as a class (e.g. a website or a book).
  • Make a list of things that are okay and not okay to do when researching, e.g. copy text from a website, use any image from Google images, paraphrase in your own words and cite your source, add a short quote and cite the source. 
  • Have students read a short article and then come up with a summary that would be considered plagiarism and one that would not be considered plagiarism. These could be shared with the class and the students asked to decide which one shows an example of plagiarism .
  • Older students could investigate the difference between paraphrasing and summarising . They could create a Venn diagram that compares the two.
  • Write a list of statements on the board that might be true or false ( e.g. The 1956 Olympics were held in Melbourne, Australia. The rhinoceros is the largest land animal in the world. The current marathon world record is 2 hours, 7 minutes). Have students research these statements and decide whether they’re true or false by sharing their citations.

Staying Organised

teaching research paper to high school students

  • Make a list of different ways you can take notes while researching — Google Docs, Google Keep, pen and paper etc. Discuss the pros and cons of each method.
  • Learn the keyboard shortcuts to help manage tabs (e.g. open new tab, reopen closed tab, go to next tab etc.). Perhaps students could all try out the shortcuts and share their favourite one with the class.
  • Find a collection of resources on a topic and add them to a Wakelet .
  • Listen to a short podcast or watch a brief video on a certain topic and sketchnote ideas. Sylvia Duckworth has some great tips about live sketchnoting
  • Learn how to use split screen to have one window open with your research, and another open with your notes (e.g. a Google spreadsheet, Google Doc, Microsoft Word or OneNote etc.) .

All teachers know it’s important to teach students to research well. Investing time in this process will also pay off throughout the year and the years to come. Students will be able to focus on analysing and synthesizing information, rather than the mechanics of the research process.

By trying out as many of these mini-lessons as possible throughout the year, you’ll be really helping your students to thrive in all areas of school, work, and life.

Also remember to model your own searches explicitly during class time. Talk out loud as you look things up and ask students for input. Learning together is the way to go!

You Might Also Enjoy Reading:

How To Evaluate Websites: A Guide For Teachers And Students

Five Tips for Teaching Students How to Research and Filter Information

Typing Tips: The How and Why of Teaching Students Keyboarding Skills

8 Ways Teachers And Schools Can Communicate With Parents

Learn how to teach research skills to primary students, middle school students, or high school students. 50 activities that could be done in just a few minutes a day. Lots of Google search tips and research tips for kids and teachers. Free PDF included! Kathleen Morris | Primary Tech

10 Replies to “50 Mini-Lessons For Teaching Students Research Skills”

Loving these ideas, thank you

This list is amazing. Thank you so much!

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So glad it’s helpful, Alex! 🙂

Hi I am a student who really needed some help on how to reasearch thanks for the help.

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So glad it helped! 🙂

seriously seriously grateful for your post. 🙂

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So glad it’s helpful! Makes my day 🙂

How do you get the 50 mini lessons. I got the free one but am interested in the full version.

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Hi Tracey, The link to the PDF with the 50 mini lessons is in the post. Here it is . Check out this post if you need more advice on teaching students how to research online. Hope that helps! Kathleen

Best wishes to you as you face your health battler. Hoping you’ve come out stronger and healthier from it. Your website is so helpful.

Comments are closed.

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teaching research paper to high school students

100 Interesting Research Paper Topics for High Schoolers

What’s covered:, how to pick the right research topic, elements of a strong research paper.

  • Interesting Research Paper Topics

Composing a research paper can be a daunting task for first-time writers. In addition to making sure you’re using concise language and your thoughts are organized clearly, you need to find a topic that draws the reader in.

CollegeVine is here to help you brainstorm creative topics! Below are 100 interesting research paper topics that will help you engage with your project and keep you motivated until you’ve typed the final period. 

A research paper is similar to an academic essay but more lengthy and requires more research. This added length and depth is bittersweet: although a research paper is more work, you can create a more nuanced argument, and learn more about your topic. Research papers are a demonstration of your research ability and your ability to formulate a convincing argument. How well you’re able to engage with the sources and make original contributions will determine the strength of your paper. 

You can’t have a good research paper without a good research paper topic. “Good” is subjective, and different students will find different topics interesting. What’s important is that you find a topic that makes you want to find out more and make a convincing argument. Maybe you’ll be so interested that you’ll want to take it further and investigate some detail in even greater depth!

For example, last year over 4000 students applied for 500 spots in the Lumiere Research Scholar Program , a rigorous research program founded by Harvard researchers. The program pairs high-school students with Ph.D. mentors to work 1-on-1 on an independent research project . The program actually does not require you to have a research topic in mind when you apply, but pro tip: the more specific you can be the more likely you are to get in!


The introduction to a research paper serves two critical functions: it conveys the topic of the paper and illustrates how you will address it. A strong introduction will also pique the interest of the reader and make them excited to read more. Selecting a research paper topic that is meaningful, interesting, and fascinates you is an excellent first step toward creating an engaging paper that people will want to read.

Thesis Statement

A thesis statement is technically part of the introduction—generally the last sentence of it—but is so important that it merits a section of its own. The thesis statement is a declarative sentence that tells the reader what the paper is about. A strong thesis statement serves three purposes: present the topic of the paper, deliver a clear opinion on the topic, and summarize the points the paper will cover.

An example of a good thesis statement of diversity in the workforce is:

Diversity in the workplace is not just a moral imperative but also a strategic advantage for businesses, as it fosters innovation, enhances creativity, improves decision-making, and enables companies to better understand and connect with a diverse customer base.

The body is the largest section of a research paper. It’s here where you support your thesis, present your facts and research, and persuade the reader.

Each paragraph in the body of a research paper should have its own idea. The idea is presented, generally in the first sentence of the paragraph, by a topic sentence. The topic sentence acts similarly to the thesis statement, only on a smaller scale, and every sentence in the paragraph with it supports the idea it conveys.

An example of a topic sentence on how diversity in the workplace fosters innovation is:

Diversity in the workplace fosters innovation by bringing together individuals with different backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences, which stimulates creativity, encourages new ideas, and leads to the development of innovative solutions to complex problems.

The body of an engaging research paper flows smoothly from one idea to the next. Create an outline before writing and order your ideas so that each idea logically leads to another.

The conclusion of a research paper should summarize your thesis and reinforce your argument. It’s common to restate the thesis in the conclusion of a research paper.

For example, a conclusion for a paper about diversity in the workforce is:

In conclusion, diversity in the workplace is vital to success in the modern business world. By embracing diversity, companies can tap into the full potential of their workforce, promote creativity and innovation, and better connect with a diverse customer base, ultimately leading to greater success and a more prosperous future for all.

Reference Page

The reference page is normally found at the end of a research paper. It provides proof that you did research using credible sources, properly credits the originators of information, and prevents plagiarism.

There are a number of different formats of reference pages, including APA, MLA, and Chicago. Make sure to format your reference page in your teacher’s preferred style.

  • Analyze the benefits of diversity in education.
  • Are charter schools useful for the national education system?
  • How has modern technology changed teaching?
  • Discuss the pros and cons of standardized testing.
  • What are the benefits of a gap year between high school and college?
  • What funding allocations give the most benefit to students?
  • Does homeschooling set students up for success?
  • Should universities/high schools require students to be vaccinated?
  • What effect does rising college tuition have on high schoolers?
  • Do students perform better in same-sex schools?
  • Discuss and analyze the impacts of a famous musician on pop music.
  • How has pop music evolved over the past decade?
  • How has the portrayal of women in music changed in the media over the past decade?
  • How does a synthesizer work?
  • How has music evolved to feature different instruments/voices?
  • How has sound effect technology changed the music industry?
  • Analyze the benefits of music education in high schools.
  • Are rehabilitation centers more effective than prisons?
  • Are congestion taxes useful?
  • Does affirmative action help minorities?
  • Can a capitalist system effectively reduce inequality?
  • Is a three-branch government system effective?
  • What causes polarization in today’s politics?
  • Is the U.S. government racially unbiased?
  • Choose a historical invention and discuss its impact on society today.
  • Choose a famous historical leader who lost power—what led to their eventual downfall?
  • How has your country evolved over the past century?
  • What historical event has had the largest effect on the U.S.?
  • Has the government’s response to national disasters improved or declined throughout history?
  • Discuss the history of the American occupation of Iraq.
  • Explain the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
  • Is literature relevant in modern society?
  • Discuss how fiction can be used for propaganda.
  • How does literature teach and inform about society?
  • Explain the influence of children’s literature on adulthood.
  • How has literature addressed homosexuality?
  • Does the media portray minorities realistically?
  • Does the media reinforce stereotypes?
  • Why have podcasts become so popular?
  • Will streaming end traditional television?
  • What is a patriot?
  • What are the pros and cons of global citizenship?
  • What are the causes and effects of bullying?
  • Why has the divorce rate in the U.S. been declining in recent years?
  • Is it more important to follow social norms or religion?
  • What are the responsible limits on abortion, if any?
  • How does an MRI machine work?
  • Would the U.S. benefit from socialized healthcare?
  • Elderly populations
  • The education system
  • State tax bases
  • How do anti-vaxxers affect the health of the country?
  • Analyze the costs and benefits of diet culture.
  • Should companies allow employees to exercise on company time?
  • What is an adequate amount of exercise for an adult per week/per month/per day?
  • Discuss the effects of the obesity epidemic on American society.
  • Are students smarter since the advent of the internet?
  • What departures has the internet made from its original design?
  • Has digital downloading helped the music industry?
  • Discuss the benefits and costs of stricter internet censorship.
  • Analyze the effects of the internet on the paper news industry.
  • What would happen if the internet went out?
  • How will artificial intelligence (AI) change our lives?
  • What are the pros and cons of cryptocurrency?
  • How has social media affected the way people relate with each other?
  • Should social media have an age restriction?
  • Discuss the importance of source software.
  • What is more relevant in today’s world: mobile apps or websites?
  • How will fully autonomous vehicles change our lives?
  • How is text messaging affecting teen literacy?

Mental Health

  • What are the benefits of daily exercise?
  • How has social media affected people’s mental health?
  • What things contribute to poor mental and physical health?
  • Analyze how mental health is talked about in pop culture.
  • Discuss the pros and cons of more counselors in high schools.
  • How does stress affect the body?
  • How do emotional support animals help people?
  • What are black holes?
  • Discuss the biggest successes and failures of the EPA.
  • How has the Flint water crisis affected life in Michigan?
  • Can science help save endangered species?
  • Is the development of an anti-cancer vaccine possible?


  • What are the effects of deforestation on climate change?
  • Is climate change reversible?
  • How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect global warming and climate change?
  • Are carbon credits effective for offsetting emissions or just marketing?
  • Is nuclear power a safe alternative to fossil fuels?
  • Are hybrid vehicles helping to control pollution in the atmosphere?
  • How is plastic waste harming the environment?
  • Is entrepreneurism a trait people are born with or something they learn?
  • How much more should CEOs make than their average employee?
  • Can you start a business without money?
  • Should the U.S. raise the minimum wage?
  • Discuss how happy employees benefit businesses.
  • How important is branding for a business?
  • Discuss the ease, or difficulty, of landing a job today.
  • What is the economic impact of sporting events?
  • Are professional athletes overpaid?
  • Should male and female athletes receive equal pay?
  • What is a fair and equitable way for transgender athletes to compete in high school sports?
  • What are the benefits of playing team sports?
  • What is the most corrupt professional sport?

Where to Get More Research Paper Topic Ideas

If you need more help brainstorming topics, especially those that are personalized to your interests, you can use CollegeVine’s free AI tutor, Ivy . Ivy can help you come up with original research topic ideas, and she can also help with the rest of your homework, from math to languages.

Disclaimer: This post includes content sponsored by Lumiere Education.

Related CollegeVine Blog Posts

teaching research paper to high school students

How to Publish a Research Paper In High School: 18 Journals and Conferences to Consider

teaching research paper to high school students

By Alex Yang

Graduate student at Southern Methodist University

9 minute read

So you've been working super hard writing a research paper , and you’ve finally finished. Congrats! It’s a very impressive accolade already, but there’s a way to take it a level further. As we’ve talked about before in our Polygence blog, “ Showcasing your work and sharing it with the world is the intellectual version of ‘pics or it didn’t happen.’ ” Of course, there are lot of different ways to showcase your work , from creating a Youtube video to making a podcast. But one of the most popular ways to showcase your research is to publish your research. Publishing your research can take the great work you’ve already done and add credibility to it, and will make a stronger impression than unpublished research. Further, the process of having your work reviewed by advanced degree researchers can be a valuable experience in itself. You can receive feedback from experts and learn how to improve upon the work you’ve already done.

Before we dive into the various journals and conferences to publish your work, let’s distinguish between the various publishing options that you have as a high schooler, as there are some nuances. Quick disclaimer: this article focuses on journals and conferences as ways to showcase your work. There are also competitions where you can submit your work, and we have written guides on competing in premier competitions like Regeneron STS and competing in Regeneron ISEF . 

Publishing Options for High School Students

Peer-reviewed journals.

This is rather self-explanatory, but these journals go through the peer review process, where author(s) submit their work to the journal, and the journal's editors send the work to a group of independent experts (typically grad students or other scientists with advanced degrees) in the same field or discipline. These experts are peer reviewers, who evaluate the work based on a set of predetermined criteria, including the quality of the research, the validity of the methodology, the accuracy of the data, and the originality of the findings. The peer reviewers may suggest revisions or leave comments, but ultimately the editors will decide which suggestions to give to the student. 

Once you’ve received suggestions, you have the opportunity to make revisions before submitting your final product back to the journal. The editor then decides whether or not your work is published.

Non-Peer-Reviewed Journals

These are just journals that do not undergo a review process. In general, peer-reviewed journals may be seen as more credible and prestigious. However, non-peer-reviewed journals may make it easier and faster to publish your work, which can be helpful if you are pressed for time and applying to colleges soon .

Pre Print Archives

Preprint archives or servers are online repositories where student researchers can upload and share their research papers without undergoing any review process. Preprints allow students to share their findings quickly and get feedback from the scientific community, which can help improve the research while you’re waiting to hear back from journals, which typically have longer timelines and can take up to several months to publish research. Sharing your work in a preprint archive does not prohibit you from, or interfere with submitting the same work to a journal afterwards.

Research Conferences

Prefer to present your research in a presentation or verbal format? Conferences can be a great way to “publish” your research, showcase your public speaking skills, speak directly to your audience, and network with other researchers in your field. 

Student-led Journals vs Graduate Student / Professor-led Journals 

Some student-led journals may have peer-review, but the actual people peer-reviewing your work may be high school students. Other journals will have graduate students, PhD students, or even faculty reviewing your work. As you can imagine, there are tradeoffs to either option. With an advanced degree student reviewing your work, you can likely expect better and more accurate feedback. Plus, it’s cool to have an expert look over your work! However, this may also mean that the journal is more selective, whereas student-led journals may be easier to publish in. Nonetheless, getting feedback from anyone who’s knowledgeable can be a great way to polish your research and writing.

Strategy for Submitting to Multiple Journals

Ultimately, your paper can only be published in one peer-reviewed journal. Submitting the same paper to multiple peer-reviewed journals at the same time is not allowed, and doing so may impact its publication at any peer-reviewed journal. If your work is not accepted at one journal, however, then you are free to submit that work to your next choice and so on. Therefore, it is best to submit to journals with a strategy in mind. Consider: what journal do I ideally want to be published in? What are some back-ups if I don’t get published in my ideal journal? Preprints, like arXiv and the Research Archive of Rising Scholars, are possible places to submit your work in advance of seeking peer-reviewed publication. These are places to “stake your claim” in a research area and get feedback from the community prior to submitting your paper to its final home in a peer-reviewed journal. You can submit your work to a preprint prior to submitting at a peer-reviewed journal. However, bioRxiv, a reputable preprint server, recommends on their website that a preprint only be posted on one server, so that’s something to keep in mind as well.

Citation and Paper Formats

All of the journals listed below have specific ways that they’d like you to cite your sources, varying from styles like MLA to APA, and it’s important that you double-check the journal’s requirements for citations, titling your paper, writing your abstract, etc. Most journal websites have very detailed guides for how they want you to format your paper, so follow those closely to avoid having to wait to hear back and then resubmit your paper. If you’re looking for more guidance on citations and bibliographies check out our blog post!

18 Journals and Conferences to Publish Your Research as a High Schooler

Now that we’ve distinguished the differences between certain journals and conferences, let’s jump into some of our favorite ones. We’ve divided up our selections based on prestige and reliability, and we’ve made these selections using our experience with helping Polygence students showcase their research .

Most Prestigious Journals

Concord review.

Cost: $70 to Submit and $200 Publication Cost (if accepted)

Deadline: Fixed Deadlines in Feb 1 (Summer Issue), May 1 (Fall), August 1 (Winter), and November 1 (Spring)

Subject area: History / Social Sciences

Type of research: All types of academic articles

The Concord Review is a quarterly journal that publishes exceptional essays written by high school students on historical topics. The journal has been around since 1987 and has a great reputation, with many student winners going to great universities. Further, if your paper is published, your essays will be sent to subscribers and teachers all around the world, which is an incredible achievement.

Papers submitted tend to be around 8,000 words, so there is definitely a lot of writing involved, and the Concord Review themselves say that they are very selective, publishing only about 5% of the essays they receive.

We’ve posted our complete guide on publishing in the Concord Review here.

Journal of Emerging Investigators (JEI)

Deadline: Rolling

Subject area: STEM 

Type of research: Original hypothesis-driven scientific research

JEI is an open-access publication that features scientific research papers written by middle and high school students in the fields of biological and physical sciences. The journal includes a comprehensive peer-review process, where graduate students and other professional scientists with advanced degrees will review the manuscripts and provide suggestions to improve both the project and manuscript itself. You can expect to receive feedback in 6-8 weeks.

This should be the go-to option for students that are doing hypothesis-driven, original research or research that involves original analyses of existing data (meta-analysis, analyzing publicly available datasets, etc.). This is not an appropriate fit for students writing literature reviews. Finally, a mentor or parent must submit on behalf of the student.

We’ve had many Polygence students successfully submit to JEI. Check out Hana’s research on invasive species and their effects in drought times.

STEM Fellowship Journal (SFJ)

Cost: $400 publication fee

Subject area: All Scientific Disciplines

Type of research: Conference Proceedings, Review Articles, Viewpoint Articles, Original Research

SFJ is a peer-reviewed journal published by Canadian Science Publishing that serves as a platform for scholarly research conducted by high school and university students in the STEM fields. Peer review is conducted by undergraduate, graduate student, and professional reviewers.

Depending on the kind of research article you choose to submit, SFJ provides very specific guidelines on what to include and word limits.

Other Great Journal Options

National high school journal of science (nhsjs).

Cost: $250 for publication 

Deadline: Rolling 

Subject area: All science disciplines 

Type of research: Original research, literature review

NHSJS is a journal peer reviewed by high schoolers from around the world, with an advisory board of adult academics. Topics are STEM related, and submission types can vary from original research papers to shorter articles.

Curieux Academic Journal

Cost: $185-215

Subject area: Engineering, Humanities, and Natural Science, Mathematics, and Social Science

Type of research: Including but not limited to research papers, review articles, and humanity/social science pieces.

Curieux Academic Journal is a non-profit run by students and was founded in 2017 to publish outstanding research by high school and middle school students. Curieux publishes one issue per month (twelve per year), so there are many opportunities to get your research published. 

The Young Scientists Journal 

Deadline: December

Subject area: Sciences

Type of research: Original research, literature review, blog post

The Young Scientists Journal , while a popular option for students previously, has paused submissions to process a backlog. The journal is an international peer-reviewed journal run by students, and creates print issues twice a year. 

The journal has also been around for a decade and has a clear track record of producing alumni who go on to work in STEM.

Here’s an example of research submitted by Polygence student Ryan to the journal.

Journal of Research High School (JRHS)

Subject area: Any academic subject including the sciences and humanities

Type of research: Original research and significant literature reviews.

JRHS is an online research journal edited by volunteer professional scientists, researchers, teachers, and professors. JRHS accepts original research and significant literature reviews in Engineering, Humanities, Natural Science, Math, and Social Sciences.

From our experience working with our students to help publish their research, this journal is currently operating with a 15-20 week turnaround time for review. This is a bit on the longer side, so be mindful of this turnaround time if you’re looking to get your work published soon.

Youth Medical Journal

Deadline: March (currently closed)

Subject area: Medical or scientific topics

Type of research: Original research, review article, blog post, magazine article

The Youth Medical Journal is an international, student-run team of 40 students looking to share medical research.

We’ve found that this journal is a good entry point for students new to research papers, but when submissions are busy, in the past they have paused submissions. 

Journal of High School Science (JHSS)

Subject area: All topics

Type of research: Original research, literature review, technical notes, opinion pieces

This peer-reviewed STEAM journal publishes quarterly, with advanced degree doctors who sit on the journal’s editorial board. In addition to typical STEM subjects, the journal also accepts manuscripts related to music and theater, which is explicitly stated on their website.

Due to the current large volume of submissions, the review process takes a minimum of 4 weeks from the time of submission.

Whitman Journal of Psychology

Subject area: Psychology

Type of research: Original research, podcasts

The WWJOP is a publication run entirely by students, where research and literature reviews in the field of psychology are recognized. The journal is run out of a high school with a teacher supervisor and student staff.

The WWJOP uniquely also accepts podcast submissions, so if that’s your preferred format for showcasing your work, then this could be the journal for you!

Cost: $180 submission fee

Subject area: Humanities

Type of research: Essay submission

The Schola is a peer-reviewed quarterly journal that showcases essays on various humanities and social sciences topics authored by high school students worldwide. They feature a diverse range of subjects such as philosophy, history, art history, English, economics, public policy, and sociology.

Editors at Schola are academics who teach and do research in the humanities and social sciences

Critical Debates in Humanities, Science and Global Justice

Cost: $10 author fee

Subject area: Ethics and frontiers of science, Biology and ecosystems, Technology and Innovation, Medical research and disease, Peace and civil society, Global citizenship, identity and democracy, Structural violence and society, Psychology, Education, AI, Sociology, Computer Science, Neuroscience, Cultural politics, Politics and Justice, Computer science and math as related to policy, Public policy, Human rights, Language, Identity and Culture, Art and activism

Critical Debates is an international academic journal for critical discourse in humanities, science and contemporary global issues for emerging young scholars

International Youth Neuroscience Association Journal

Subject area: Neuroscience

Type of research: Research papers

Although this student peer-reviewed journal is not currently accepting submissions, we’ve had students recently publish here. 

Here’s an example of Nevenka’s research that was published in the November 2022 issue of the journal.

Preprint Archives to Share Your Work In

Subject area: STEM, Quantitative Finance, Economics

arXiv is an open access archive supported by Cornell University, where more than 2 million scholarly articles in a wide variety of topics have been compiled. arXiv articles are not peer-reviewed, so you will not receive any feedback on your work from experts. However, your article does go through a moderation process where your work is classified into a topic area and checked for scholarly value. This process is rather quick however and according to arXiv you can expect your article to be available on the website in about 6 hours. 

Although there’s no peer review process, that means the submission standards are not as rigorous and you can get your article posted very quickly, so submitting to arXiv or other preprint archives can be something you do before trying to get published in a journal.

One slight inconvenience of submitting to arXiv is that you must be endorsed by a current arXiv author, which can typically be a mentor or teacher or professor that you have. Here’s an example of a Polygence student submitting their work to arXiv, with Albert’s research on Hamiltonian Cycles.

Subject area: Biology

Type of research: Original research

bioRxiv is a preprint server for biology research, where again the research is not peer-reviewed but undergoes a check to make sure that the material is relevant and appropriate.

bioRxiv has a bit of a longer posting time, taking around 48 hours, but that’s still very quick. bioRxiv also allows for you to submit revised versions of your research if you decide to make changes.

Research Archive of Rising Scholars (RARS)

Subject area: STEM and Humanities

Type of research: Original research, review articles, poems, short stories, scripts

Research Archive of Rising Scholars is Polygence’s own preprint server! We were inspired by arXiv so we created a repository for articles and other creative submissions in STEM and the Humanities.

We launched RARS in 2022 and we’re excited to offer a space for budding scholars as they look to publish their work in journals. Compared to other preprint archives, RARS also accepts a wider range of submission types, including poems, short stories, and scripts.

Conferences to Participate In

Symposium of rising scholars.

Deadline: Twice a year - February and July

Polygence’s very own Symposium of Rising Scholars is a bi-annual academic conference where students present and share their research with their peers and experts. The Symposium also includes a College Admissions Panel and Keynote Speech. In our 8th edition of the Symposium this past March, we had 60 students presenting live, approximately 70 students presenting asynchronously, and over 100 audience members. The keynote speaker was Chang-rae Lee, award-winning novelist and professor at Stanford University.

We’re looking to have our 9th Symposium in Fall of 2023, and you can express your interest now. If you’re interested to see what our Polygence scholars have presented in the past for the Symposium, you can check out their scholar pages here.

Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS)

Deadline: Typically in November, so for 2024’s competition look to submit in Fall 2023

Subject area: STEM topics

JSHS is a Department of Defense sponsored program and competition that consists of first submitting a written report of your research. If your submission is selected, you’ll be able to participate in the regional symposium, where you can present in oral format or poster format. A select group from the regional symposium will then qualify for the national symposium.

One of the great things about JSHS compared to the journals mentioned above is that you’re allowed to work in teams and you don’t have to be a solo author. This can make the experience more fun for you and your teammates, and allow you to combine your strengths for your submission.

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New advances in technology are upending education, from the recent debut of new artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots like ChatGPT to the growing accessibility of virtual-reality tools that expand the boundaries of the classroom. For educators, at the heart of it all is the hope that every learner gets an equal chance to develop the skills they need to succeed. But that promise is not without its pitfalls.

“Technology is a game-changer for education – it offers the prospect of universal access to high-quality learning experiences, and it creates fundamentally new ways of teaching,” said Dan Schwartz, dean of Stanford Graduate School of Education (GSE), who is also a professor of educational technology at the GSE and faculty director of the Stanford Accelerator for Learning . “But there are a lot of ways we teach that aren’t great, and a big fear with AI in particular is that we just get more efficient at teaching badly. This is a moment to pay attention, to do things differently.”

For K-12 schools, this year also marks the end of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding program, which has provided pandemic recovery funds that many districts used to invest in educational software and systems. With these funds running out in September 2024, schools are trying to determine their best use of technology as they face the prospect of diminishing resources.

Here, Schwartz and other Stanford education scholars weigh in on some of the technology trends taking center stage in the classroom this year.

AI in the classroom

In 2023, the big story in technology and education was generative AI, following the introduction of ChatGPT and other chatbots that produce text seemingly written by a human in response to a question or prompt. Educators immediately worried that students would use the chatbot to cheat by trying to pass its writing off as their own. As schools move to adopt policies around students’ use of the tool, many are also beginning to explore potential opportunities – for example, to generate reading assignments or coach students during the writing process.

AI can also help automate tasks like grading and lesson planning, freeing teachers to do the human work that drew them into the profession in the first place, said Victor Lee, an associate professor at the GSE and faculty lead for the AI + Education initiative at the Stanford Accelerator for Learning. “I’m heartened to see some movement toward creating AI tools that make teachers’ lives better – not to replace them, but to give them the time to do the work that only teachers are able to do,” he said. “I hope to see more on that front.”

He also emphasized the need to teach students now to begin questioning and critiquing the development and use of AI. “AI is not going away,” said Lee, who is also director of CRAFT (Classroom-Ready Resources about AI for Teaching), which provides free resources to help teach AI literacy to high school students across subject areas. “We need to teach students how to understand and think critically about this technology.”

Immersive environments

The use of immersive technologies like augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality is also expected to surge in the classroom, especially as new high-profile devices integrating these realities hit the marketplace in 2024.

The educational possibilities now go beyond putting on a headset and experiencing life in a distant location. With new technologies, students can create their own local interactive 360-degree scenarios, using just a cell phone or inexpensive camera and simple online tools.

“This is an area that’s really going to explode over the next couple of years,” said Kristen Pilner Blair, director of research for the Digital Learning initiative at the Stanford Accelerator for Learning, which runs a program exploring the use of virtual field trips to promote learning. “Students can learn about the effects of climate change, say, by virtually experiencing the impact on a particular environment. But they can also become creators, documenting and sharing immersive media that shows the effects where they live.”

Integrating AI into virtual simulations could also soon take the experience to another level, Schwartz said. “If your VR experience brings me to a redwood tree, you could have a window pop up that allows me to ask questions about the tree, and AI can deliver the answers.”


Another trend expected to intensify this year is the gamification of learning activities, often featuring dynamic videos with interactive elements to engage and hold students’ attention.

“Gamification is a good motivator, because one key aspect is reward, which is very powerful,” said Schwartz. The downside? Rewards are specific to the activity at hand, which may not extend to learning more generally. “If I get rewarded for doing math in a space-age video game, it doesn’t mean I’m going to be motivated to do math anywhere else.”

Gamification sometimes tries to make “chocolate-covered broccoli,” Schwartz said, by adding art and rewards to make speeded response tasks involving single-answer, factual questions more fun. He hopes to see more creative play patterns that give students points for rethinking an approach or adapting their strategy, rather than only rewarding them for quickly producing a correct response.

Data-gathering and analysis

The growing use of technology in schools is producing massive amounts of data on students’ activities in the classroom and online. “We’re now able to capture moment-to-moment data, every keystroke a kid makes,” said Schwartz – data that can reveal areas of struggle and different learning opportunities, from solving a math problem to approaching a writing assignment.

But outside of research settings, he said, that type of granular data – now owned by tech companies – is more likely used to refine the design of the software than to provide teachers with actionable information.

The promise of personalized learning is being able to generate content aligned with students’ interests and skill levels, and making lessons more accessible for multilingual learners and students with disabilities. Realizing that promise requires that educators can make sense of the data that’s being collected, said Schwartz – and while advances in AI are making it easier to identify patterns and findings, the data also needs to be in a system and form educators can access and analyze for decision-making. Developing a usable infrastructure for that data, Schwartz said, is an important next step.

With the accumulation of student data comes privacy concerns: How is the data being collected? Are there regulations or guidelines around its use in decision-making? What steps are being taken to prevent unauthorized access? In 2023 K-12 schools experienced a rise in cyberattacks, underscoring the need to implement strong systems to safeguard student data.

Technology is “requiring people to check their assumptions about education,” said Schwartz, noting that AI in particular is very efficient at replicating biases and automating the way things have been done in the past, including poor models of instruction. “But it’s also opening up new possibilities for students producing material, and for being able to identify children who are not average so we can customize toward them. It’s an opportunity to think of entirely new ways of teaching – this is the path I hope to see.”

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  1. Scaffolding Methods for Research Paper Writing

    In order for students to take ownership of knowledge, they must learn to rework raw information, use details and facts, and write. Teaching writing should involve direct, explicit comprehension instruction, effective instructional principles embedded in content, motivation and self-directed learning, and text-based collaborative learning to improve middle school and high school literacy.

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    Olivia Franklin. Engage students with interesting research topics, teach them skills to become adept independent researchers, and help them craft their end-of-unit research papers. CommonLit 360 is a comprehensive ELA curriculum for grades 6-12. Our standards-aligned units are highly engaging and develop core reading and writing skills.

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    For student researchers, writing a well-organized research paper is a key step in learning how to express understanding, make critical connections, summarize data, and effectively communicate results, which are important goals for improving science literacy of the National Research Council's National Science Education Standards, 4 and A ...

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    Create a folder on your computer where you can store your electronic sources. Use an online bibliography creator such as Zotero, Easybib, or Noodletools to track sources and generate citations. You can read research papers by Polygence students under our Projects tab. You can also explore other opportunities for high school research.

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    Collaboration between high school teachers and Discovery instructors allowed for high school student exposure to cutting-edge BME research topics, participation in facilitated inquiry, and ...

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    Gale Litfinder, Gale E-books, or Gale Middle School are just a few of the many resources within Gale for middle school students. Teaching Research Skills To High Schoolers. The goal is that research becomes intuitive as students enter high school. With so much exposure and practice over the years, the hope is that they will feel comfortable ...

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    1. Gathering Research. Students often need guidance in researching. I take them to our university library and help them use our library search engines. In doing non-profit research papers, I have my students look at the websites of the charities and find research papers about the problems the non-profits try to solve.

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    These additional free APA resources are also helpful to teachers: Psychology topics: Access research, podcasts, and publications on nearly 100 topics. APA Dictionary of Psychology: Over 25,000 authoritative entries across 90 subfields of psychology. APA Style Journal Article Reporting Standards: These standards offer guidance on what ...

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    Teaching Students to Write Good Papers. This module is designed to help you teach students to write good papers. You will find useful examples of activities that guide students through the writing process. This resource will be helpful for anyone working with students on research papers, book reviews, and other analytical essays.

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    The following guidelines on formatting are considered a standard for research papers, and can be altered as per the requirements of your specific assignments, just check with your teacher/grader! Start by using a standard font like Times New Roman or Arial, in 12 or 11 sized font. Also, add one inch margins for the pages, along with some double ...

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    The best way to teach research papers to students is by breaking down the process into manageable steps. Start with teaching them how to choose a topic, conduct research, and create an outline/list/graphic organizer. Then guide them in writing drafts, revising and editing their papers, and properly citing sources.

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    There are three things every teacher should do before taking their students to the computer lab to research information for their research papers: teach the difference between reliable and unreliable sources, check to make sure every student has a self-generated research question, and help prepare students with key phrases and words to search. Whenever I begin teaching the research paper, I ...

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    Using teaching approaches like stations, color coding, and flipped lessons helps us to meet students at their readiness levels. Lauralee: 3 Simple Ideas. Keep three ideas in mind to focus students: ethical research, clear expectations, and strong writing. Everything that you teach and work on with students can be traced back to one of those ...

  17. Teaching the Research Process Through Podcasting

    Sharing their podcasts with peers gives students motivation to conduct research and develop skills they'll need later to write essays. I have to be honest: I've often dreaded teaching research papers in my high school English classes. When students would turn in their papers, they would have composition issues that needed to be addressed ...

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    It outlines a five-step approach to break down the research process into manageable chunks. This post shares ideas for mini-lessons that could be carried out in the classroom throughout the year to help build students' skills in the five areas of: clarify, search, delve, evaluate, and cite. It also includes ideas for learning about staying ...

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  20. Fostering student engagement with motivating teaching: an observation

    Introduction. Research shows that student engagement constitutes a crucial precondition for optimal and deep-level learning (Barkoukis et al. Citation 2014; Skinner Citation 2016; Skinner, Zimmer-Gembeck, and Connell Citation 1998).In addition, student engagement is associated with students' motivation to learn (Aelterman et al. Citation 2012), and their persistence to complete school ...

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    The program pairs high-school students with Ph.D. mentors to work 1-on-1 on an independent research project. The program actually does not require you to have a research topic in mind when you apply, but pro tip: the more specific you can be the more likely you are to get in! Elements of a Strong Research Paper Introduction

  23. Full article: Reviews of teaching methods

    The overview format. This study is situated within the frames of a research project with the overall aim of increasing and refining our knowledge about teaching and teaching research (Hirsh & Nilholm, Citation 2019; Roman, Sundberg, Hirsh, Nilholm, & Forsberg, Citation 2018).In order to clarify the context in which the present study has emerged, a brief description of starting points and ...

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    Type of research: Including but not limited to research papers, review articles, and humanity/social science pieces. Curieux Academic Journal is a non-profit run by students and was founded in 2017 to publish outstanding research by high school and middle school students. Curieux publishes one issue per month (twelve per year), so there are ...

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