Lesson Plan

Developing Engaged Researchers

This lesson will help students learn to identify good sources of information, recognize key information relating to their research topic, and collaborate with their peers in the research process.
James D.
Educator/Curriculum Developer
IdeaDriven Education
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My Grades 6, 7, 8
My Subjects English Language Arts, Social Studies, English Language Learning
EdTech Mentor

1.  Students will be able to identify good potential sources of information for a research project.

2.  Students will be able to identify main ideas and relevant details that support their research topic.

3.  Students will be able to synthesize main ideas and details into short notes.

4.  Students will be able to create an accurate bibliography and cite sources appropriately.

English Language Arts
reading comprehension
text analysis
using supporting evidence
Social Studies
Grades 6 - 8
All Notes
Teacher Notes
Student Notes

1 The Hook (introduction to the topic)

Free, Paid

There are two options here. 

Option 1 (at home)

Step 1

Have students watch a video related to your unit topic at home.  For this example, use the BBC Horizon documentary How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth through eduCanon.com.  This should be done outside of class time. 

As they are watching, students should answer formative assessment questions posted through eduCanon.  Questions created by the teacher should focus on main ideas and relevant connected to the unit topic. 

Step 2

Have a follow up discussion in class in which students are encouraged to compare what they indentified as main ideas and essential details with what the teacher identifies as essential.  

Option 2 (in class) - You might choose this because of your school's homework policy, student access to internet at home, or access to computers/tablets outside of school.

Step 1

Watch the video in class and ask students to respond to the same formative assessment questions.

Step 2

Have a follow up discussion in class in which students are encouraged to compare what they indentified as main ideas and essential details with what the teacher identifies as essential.  

Student Instructions
  • Watch the documentary How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth (or any relevant documentary for your class).  While watching, answer the questions I posted. 
  • Questions focus on identifying main ideas and key information.  Try and recognize these and describe them in your own words (instead of quoting the film). 
  • Using short note form for your answers is fine.  
  • We will have a follow-up discussion about the video, so please be prepared.  

2 Identifying Central Issues (part 1)

Activity: Conversing
  1. Discuss and review student answers to the guiding questions that went with the video you chose. 
  2. Have students work in small groups (2-3) to further clarify what they believe are main ideas and relevant details.  
  3. Suggested method: give students chart paper and ask them to create a t-chart with main ideas on the left and key details/facts that go with those ideas on the right.
  4. As a whole group, review these.
  5. Model/correct by listing a few of the main ideas yourself.  Ask students to give you facts/details that support these.
  6. Emphasize that WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHO, WHY are good guidelines for successfully identifying key information.
  7. Use short notes to model effective note-taking.   
Student Instructions

Use the chart paper I give you to create a t-chart showing main ideas on the left side and any important details/facts that support that idea on the right.  

Draw arrows, number things...whatever helps you to organize your information.  

Remember that WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHO, WHY are usually essential.

3 Identifying Central Issues (part 2)

Activity: Conversing

After the previous discussions and partner work, the class should identify the sub-topics related to the unit.  In the case of this unit and the documentary How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth, the central issue is sustainability, but there are several sub-topics including:

  • food supply/agriculture
  • water
  • energy
  • land
  • population growth

Through small group conversations and whole group discussion, identify these and post them prominently in the classroom.

4 Research Modelling

This step requires some early preparation on the part of the teacher.  

Advance Preparation

  1. Create a flipboard account and install the flipboard extension in your browser.
  2. Create a flipboard magazine for your class and topic. For example, I use titles like Room217 Innovation.  Set the magazine so that other people can add to it.
  3. Find several articles relevant to your topic/sub-topics and 'flip'  them to your class magazine.  
  4. In my case, I flipped several articles about vertical farming, overfishing, water shortages, drip irrigation methods etc. 
  5. Share your magazine to the class.  I emailed them the link to the magazine, so that they can all access it via their laptops.  Students with smart devices can also download the flipboard app and access it on phones or tablets. 


  1. Walk students through the magazine and briefly explain how you chose articles related to the different sub-topics you identified previously as a class.
  2. Have students choose one of the articles you have previously selected and read it individually or in small groups.  You can have them read online or print a copy.  For this step, I usually have them print a copy as it facilitates annotation and discussion. 
  3. Ask students to read and identify main ideas and relevant facts from the article they read.  They should write these down in a notebook or on the article itself if you asked them to print it. 
  4. For those who worked with partners, they should compare what they found and try and reach agreement about the main ideas/facts they found. 
  5. Ask students to post the main ideas and facts from the article they read to a shared padlet wall.  I ask them to post the article title followed by ideas/facts.
  6. After completing the article, show the padlet wall on the screen and ask students to compare what they posted to their peers. 
  7. Showcase those groups that successfully identified key information as well as those groups that used effective note-taking. 
  8. Use this opportunity to reinforce the importance of identifying WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHO, WHY.  
Student Instructions
  1. Work individually or with a partner. 
  2. Choose one of the articles from the flipboard magazine.  Print it.
  3. Annotate the article focusing on main ideas and facts/details that support those ideas.  Write directly on the article.
  4. Pay careful attention to WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHO, WHY.
  5. When I tell you, post what you identified on the padlet wall for the class.

5 Independent application

  1. Ask students to find an article that relates specifically to the central topic and/or one of the sub-topics of your unit.  In my case, this was one of the issues mentioned above (overfishing, vertical farming etc.).
  2. Depending on the reading level and independence of your students, you may want to give them several starting points for finding articles (like dogonews.com or newsela.com).
  3. I am lucky that many of my students' reading level is quite good, so quite a few of them do a totally independent search.  Others start with one of the resources I provide. 
  4. After finding an appropriate article, ask students to independently and individually read and annotate as before. 
  5. Using their notes, students should create a google doc to write a short piece on the topic.  I require the following elements.
    1. Detailed summary including key information and facts. 
    2. Students must identify WHO (experts quoted), WHAT (main ideas and facts), WHERE, WHEN (past, present, future etc.), WHY (importance, relevance).  
    3. A reaction or commentary - students can write about the importance of the issue, the potential of a solution (for example, if the article was about vertical farming), relevance to their own experience.
  6. Require all students to install the easybib extension in google docs.  
  7. Demonstrate how to cite a web-based source using easybib.
  8. Students must cite their source or sources using easybib.
Student Instructions

Part 1

  1. Individually, find an article (or articles, if you are feeling ambitious and want to challenge yourself) related to one of the topics we identified (e.g. agriculture or water).
  2. You can start with newsela.com or dogonews.com if you want, or you can search independently.  Use your judgement based on your own assessment of your reading level.  If your search is not giving you good results, see me and we can work on your search process of search terms.
  3. Read the article you find and annotate, paying careful attention to key information and main ideas.  REMEMBER THE WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY.
  4. In google docs, write a detailed piece that summarizes the article you read and gives your reaction or commentary.  The piece should be at least 400 words.  

Part 2

  1. Repeat the steps I demonstrated in class to install the easybib add-on in google docs.
  2. Cite the source or sources you used to complete the assignment using the easybib add-on.

6 Evaluation of Sources (final step)

  1. Have students share their written assignments and sources articles with their peers. 
  2. Have each student read at least 2 other students' work and sources.
  3. Have students decide whether the sources were appropriate research sources for the topic studied.  If all three students (original reader and two peers) agree, ask students to flip the article they found into the class flipboard magazine. 
  4. This builds the variety of sources available for all students to use.

I use this short process (over several days) as the basis of a final summative project for a unit on Innovation.  Each student uses the flipboard resources (and others) as the basis for a research project related to the topics previously mentioned (one of the sub-topics related to How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth).  Each student researches a problem (for example, feeding the world's growing population) and a solution s/he believes will work (for example, changing diets or new farming methods).  

Student Instructions
  1. Open your written assignment and the article(s) you used on your laptop.
  2. Have at least two other students read both.
  3. If all three of you agree that the article you used was a good resource related to this topic, flip the article into the class flipboard magazine.