Search on SLJ.com ....
Subscribe to SLJ
Practically Paradise
Inside Practically Paradise

Research with the little ones

You can find lesson plans, webquests, and activities on the internet, in books, & in magazines. For some teachers and librarians, this isn't enough because it doesn't convey a sense of how to organize mini-research moments & how important small activities can be. While students need to freely choose topics and participate in research like David Loertscher's Ban those Bird Units, they must still have experience completing the small steps of research in a systematic manner like the Super3 or the Big6 while incorporating Jamie McKenzie's questions.

While I understand the need for changing our big focus on research problems to writing better questions than focusing on simple topics, I live in the real world where I still need to teach the beginning basic steps. Yes, Jamie and David, this does involve "moving information" initially because students learn to match information answers to questions. Research can be viewed as completing small steps on a topic as well as large projects with a problem-based focus. My students in kindergarten need to recognize these basic concepts first: You should ask yourself questions while you are researching. Librarians help you find better answers faster.  Sometimes the answers are in books, in media, on the computer, and sometimes there are no answers yet. 

This week Kindergartners at my school have been researching animals. In previous years we would incorporate a field trip to the zoo to heighten our excitement. We would use the computer to link to specific animals found at the Nashville Zoo and ensure that each child was an expert zoo guide. Then when they toured the zoo, they could tell others facts about "their animal." After they returned, the students would add details to their original graphic organizers and drawings to illustrate their animal's setting and other facts gleaned.

This year there will be no field trip so I needed to find a way to create a sense of excitement and a new experience. As most of you do, we chose to use small group research with one child coming from every class to study together, write, draw, and then return to their room as the only expert on that animal in their room. 

Since librarians are the experts on materials available, I located 28 different animal books written at 1st & 2nd grade levels to serve as beginning resources and located low reading level internet sources with photos. I created a spreadsheet with the names of the different animals & a specific twenty minute time over a period of 3 days for them to come to the library to research with me. The teacher team looked over the list and chose not to study groundhogs since the entire class was already an expert. They chose a substitution from my extra list.

I emailed this file to the teachers, but also printed off individual copies so they could keep track in their rooms when the next child was supposed to leave. The kindergarten team leader collated a master list for me to check off the names of the students who actually were present. The day of research there are always changes so flexibility is the key. By developing a list of 28 topics for class sizes of 22 at the maximum, I enabled teachers to help students who were more "teacher needy" to be in a smaller group so we could focus on learning, not behavior.

I suggested a variety of ways to match children with the names of the animals. Teachers could write down the animal name on the board and have students put their name beside the animal and negotiate conflicts, the teacher could draw craft sticks with the child's name to choose, the students could draw their name from a hat, or the teacher could assign them.

As the groups began coming to the library, I worked with each to build excitement, generate thought questions, read the book, access the computer, and using a sheet of paper (with the only words being My name is… My animal researched is… ) take notes in our unique kindergarten way. 

For many students as soon as they raced to the table they grabbed a pencil and began looking at the animal on the cover and started drawing. For others who were convinced they weren't born with artistic talent, I had to suggest they look at every picture in the book until they found a way to draw their animal while we were reading and talking. The art teacher popped in with one group and reminded them how to look at animals as shapes – ovals, rectangles, circles, trianges, and lines. For the truly insecure we reminded them that no one else in their class knew about their animal so they were counting on them to indicate if the animal had legs, flippers, fins, or wings.

After reading and talking about their animal, I asked each one how they were going to share the new stuff they'd learned. Most chose to write random words and phrases on their paper like "builds nests", sharp claws, burrows, etc. At the end of twenty minues they raced back to class proudly with their paper to work with the teacher on how to share orally with the whole class.

The main reading, and technology standards we were addressing include:
Recognizes that information comes from written materials.
Begins to use library/media center.

TECHNOLOGY RESEARCH/INFORMATION TOOLS (Technology)
Uses teacher-approved sites to access Internet information.
Discusses information obtained from Internet sites.
Participates in a teacher-led discussion on the helpfulness (relevancy) of the material.
Recognizes that the obtained information needs to be organized or processed (teacher guided).
Discusses how to organize the material to share results (teacher guided).