Differentiation in research work for young students

My third graders are just learning about research work. In the International Baccalaureate, we teach ‘research skills’ to young students, apprising them about primary and secondary sources, academic integrity, and so on.

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The novelty of research work never wears off on young learners, and research tasks are greeted with massive hurrahs. However, whenever I gave my students a research skill, I would find that some groups would excel and others…wouldn’t. It got me thinking about differentiation in my research tasks. We’re expected to prepare a variety of work for all levels in the classroom, so why not research work? We hope students are savvy with tech, pick up an iPad and miraculously find the information they need, whereas they struggle to sort important information from jargon.

Teacher planning before an activity-

I have set rules for myself before the research task begins. As a teacher, I-

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  • Find child-friendly sites, provide links related to the topic, and share before the activity starts. It eliminates the anxiety of finding a site that is relatable to your students, in language they understand. If your students are older, you can skip this step.
  • Create an exciting template according to the levels in your classroom.
  • Set aside plenty of time for research and presentation. There’s nothing worse than botched-up, hurried research activity wherein students feel cheated of deeper meaning.
  • Create a master sheet where listening students can note down facts they may have missed during their own research. If you don’t want to create a master sheet, have them jot down missed points in their journal as a form of note-taking.

In this blog, I’ll be focusing on the second point- Creating attractive templates according to the levels of your classroom.

Creating a template-

I usually like to work on MS Word, although that’s not necessary. It’s always better to have a picture in your mind of how many groups you would like to create and the names of students you would place into each group. For example, you could create groups of students with similar abilities or a mixed bag. I like to create groups of varied abilities as students play to each other’s strengths and learn from each other.

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There should be guiding questions given to those who need assistance with the task and a more free-flowing, open-ended tasks for challengers. Of course, you can always use ‘Question Starts’ to have your students generate questions. Or, you can use the four quadrant strategy to record their wonderings. Once the questions are in place, be ready with relevant links for students to begin their work.

You can learn more about the four quadrant strategy here-

https://reviewmirror.in/2021/05/16/the-four-quadrant-strategy-teach-learners-to-ask-the-right-questions/

Sample activity-

I had to give my students research work on the causes and effects of migration. I decided to make templates of three levels to cater to my students.

Level 1
The first template had four quadrants that had very particular guiding questions. They were organised in four different sections, which allowed students to understand how the information was to be found and segregated. This sheet had adequate scaffolding for students who struggle with organising information.

Level 2-

The second level was a simple T chart. The information to be gathered was the same, but students had to use their thinking skills to segregate causes from effects. Not only did students have to sieve information from the article I gave them, but they would also have to display their knowledge of causes and effects through the chart.

Level 3-

In the third level, I simply provided a header. Learners would be free to research a variety of details, deviating and coming back, finding new pointers and adding on to the old. Students should keep the guiding questions in mind to ensure that the research is relevant, but are free to explore more challenging concepts related to migration. I would recommend having a bigger group here, adding post its with interesting facts as they come up. These can serve as fodder for further research later as well.

Final product-

I tweaked these sheets for a Republic Day research activity and added a few more templates such as a Venn Diagram. My students enjoyed having voice and choice in this activity. Each one played to their strengths, and took activities according to their comfort.

Takeaway-

Every task should have some level of differentiation, and research tasks are no different. The best kinds of research tasks are those where students feel empowered to create and chase questions down independently.

A few more samples of research worksheets on different topics-

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