Skyrocket Research Skills For Elementary Students [episode 5]


Click below to hear research skills for elementary students:

Thank you for joining me for another episode! This week’s topic may not be everyone’s favorite, or it may seem too daunting of a task for you to think about doing with your students, but it’s an important unit to cover. Today I’m talking about research skills for elementary students.

It’s towards the end of the school year and you’ve worked all year on your students’ reading, writing, and math skills, but may have put science and social studies on the backburner. Well that changes today! 

I have created a five step research unit that will not only have your students learning, but be engaged in what they’re learning!

My five step research skills for elementary students includes: modeling research skills, a research journal, written report, a hands-on project, and showing off their work. 

There are so many great things about this unit, but what I love most is that this is a self-guided learning unit, which means the students are able to research, have autonomy in their own learning, while the teacher just provides guidance and support.

When students are able to take accountability for their learning, they thrive in the process and take pride that they’re doing it on their own. 

This is not to say you just throw your students to the wolves of research – it’s an overwhelming task! Instead, think of research as a process, especially for young learners, which is why modeling how to research is step number one in my unit. 

Another great aspect about this unit is the ability for it to be differentiated. Whether you teach elementary or homeschool, this unit can be done with any topic or needs of your students. 

Incorporating this cross-curricular research unit emphasizes focus, accountability for their learning, and engagement on research skills for elementary students!

In this episode on research skills for elementary students, I share:

  • My structured five step research unit for elementary students
  • Tips on how to differentiate between grades and content
  • Ways to get students involved and engaged in their own learning
  • The benefits of a self-guided learning unit

Resources mentioned:

Related episodes and blog posts:

Connect with Kelsey:

Read the transcript for episode 5, Skyrocket Research Skills for Elementary Students:

Hey there, I’m super excited about today’s topic – Science and Social Studies Research units. I feel like this is such an important topic and a great time of year where many of us are realizing we need to get in more of our science and social studies topics, you know, the ones we might have missed during the school year so far, because you know, they aren’t tested. But as we know, they are so important. So I can’t wait to share this strategy with you. Because it’s actually pretty simple. It can be used for a variety of topics, almost any topic, it can be used for a variety of grades, and it can even work digitally. So there’s a really good chance it will work for you. So I can’t wait to share.

So first, let me tell the story about how I created this strategy in the first place. I was student teaching in third grade. And at this point I had completely taken over the classroom. And a topic that I needed to cover was animals and habitats. The problem was many of the students struggled with getting engaged and being focused. And as minnows, teachers, I mean, that can be a very common struggle. But at the time I was teaching in a school that didn’t quite qualify for Title One. But we still had many low income students. So a lot of them had other things going on in their life that made it hard to focus. One student in particular, his dad was going in and out of jail. And he was having a really hard time getting engaged no matter what my mentor teacher or what I did. And he was such a sweet kid. And I loved him so much. And I just really wanted to see him get more engaged in what we were doing. So I wanted to find a creative way to teach it. And I knew that giving students some sort of choice and what they learned about would get them more engaged in their learning. As you know, I was a new teacher at this time, obviously, I was student teaching, but that was talked about a lot in our certification programs. So I thought I could tie that in to science and social studies in a way that would also help simplify, cut down my planning time, and engage the kids in meaningful self guided learning with research. So that is when I created my first research unit.

But what I really want to talk about in the story is the experience it was for me and my students. Remember the one particular student I mentioned nearly every day, he would ask when it was time to work on his animal journal. He even wanted to get it out during other times of the day, he was so excited, and it melted my teacher heart to finally see him so excited about the unit that I had put together from scratch. Because this unit was so important to me, I even chose the is one of the first products I created later down the line when I created my TPT store, because it holds a very special place in my heart. It was one of the very first lightbulb moments I had as a teacher. And you know, I’ve had others since then, of course, and right now homeschooling my kids, I’m seeing it happen all the time. But this one is just extra special because it was that first time. That is the time that I learned for myself that self guided learning is one of the most engaging ways to teach kids, when they’re able to research and have autonomy in their own learning with guidance from their teacher, they thrive. And this is why I love research units.

But before you get too excited, we also don’t want to just throw kids into research either. I remember as a young child staring at a blank page having no clue where to start. That is how many students feel when they are given a research project. And even students who have done research before, it’s very daunting, it’s very overwhelming. I mean, even in college when I was writing papers, research is hard. You don’t want to get in and do it. So that’s why there is a process to this to help our young learners. I mean even up to sixth grade, they’re still such young learners. And that’s how this process will help. With a student led research unit, your role as teacher is a guide, to help them learn and build their research skills so they can discover information about science and social studies on their own. So you will teach a model the research skills that your students lose to actually learn about the topic. Over the years since this first unit I really honed in on my strategy and proved it and realized how it can apply it to almost any science or social studies topic that you can think of, which is what I love about this strategy. The other thing I love about this is that it is very student led and can be differentiated for a wide variety of grade levels even within the same classroom to meet every child where they are, which is more important now than ever, with all the gaps in education due to COVID. I’m sure you have kids in your classroom who are learning at different levels. It’s also great if you’re a homeschool parent, and you have kids who are different ages, because you can do this activity as a family.

Okay, so now I’m going to go over the five steps of my process. So step one is model research skills. And I kind of jumped the gun and talked about this already, because I think it’s pretty important, but our students need to be shown how to research. So before you really jump into the unit, you need to explicitly teach your students how to research. So this can include teaching them how to find books in the library, how to use text features, such as the table of contents and index. And this can also include teaching students to do internet research safely on kid friendly site, so they aren’t finding, you know, information we don’t want them to find, as well as how to know if a source they find on the internet is credible or not. So we actually have worksheets that will help you complete all of this in our research units, as well as some free samples that you can grab, and I will link to those in the show notes. This is a really important step that you do not want to skip.

Step two is the research journal. The students will use the same research journal throughout the research project for the duration of the unit. Use one of our printable journals for my research units, or you can just use a special notebook. So what the students will do with their research journal is each day, they will have one page and one question to focus on. So each day will have its own page. And they will just fill it out with information for that one question. The reason for this is focus and helping the kids get all the information they need. And there’s really good psychology behind this because think about how you feel when you have a long to do list versus just one thing. Our kids get feeling overwhelmed too, in fact, even more than us, they don’t have as much life experience. Focusing on just one question per day cuts down on the overwhelm and ensures they get all the needed info over the course of the unit. So over time, they will collect all of that information, but then they’re just able to focus on one question at a time. And, you know, let’s talk about the kinds of questions that you will ask. I always like starting with activating background knowledge. This gets the kids more engaged about the subject, and helps remind them of anything they already know. So this could be questions such as, “What do you know about blank whatever the topic is,” then start with the basics once you’ve activated their background knowledge, such as, “wWhat does the Artic habitat do?” Or if you’re studying ancient civilizations, “What is this ancient civilization known for?” Once they have researched about the overall topic, have the students pick a specific animal, person, place within their topic to dig even deeper, so that they can share that with their fellow peers. So that way, you’ll get to learn all about all of these different parts of that subject. The other thing I like to have is an interesting facts page. Because like I said, we are focusing on just one topic per day. But if they find something really interesting that they’re just like, oh, this doesn’t fit in, but I don’t want to forget it. That’s why you have that extra interesting facts page that they can put things on. And then later if it fits into another question, they can add it there. But then they also just have this page of really interesting facts that they can use when they’re kind of putting all their information together later in the unit. And if you want help with these questions, we actually have ready to go research units for you that already have all the questions put together. So that can be a great way to make this even more simple than it already is.

Step number three is the written report. Students will have all the info they need for their report in their research journal. That is the great thing about this unit, you can choose how long you want the report to be or how much of the writing process you want your students to go through, like if you want them to do drafting and editing. Or if you just want the research journal to be their draft, and they just put together one time depending on their age or ability. The journal will make it simple for them to put together a report in paragraphs since the research is already divided into nice sections. So it really is a great way to get into the report, especially if they’re writing a report for the first time if you’re working with younger students.

And then step number four that we like to do is a hands-on project. And it’s kind of like a capstone for it. This will help the kids use their creativity and show what they’ve learned. Here are some examples of final projects from our research units. And I hope this inspires you with some great ideas for your units. So our animals and habitats unit and this is what I did for my very first unit I put together I had them create a habitat and a shoe box. So they like created the whole environment and then they put their animals in it. And since they were doing it as a group, they created the habitat as a group and then they each created their animal to go inside it so that was really fun. And then for our solar system unit we had to students create paper mache planets. For our dinosaur one they mean Salto fossils. For our women in history unit, they make a poster of their person with their traits around it. And we did this for our black history unit to then our life cycles sesearch unit has the students create a model of a life cycle for authors study, you could have them create a biography about their author, for inventors, they can make a model of one of their invention,s for penguins, a really fun one that kids absolutely love is to make a life size model of their penguin. So you get butcher paper. And this also adds a little math because then they will have to look up like, you know, how tall is their penguin, and then they’ll need to measure and create the actual size of their penguin. And then for holidays around the world they create a decoration that is actually used for that holiday. So these are some great ideas that you can implement, you could obviously do any ideas that you want, and tie it into any topic that you’re doing.

And then step number five is show it off. By the end of the unit, kids will have put a lot of time and effort into their unit. So what better way to celebrate then by having them show off their work? So the students can present their final projects to each other as well as what they’ve learned. This can be a great way to have them learn about what their classmates learned as well. And it’s a great opportunity for them to develop their presenting skills, which could be very important later in life. And then you could even do a fair or museum where you invite others such as other classes or parents and family members to see student work.

Okay, so let’s recap quick. So research units are a great way to teach those science and social studies topics. It also really integrates language arts because they’re learning those research skills, and even arts when they make their final project at the end and presenting it really is a well rounded unit. It can be used with any topic, it’s differentiated for kids to work at their own level, and it helps students focus and learn those critical research skills. And my signature five step process is: one to model research skills. As we’ve talked about, this is very important. And we do not want to skip this step. This helps kids know how to research how to use the different parts of a book to research, how to search on the internet, not run into anything they shouldn’t, and how to know whether a source on the internet is credible or not. Number two is the research journal. And we really want them to focus on just one question each day on one page in their journal. This keeps them focused and over the course of the unit, they’ll learn all the information they need to know. And along the way, if they find anything else interesting that doesn’t tie into their question for the day, they can add that to a bonus interesting facts page. Number three is a written report. And the great thing is with the report, they already have their research journal that is nicely divided into sections so they can easily put it into paragraph form for a written report. And number four is a hands on final project. These are so fun things such as creating a shoe box habitat, or salt dough fossils or a decoration from a holiday around the world. Or a life size penguin out of butcher paper. There’s so many different ideas that you could do for this final project. And number five, show it off. The kids have worked so hard on these projects, and you want to make it super exciting so they can show off to each other, you can invite other classes if you’d like that’s what I did, and you can even invite parents to come.

And if you want to make this whole research process just a little bit easier, we do have ready to go research units available for a wide variety of topics. We have both printable and digital ones, and they include everything you need for this the journal with all the questions, the directions for a final project, grading rubric, invitation to invite people for showing it off, basically everything you need. So if you would like to cut down on the planning time, even more, be sure to check those out in the show notes. And that is it on this topic. But thank you so much for listening. If you haven’t yet, be sure to hit subscribe to make sure you don’t miss an episode because we have a lot of great episodes coming. Also be sure to follow us on Instagram at @wifeteachermommy as well. Because we have a lot of exciting announcements coming up. We should be launching tickets to our summer event, Educate and Rejuvenate, it is going to be a great time, we have an amazing speaker lineup. So make sure to watch our Instagram for the big announcement because it should be before the next episode drops. See you next week.

More about Wife Teacher Mommy: The Podcast

Being an educator is beyond a full-time job. Whether you’re a teacher or a homeschool parent, the everyday to-do list is endless. Between lesson planning, grading, meetings, and actually teaching, it probably feels impossible to show up for your students without dropping the ball in other areas of your life.

Wife Teacher Mommy: The Podcast is the show that will bring you the teacher tips, practical strategies, and inspiration that you need to relieve the stress and overwhelm of your day-to-day. Your host, Kelsey Sorenson, is a former teacher and substitute turned homeschool mom. Tune in weekly to hear Kelsey and her guests cheer you on and help you thrive as a wife, teacher, and mommy. Because with a little support and community, you can do it all. For access to every single Wife Teacher Mommy resource, join the club at

2 Responses

  1. This podcast came at the perfect time – needed help getting going with informational reports and this added a whole new process to it. Enjoying your podcasts! Keep up the good work!

  2. This podcast was very helpful as I have commenced teaching 7 year olds again snd was unsure about how to teach them research skills. Your podcast made teaching this quite easy. Thank you

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