Conducting Research

By: Judy Zorfass and PowerUp WHAT WORKS


The ability to conduct research is a critical skill that all students need to be college and career ready. Across the country, it is common for students from the elementary grades through high school to be required to carry out a research project in English Language Arts (ELA), social studies, history, or science.

Conducting research is an inquiry-based process that involves:

  • Identifying a question to explore—something you are motivated to learn
  • Gathering information from a variety of online and offline sources
  • Analyzing and evaluating information
  • Drawing conclusions and making recommendations
  • Sharing the knowledge gained with others

Students with disabilities and those who struggle may face challenges when carrying out research, as listed in the chart.

To support all students, and especially those who struggle, teachers can personalize instruction using a range of technology tools and effective instructional practices.

Using Evidence-Based Practices

Teachers can help their students learn how to conduct research by drawing on three categories of evidence-based practices: provide direct instruction, help students conduct research for a variety of purposes, and engage students in ongoing assessment. The chart below provides a concrete teaching strategy for each category.

Evidence-Based Practice Strategy
Provide direct instruction Explain that the research process is an iterative, inquiry-based process that involves selecting a topic to explore, gathering information, analyzing the information, and sharing what has been learned.
Help students conduct research for a variety of purpose Guide students through a process that allows them to begin by broadly exploring varied topics, selecting an area of focus, and then identifying a specific research question.
Engage students in ongoing assessment Have students write or record short summaries of what they are learning using blogs, mini-podcasts, the class wiki, or websites.

Technology Supports

While technology tools can be integrated into the four phases of the research process, the list below presents a sampling of tools students can use to support varied information-gathering strategies:

For more ideas about using technology, view the short video (Quick View) included in the PowerUp Instructional Strategy Guide titled Conducting Research.

In the Classroom

Students in Ms. Gill’s Grade 6 social studies/ELA class are working on a research project. Ms. Gill refers students to a graphic illustrating the research process. The graphic is hanging on the wall and posted on the class website.

Ms. Gill plans to use the following technology tools:

  • Mind mapping interactive to record brainstorming ideas (e.g., Popplet)
  • Blog platform to create final presentation (e.g., Blogspot)
  • Math software to analyze data (e.g., GeoGebra)
  • Digital organizer to collect notes and research (e.g., Evernote)
  • Videos, websites, and other data-gathering tools, as appropriate to each student’s project

After she engaged students in an initial exploration of the general topic, each student was motivated to select a specific topic relating to how the economic systems of different countries interact through trade. At this point in the process, the students are involved in making a plan for gathering information for their specific research questions. Today’s lesson plan is divided into three sections—before the activity (to introduce the lesson), during the activity (while students are working), and after the activity (to bring closure)—and is outlined below.

Lesson Plan

  • Review the phases of the research process.
  • Focus on one phase and let students know the goal for the lesson.
  • Have students review their research mind maps.
  • Group students by similar topic.
  • Meet with groups and provide guidance and feedback regarding research plans.
  • Discuss and suggest appropriate technology tools to aid in the research process.
  • Review with the entire class the strategies and tools discussed in small groups.
  • Guide students during discussion to highlight the specific uses for a given strategy or tool.

After school, Ms. Gill makes some notes about the research plan each student has developed. She then emails the media specialist and invites him to come to class the next time they work on the projects. Besides talking about library resources, she asks him to discuss fair use and attribution. She also makes a note to talk to the mathematics teacher about Michelle, Isa, and Max’s projects in order to determine possible connections between mathematics, social studies, and ELA classes.

Online Teacher Resources

This article draws from the PowerUp WHAT WORKS website, particularly the Conducting Research Instructional Strategy Guide. PowerUp is a free, teacher-friendly website that requires no log in or registration. The Instructional Strategy Guide on organizing includes a brief overview with an accompanying slide show; a list of the relevant Common Core State Standards; evidence-based teaching strategies to differentiate instruction using technology; a short video; and links to resources that will help you use technology to support English Language Arts (ELA) instruction. Also check out the Presenting Instructional Strategy Guide for ideas related to the fourth phase of the research project—sharing what you have learned. Want more information? See PowerUp WHAT WORKS.

Judy Zorfass and PowerUp WHAT WORKS (2014)