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Research Instruction

Information for faculty on research instruction, including classroom activity ideas and assignment design suggestions.

Classroom Activity Ideas

Getting started / Research as a process

Research "Road map"

  • Introduce the activity in terms of thinking about process, having a sense of what we'll need to do, before we actually start any research
  • Have students brainstorm all of the steps they would take to go on a journey like a road trip--to prepare for the trip, while on the trip, after the trip--have students work in small groups or diagram as a whole class on the board
  • "Now let's consider a different kind of journey--your research journey" - have students consider all of the steps they would have to go through when assigned a research project -- again, small groups or as a whole class depending on time
  • Emphasize that research is a messy, iterative process that takes some planning, preparation, and time management


Developing research questions & keywords

Guided mind/concept mapping

  • Start with a broad topic, spend time as a class adding related topics and ideas, subtopics, and initial questions
    • Asking who, what, where, when, why, how questions can help generate ideas
  • Have students do some searching in groups based on the words on the board, and have groups share out what kinds of info, what perspectives, they were encountering -- add to the board
  • Connect branches of the concept map to form more focused, specific questions
  • Many of the words on the board will likely be useful keywords

Use a source to develop a topic

  • Have students read an article (or one of a set of articles) and try to come up with as many topics from the article(s) as possible
    • Discuss: What questions are asked and addressed in the article? What questions does the article leave unanswered?
    • When you identify a question, discuss: How can we modify (narrow or focus) this questions? Break it up into main idea chunks (keywords!!). What related or narrower terms can we think of for each main idea/keyword? How can we combine some of these new terms into a more focused question?

Group keyword brainstorms

  • Split students into groups of 3-4 and give students 1 minute to individually brainstorm a list of keywords
  • Variation 1:
    • Pass lists to the left and repeat 1-minute brainstorms until lists are returned to their original "owner"
  • Variation 2:
    • Each student shares their list with the group. The group comments and continues brainstorming together on each students' list


Exploring resources relevant to a particular field

Databases jigsaw

  • Group students into groups of 3-4
  • Have each group investigate a particular database and answer specific questions about searching that database in a collaborative document in Google Drive or OneDrive (I've also done this activity in Padlet)
    • Having a topic option to get them started helps but encourage branching out/using topics of interest
    • Circulate and encourage/clarify as needed
  • Have each group share what they discovered about/in the database
    • Sometimes I have groups come up to the front, sometimes I just have them guide me
  • This activity always generates great conversation about what kinds of information can be found in library databases, and about how databases generally have the same functions even if they have different interfaces and set-ups
  • Example of my collaborative doc:

"Speed Databasing"

  • A play on speed dating, students have a short amount of time to explore a set of databases (one database at a time) and answer questions/make notes about how each one could be useful to their research. 
  • See the link below for a full lesson plan and examples of questions and handouts:


Reading scholarly sources

Discuss the parts of scholarly articles and how they can be used to make reading easier/more efficient

  • Cut up or print separately the sections of an article and have students put them in print order, and then rearrange to discuss reading order

Have students read a scholarly article using specific strategies outlined in class and ask them to reflect on that process in a discussion board post or short written assignment.

Use social annotation tools* to encourage note-taking/highlighting/writing in the margins, or as a way to share an example of your own reading process and tips

Also, just acknowledge that it takes time and practice

*Some examples of social annotation tools:


Synthesizing information & sources

Source roles using BEAM

  • BEAM is a way to categorize sources and consider the roles they will play in a project or piece of writing; it was developed by an English/composition professor and stands for Background, Exhibit (or Evidence), Argument, and Method
  • Have students categorize their sources based on the roles they will play in their writing--this can help students think about where and why to include outside perspectives/information in their own work
  • More info on BEAM:

"Coding" sources

  • Students use the qualitative research method of coding to identify themes and main ideas across their sources
  • Lots of ways you could do this--social annotation tools, notecards, collaborative documents

Synthesis Matrix

  • This activity asks students to consider the main ideas from their research question(s) that have surfaced so far during their research and how each of their sources addresses those main ideas
  • Students list their main ideas and sources on the two outer axes of a table, and fill in the table with quotes and paraphrases from their sources
  • A blank example synthesis matrix from Utah State University, and a literature review-focused version from North Carolina State University:


Evaluating information & sources

Everyday situations as examples of evaluating info

  • Ask students to consider common "real life" information-seeking situations as a way to build confidence in evaluating information in an academic context
  • This short article is a great explanation of how and why:

Have students practice evaluating sources with SIFT

  • SIFT stands for Stop, Investigate the source, Find better coverage, and Trace quotes and media back to original context
  • It's a process for evaluating online information developed by Michael Caulfield at Washington State University, but it works for all kinds of resources; it emphasizes context and lateral reading

BEAM can also be a tool for evaluating sources

  • Have students consider how effective their sources are for each BEAM role and make a case for why/why not

Give students a set of sources to work with that are a mix of different types of sources (scholarly, news, blogs, etc.)

  • Have students analyze how each source approaches the topic at hand, what each source does effectively (or not so effectively)
  • Compare and contrast each source type
    • Structure, tone, purpose, format
    • What each source can be used for


Citing sources & reading citations

Discuss with students the "why" behind citation--but think bigger than avoiding plagiarism

  • Why use outside sources at all?
  • Why follow a standardized format for referencing?

Dive into disciplinary conventions

  • Analyze typical sources within your field (scholarly articles, for example) for how they're using the sources they're citing (again, you could use BEAM for this)

See the Academic Integrity Guide for more activities, such as

  • Following citation chains
  • Correcting automatically generated citations
  • Examining articles stripped of links/citations and considering where citations should be included/adding them back in

More Links & Inspiration