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  • Writer's pictureMegan Mariano

Online Research, Note-Taking, & Argument Essay: Student Choice Driven

I was given a 7th grade section of ELA in 2021. Before that, I was only teaching 3 sections of 6th grade. So, I had to plan an entire curriculum for my new, one section, of 7th grade.

I knew I had to do non-fiction, obviously, but how was I going to make it different from my already very well-planned, detailed, research unit in 6th grade? I knew I wanted to continue the idea of using research to teach non-fiction. Many of you who know me by now know that student choice is my bread and butter (does anyone use that phrase anymore? Am I even using it correctly?). How could I make this student-choice driven?

In 6th grade, students got to choose from a list of social issues to research. In this case, there was student choice, but it was limited to about 6 choices. I wanted to give more freedom in 7th grade. What I decided was for students to pick a controversial topic to study...something they wanted to learn more about. It had to be debatable and have clear differentiating sides.

Also, in 6th grade, their research was mostly in books and given articles. They did not have to do any of the finding of research and I knew this was important. So, in this case, I wanted the unit to focus on ONLINE research. This was also because, unfortunately, they rely on Google for ALL things so I want to be sure they are using right.

Lastly, I never really taught explicit note-taking in 6th...we did it a bit, but it was all digital. I felt like physical note-taking still deserved some focus.

Read on to read more specifics!

Starting the Unit

I started off with having the students brainstorm topics they are passionate about. I also get them on because there are a lot of ideas on there. Once they think they've landed on a topic, in their physical notebooks, they make a t-chart, pros/cons. They list pros and cons, that they know of, in their t-chart just to be sure these actually exist.

After that, I provide them some legitimate websites to start a preliminary search of articles. They do have a digital notebook to help with organization.

Finding Legitimate Resources

Truthfully, I am not expert at this myself, so I did turn to TpT for some help. I found a really fun activity from Read It Write It Learn It and I did that to start. It goes over legitimacy of websites.

I also get into Boolean indications and a few other search engine tricks. After that, they get on Google and start finding more resources adding to the slide prior.

In a perfect world, I'd have students print their articles. I just think it's super helpful to be able to highlight and write on them. However, this didn't work out for me, but if you can, do it!

I also do slides with them to focus on the author's validity. These questions help determine if their sources are something legitimate and reliable.

Note-Taking/Non-fiction Skills

At this point, I begin the note-taking process. I start with giving students a folder and some Astrobright paper. I buy a four pack. Ideally, it would be good if you could get 6 different colors, but that's a challenging task.

Each color paper is a different article. On the top of each paper, students write the title of one of the articles they are reading and the author. That's the start.

Each color is a different article.

  • Main idea: The first non-fiction skill of focus is main idea. I have students read their article and identify main idea, and write that on their paper for each article. This comes after a review of main idea. I taught them this strategy the year prior.

  • Boxes and bullets: Students find topics that pop out as they read and list details underneath that match that topic.

  • Text structure: I review what text structure is, but again, this was a lesson done prior. I show students the typical graphic organizers for text structures. They go through their articles, writing notes using each text structure.

  • T- chart focusing on connections: They create a chart in which one side says "Text says" and the other side says "I say". This leads into their argument essay later because they ultimately have to formulate an opinion.

  • Vocabulary: I give students index cards and an envelope. On the cards, they write words that are specific to their topic called technical vocabulary. They are expected to use these words in their essay.

  • Synthesis: For this, I give students a new piece of different colored paper (if possible). Students lay out all their notes thus far. On this paper, they start listing COMMON topics and ideas that pop up with ALL their articles read. They then pull details from the articles that go under these new synthesized notes.

  • Author's opinion: This is a slide. Students organize their articles based on sides. If they find their articles are heavily weighted to one side, then they need to find a few articles on the OTHER side. If their articles are truly unbiased, they place those on the spot that says neutral.

  • Video notes: They get a new piece of paper and find a video based on all the online research skills they learned. Students can then use any note-taking strategy to take notes on their video.

Some of my sample notes.

Argument Essay

After all this research they work on my argument essay notebook. Students start with looking at all of their research notes and try to find common ideas that pop up. From there, they come up with a claim/major debatable opinion about their topic. Much like a standard essay, they determine three major reasons to support their claim.

Once they do that, I have them go through all their notes and label details that could go with each reason. They either number the details to match with each reason, use highlighters to color-code, or post-its.

Soon, they organize all of their details in a digital notebook. I tell them to find details from BOTH sides, as they will have to be sure to argue against the other side as well. From this, I teach them a new way to add counterclaims and refutations with color-coding in their essays. If you know me, I LOVE to color-code with highlighting! They then follow my typical essay format that has been taught before, adding in the new colors.

Bottom Line:

Research, in my opinion, is the best way to teach non-fiction skills. It's such an important skill to be able to research CORRECTLY and not believe everything you read. Allowing students to choose a topic, one that can be debated, allows so much opportunity to think critically.

You can get both of these units in my bundle below.


Want a CUSTOM BUNDLE from me? Click below!

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Thank you for sharing your tips and techniques. I have used exemplar papers for students to highlight, edit and revise before, and it subsequently helped my students with editing and revising their own papers. I will be using your strategies for notetaking and model to my students.


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