Reading and Writing as a Researcher

In third grade, we complete a unit based on Lucy Calkins Readings as Researchers.  We adapted the unit to fit our needs and to make it more engaging with a room transformation.  In this unit, students work in research clubs.  This means they get in groups with students who are interested in the same research topic.  Students must read as researchers, take notes in various ways, and then present their findings in some way that shows their understanding of main idea and supporting details.  

We decided to have students use their research to create life sized animals with Zoo Placards to display their information.  We transformed our room into an African Savanna and invited parents and other classrooms in to view our life sized diorama!  

A huge problem we always have with this unit is not having enough nonfiction books for each topic.  We have to share as a grade level so we decided to pick a topic.  Each third grade class decided to research a different habitat to fit in with our Animal Unit.  We chose the African Savanna.  Once students chose the habitat, they researched the different animals that could be found there.  I then scouted our library and public library to narrow down the search of resources available.  

We then wrote the names of animals that we were interested in researching on an anchor chart and students signed up for their two favorite choices.  I then picked final groups based on their interests and behavior factors.  LOL!

Once students had their research clubs, we started figuring out WHAT we wanted to research.  We took a day or two just to look thought the headings and subtopics of animal nonfiction books, looking at text structure and how authors organize information.  From their, we figured out that most animal books contain informational sections about Adaptations, Diet, Young and Families, Habitat, and Dangers.  Based on that, I created a research journal for them to keep notes in.  We decorated manila folders for them to store their research for the unit.  I also gave them their rubrics so they knew what was expected of them for the end of the unit.

Once students had met with their research groups and and gathered all the books needed, I also gave them access to a Symbaloo which is just a bookmarking site that stores all your websites in one place.  If you click the picture below, it will take you to our Symbaloo of trusted websites that contain lots of info on different animals.  You can save the link and push it out in Google Classroom.

My mini lessons each day consisted of modeling what I expected them to do in their Research Clubs.  I modeled with an animal that no one was researching, but one that fit our habitat.  We researched a giraffe together.  I taught them how to look in multiple sources for each subtopic.  We learned how to use the Table of Contents and Index to help find specific information.  We learned that we do not read nonfiction from cover to cover when we are researching.  I modeled how to use those multiple books and websites to take notes with boxes and bullets.  The boxes were the main idea or topic and the bullets were the supporting details.  We also learned how to create diagrams, charts, and key word boxes.  

Once students had finished researching together for about 1-2 weeks, we came together and learned how to turn our research into paragraphs.  We discussed how to only use important information and how to use descriptive language to turn our notes into sentences.  We don't just turn each bullet point into a complete sentence.   As you can tell in the pictures, I write all of my examples in real time with them.  I make mistakes on purpose so that we can edit as we go and so that we can come back later and edit.  This shows them that it is ok to make mistakes, but we have to pay attention as we go.

Once students gathered all of their research they decided as a team who would complete the final report for each subtopic.  Students had to create some kind of presentation on Google Slides to prove their knowledge of their subtopic.  They knew that these would be printed out and hung up in the room to serve as a Zoo Placard. They could add pictures and any other resource they found to be helpful.

When they finished, they had to have their presentation approved by each of their group members. Each group member had to read the report and fill out the peer review sheet. Students then went back and made any changes needed.  Because I have set up a very encouraging climate in my classroom, students were grateful for the constructive criticism and did not get upset. Students just need to know that our friends are there to help us, not to make us feel bad.

While students are putting the finishing touches on their final copies, each group takes a turn tracing their animal onto butcher paper.  This was perfect to bring in skills from our measurement unit.  Students already had researched the height and width of each animal.  They had to measure out the height and width of the animal on the projector and I blew it up on my computer to as close to their measurements as possible.  As you can tell with the lion, they had to complete the top of his body and then hot glue the bottom of his body together since he was so large. 

Students then cut out the body and traced it onto another sheet of butcher paper to make a back.  When they were ready, I hot glued to pieces together so they could stuff it with recycled paper.   

While students worked on coloring and stuffing their animals, I had them come to confer with me one on one.  Together we reviewed their notes and Zoo Placard final copy.  We completed the rubrics for their grade together.  This was very powerful because they took a sense of ownership in assessing themselves.

This entire room transformation was inspired by Hope King at Elementary Shenanigans. She teaches at the Ron Clark Academy and is always "setting the state to engage!"

Here is a video our room from last year.  This is a copy of my live periscope broadcast, so please excuse me talking to the people leaving live comments in the video!  LOL! I promise, I am not talking to myself!

In the video I talk about a Creature Feature Freebie.  It is no longer free as I added an editable version and  included a research page and rubrics for you, but you can grab it here. 

You can grab resources for this unit here.


1 comment

  1. This is great! I remember doing a similar project as a kid in the 80's, but this is so much more engaging. Thanks so much!

    Reading with Mrs. D


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