More informal research! Pioneer Life Part I

One thing that I have done more and more of over the last few years is to infuse more “informal research” into our curriculum.  I call it “informal” because we are researching to learn–not necessarily to create a “product” like a report or presentation.  Sometimes I simply want students to deepen their understanding on a topic–WITHOUT me spoon feeding information.
So, when the point in our curriculum to talk about Westward Expansion and pioneer life came up AND it was time to kick off our historical fiction studies, I knew it was time to infuse a little more research into my plans.  I knew there was a little bit of information in our textbook, we had a few ebooks on our library homepage, and we had about 20 books and magazines in the library that I grabbed so we could dig in.
First, I created a research guide with the topics I wanted them to hunt for and made copies.  We quickly reviewed some key research concepts–like writing information in our words, using bullet points instead of full sentences, and using text features (index, table of contents, etc).  We partnered up and spread around the room to work!
After two work times of research, I presented our “lap book” project… I was tempted to just use these research “flaps” in their notebooks as interactive notebook features, but I thought it might be kind of fun to shake things up!
 After students cut, folded, assembled, and glued, they were ready to take the information they learned and SYNTHESIZE it.  That’s right–we talked about how to take ALL their information from their notes and reduce it to a few key facts or details…not an easy task!
 As students finished recording their ideas, some decided to take their lap books home to add some extra details–but that was totally optional!
Now…to continue deepening our understanding and to start to apply our new knowledge to help us make sense of historical fiction set in this era, We read “Dandelions” by Eve Bunting to see how she used information about pioneer life to make her book more authentic…tune in tomorrow for part 2 of this series to see what we did to tie this all to our reading unit!
Interested in the research guide and lap book resource?  Here it is!