Sunday, February 21, 2016

Research Writing for Students with Special Needs Part 1/3

Let's face it, research writing sucks! Don't get me wrong I absolutely love my job, my students and accommodating materials to meet my students needs but research writing is challenging. You have to be able to tie all of your core academic knowledge into one assignment....writing, reading, understanding the content and more!!!

Every year when it comes to research writing I usually use a shared writing approach. The students are still exposed to researching, taking notes and writing but we do it together. This year I really wanted to challenge my students and give them a lot of independence with this assignment. When reading this, know that I did this with 5 of my 5th graders who are cognitively at a K-1st grade level. The students had the support of myself and one additional para professional during this unit.

For this entire series I will be referring to my Arctic Animal Research Writing Unit but you could do this with any research assignment if you wish. Here is what we will be covering during this series. The different colors are the different posts I will be doing.

For Part 1 we will be focusing on Picking a Topic, Finding Sources, Brainstorming/Taking Notes. Before I even started this unit I had to pump my kids up. We did a mini researching activity (which took 1 week) about the Arctic itself. Together we filled out a KWL chart, watched videos, read articles and took notes. This was a great way to teach the students the components of researching while still being there for them every step of the way. After that I told them it was their turn to become Arctic Animal Experts. So...the fun begins.


I gave the kids a "possible topics" page and they had to write down arctic animals they may be interested in researching. This was fairly easy for them because we had generated a list of arctic animals during our shared researching project about the Arctic. 

Once they filled out their graphic organizer they had to select 2-3 animals to look up a few facts about. After that it was time to pick their animal. I was only allowing 1 student per animal so as the kids finished up their topic searching I put their names in a hat. I then pulled them in the order they would be able to pick their animal. This went pretty smoothly but I did have some kids who had to pick their 2nd or 3rd choice. As long as you make every animal seem super cool they should be fine switching. The way I see it, making a choice and sometimes not getting exactly what you want is a life lesson. Since I teach life skills this was perfect :)

Once all of the kids had the animal they were going to become experts on, I handed out their packets. Each packet had all of the mini-lessons, graphic organizers and sources they would need for their selected animal. 

FINDING SOURCES/TAKING NOTES: This is the super challenging part of research writing for my students. Having to go out and find all of the sources is so over their head. With my Arctic Animal Research Writing Unit the kids were able to do this almost independently!!!

I had 2 levels of articles that allowed for differentiation. Each level has the exact same information and QR codes but L2 is broken down into sections (habitat, anatomy and diet) while L1 is written in standard paragraph format and has a section for note taking on the right. I set them up like this because I have students who really struggle with the actual task of writing. Splitting the paragraphs up into grouped sections allows them to remove the writing part of taking notes.

I sent the kids off to read their article 3 times. Once they read it 3 times they had to come back to me and tell me 1 thing they learned. Now, not all of my students can read independently but they enjoy reading. So I sent them off like everyone else and then when they came back instead of asking them what they read about I read the passage with them.

Now they are ready to take notes. The kids will start by pulling out key information from their article. I wanted the kids to focus on 3 main things. The animals habitat, anatomy and diet. The students who had Level 1 went through and found the information in their article, with my help. They highlighted each section with a different color and then wrote the information on the right.

Kids with Level 2 just highlighted the information. This is where level 2 becomes easier. Since the information is already separated into sections the kids just have to highlight the part they want/ the most important.

Now that the kids have done all they can with their article they are ready to start scanning the QR codes. These were a LIFE SAVER!!! Having all of the sources in one place made this not only easier for the students but for me as well. In the past I was constantly typing in sites, searching through Google with the kids and wasting so much time!!!! With the QR codes the kids simply scan and BAM! they are ready to read a new article. As the kids were reading their new articles I told them they had to jot down at least 2 facts from each article and write them on their graphic organizer. In their packet they have a Habitat, Anatomy and Diet organizer that is specific to their animal.

The kids absolutely LOVED doing this. The thing that was so amazing was the amount of independence they had. I did have to help them with some reading but they loved being able to scan and take notes all by themselves!!! 

Do you think the QR Codes and simplified article would be helpful for your students?

Make sure to come back tomorrow for Part 2- Making an Outline, Introductions, Body and Conclusions. 

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