Writing essays and reports can be a very daunting task for many senior high school students. Not only do they need to write well but they also need to know how to do investigative research and how to synthesise what they learn into a well-structured essay/report.
As a teacher, the worst thing you can do is assume that senior students already know how to investigate, research and write in a well structured format. When I first started teaching as a College Professor in Canada, I noticed that many younger students (18 – 30) had some issues with being able to research and write essays/reports. In high school I have noted similar issues; verbose writing, difficulty with research, difficulty with synthesising a range of information and vagueness & repeating ideas in their writing (with no structure).
I have used TEEL (or PEEL) paragraph structure along with brainstorming for ideas to find main points of discussion for essays. To improve on how I teach this to students I have also recently tried a more robust brainstorming approach called QBR.
Question, Brainstorm, Reform (QBR)
**This could be done at the beginning of a unit; however, I used this before giving students an investigative research report assessment. I also showed them examples of my own writing (University submissions) so that I could model how to write succinctly and listing main points in an introduction to help structure an essay.
- Question – Start off with a question prompt to get students’ to start thinking about their existing knowledge. I used a question that was related to the assessment (What are the social impacts from the increase of social media use today?).
- Brainstorm – get students to reflect on their initial thoughts in the first step and make associations between what is discussed and their prior knowledge. I did this through discussion but also by doing a Google Scholar search in front of the class on the question. This led to more information, more ideas and more terms to search.
- Reform – students reconsider what they know based on the conversation and quick research in the previous step. At this point, as a class, we also try and pull-out 3 or 4 main sub-topics that we would like to investigate further. It is these sub-topics that would then be discussed in the report.
This technique is not new for me; however, this is the first time I used it to model how I would tackle investigating and writing a report or essay. Students responded positively to this exercise and many liked the idea of brainstorming their research topic choice with the whole class. Investigating a topic and synthesising all the information into an essay/report can be challenging. Segmenting (or chunking) information into sub-topics of interest really helps students get control over their ideas and using the QBR process to explore the topic and find interesting sub-topics helped.