Most ninth graders need to be guided through each step of the research and writing process.
Most ninth graders need to be guided through each step of the research and writing process.

Research papers are a natural way for students to take ownership of learning, offering chances to explore areas of personal interest. However, the research process can be daunting, especially for ninth graders. To excite students about their choices and avoid pre-writing paralysis, think through some teen-friendly science research topics that will motivate them to dig deep with genuine curiosity.

Youth Issues

Some ninth graders take biology, so consider science topics related to their health and bodies. Ideas include researching the positive and negative effects of ADD medications on high school students, how legalized marijuana will affect teenage populations or the effect of college sports injuries on players' long-term health. Since most teenagers feel desperate for sleep, they also might find it interesting to research the effects of sleep deprivation on various health issues, from memory and brain function to weight gain.

Local Issues

Another way to make research more engaging is to focus on local issues affecting the school community, the neighborhood or students' families. Students can delve into the health effects of processed food and compare their findings to the lunch offerings at school, or they can evaluate the availability of processed food in snack machines. If your students live in an area susceptible to hurricanes or tornadoes, they might be interested in researching the effects of climate change on the frequency of natural disasters.

Topical Issues

Have students scour the news as they brainstorm ideas. Such stories are often posted on social media. The story of a science journalist who refuses to fly on planes, for example, could lead to a research paper about carbon footprints: how they are calculated, what activities have the greatest effect, the average American carbon footprint. Similarly, a flu outbreak could lead to a research paper about the way diseases spread in a global society.

Ideas in Action

Students will be more engaged in their topics if they can test ideas. Have students design and conduct simple experiments to corroborate or refute the information they find in secondary sources. For example, in a research paper about the causes and effects of Americans' carbon footprints, students could track their own carbon footprints, comparing them to the national average. A research paper about the health effects of sleep deprivation could incorporate data from a student-designed survey about their peers' sleep habits. Conducting scientific research in addition to consulting outside sources engages students and makes their finished work more compelling.