Most fourth-graders are assigned a research paper at some point during the school year. Research papers allow students to combine research skills and language arts with the knowledge they have gained in other subjects, such as science, social studies and history. The research paper ties everything together, and defining the right topic for the paper helps ensure that students will stay interested and engaged with the assignment while learning valuable skills.
Fourth-grade students can complete straightforward research papers on a particular topic, such as U.S. presidents, U.S. states or foreign countries. Place slips of paper with these topics listed on them in a hat or basket, and have children choose a topic from the hat. This method ensures that the topic selection is fair, and students are more likely to choose a topic they know little about. Students could also write research papers on subjects tied to current events or recognition months; for example, in February, students could write about famous Black Americans in recognition of Black History Month, or well-known women during October for Women’s History Month.
To boost fourth-graders’ critical thinking skills, assign a research paper in the problem-solution format. The topic should be a problem, such as global warming, illiteracy or animal welfare, that the students can research and then develop their own ideas for a solution. Choosing a problem-solution type of topic will encourage students to study current events and become more engaged in the world around them.
Compare and Contrast
Comparing and contrasting is another paper type that can develop students’ critical thinking skills. Ask students to choose a research paper topic that compares two similar concepts, such as two states, two sports or two historical events. Students can research the basic facts about the topics, and then explore what makes them similar and different. As an alternative, the research paper could be designed to be a persuasive paper, in which the student must make a case for why one idea is better than another.
Asking students to design their own research studies is bound to create some fun and creative research topics. If your students are learning about performing research experiments in science class, ask them to develop their own study for a research paper. The research paper can explore the students' hypothesis, and allow them to design their own “study” to prove or disprove the hypothesis. Students could conduct a survey of their classmates about their feelings about a particular subject, for example, and combine that research with information they learned about the topic through library research.
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