I may be weird, but I love doing report projects with my kids. Instead of dreading each one (yes, we do several each year), I actual enjoy the process. Lucky for me, because I think when we enjoy something, the kids can tell and are more likely to view the whole process in a positive way.
So, how exactly do I lead these 30 or so kids into creating meaningful, well-written, and researched projects? Let me tell you five tips that may just come in handy.
1. Plan Ahead
This is a must-do and not a may-do! Starting a new report project is definitely not one of those times that you can show up and wing it. Here are a few things you'll want to do in advance:
- Make copies of all of the papers needed
- Schedule the entire project out in your lesson plans (You'll need to have every due date firmed up ahead of time)
- Reserve library time for research if needed (I like them to have at least one book)
- Reserve the computer lab/laptop carts if needed for researching/writing time
- Prepare a student example of the report (Yes, this is important as a visual for the vast majority of the kids who are visual learners!)
- You'll want to do this with as much enthusiasm as possible. Make it sound like fun. It's a learning adventure! If your attitude is doom and gloom, your students' attitudes will mirror that. Some may still moan about it, but hey...that's life.
- Show the student example to your class. A document projector works well for this or if you have other student created (or you created) materials like power points or videos, this is a great time to share these too.
- Go over a detailed handout with specific requirements and due dates. You want this page to be so clear that a parent could read it and know what is going on because at this age, there are some parents who still want/need to keep tabs on what their kids are doing in school and help them a bit (but hopefully not do it for them).
I love being able to give students at least some choices when we do research projects. Of course there is never a choice NOT to do the project, and certain things ARE requirements, no choices there...but I love to allow them to choose things like which explorer they will research or which Native American group they will study or things like which format they will choose to present their information (in addition to the report). For example, when my fourth graders do a Mission project each year for California history, they choose their mission and also choose an "add-on" project like a recipe book, a model of a mission, a video tour of their family trip there, a reader's theater... or actually ANY project they would like to do with my approval.
When my fifth graders do a state report, I have their names on Popsicle sticks in a cup and have a list of the states on the smart board. As I pull sticks, they tell me which state they would like to do and then we cross it off, so everyone is doing a different state but has some say about which one they choose.
4. Guide Students Through the Project Step by Step
4. Guide Students Through the Project Step by Step
With upper elementary kids, we still need to baby step them through a big project like this. This is their learning time for the "on their own" days ahead.
- If your students have planners, have them write out what they'll do each day in class related to the project and what they need to do at home (if anything). This big picture overview is a good goal setting habit for kids.
- Do small things each day. It might be two weeks of researching and then writing one page a day over the course of a week. Then I always add in a catch up day or two to add a bit of wiggle room. It is much less overwhelming for them if you break it down into small steps.
- Make sure you have a firm due date for all researching to be done and check notes on that day. I give kids a researching grade because it motivates them to find more and I know the more information they find, the better the report will be (hopefully). Also, if you don't set a due date, those lolly gaggers will not be ready to write when everyone else does and this just slows done their whole process.
- I have done the projects several ways but have come to the conclusion that I can read and grade them so much better if they are typed. Plus, a lot of the dreaded standardized testing now requires our kids to type, so it serves as good practice. My kids usually write a rough draft on paper at school and take it home to type. May seem counter intuitive but at my school, we don't have permanent laptops available and the computer lab can be tough to reserve that much. Plus, we live in a helicopter parent district, so by writing it in class, at least I know they are doing a lot of the work themselves (we do have a big talk about this and I send emails home too about how they need to do it and not mom or dad, except for editing together, which I encourage).
About a week before reports are due, I hand out a presentation note and we go over expectations. I make sure they know exactly what to do, that it needs to be this many minutes long, that they need to memorize it but may have note cards (not with the entire speech but key words), that they need a loud voice, good eye contact, good posture, and so on. I think doing the oral reports is great practice for them and have seen a lot of growth in my kids over the course of a year because I give them so many opportunities to present. Public speaking is a skill they will carry with them, and so I feel it is a vital part of the whole report process.
When reports are presented, I let the kids ask a few questions (we go over what is a good question and role model some not so good ones...they love to laugh at these). After questions, I give them some feedback (positive since it's in front of the class) and then we clap for that person. When all are done, then the reports are handed in and I'm in for a long weekend of grading. Oh well, even though grading is not my favorite, when you consider all of the skills that are packed into these reports, it's worth it.
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