How Can Research Shape Ideas?

Author: Jill Torrey Emmons

Time: 1 class period
15 minutes to read up on water contaminants.
Materials: Internet source


At this point, students have collected a mass of research concerning an environmental health topic, arsenic contamination. However, many students have yet to thoroughly process the information and consider all its ramifications. That is the goal of this lesson, to allow the students a chance to process, synthesize, and explain their information, in order to begin formulating their written advisories. Later, these written first drafts will provide the basis for their speech to be presented at the end of the quarter. In the writing of these rough essays, the students may need a refresher in basic essay construction.

Purpose – This lesson represents the explain part of the learning cycle, with the goal being to give the students the chance to explain what they have learned about their region and the affects of arsenic contamination.

Students will be able to:
1. Characterize arsenic and determine its potential health threats in writing.
2. Compare and contrast arsenic to other water pollutants using Venn diagrams.
3. Demonstrate essay skills by explaining the cultural and geologic history of a specific world region.

National English Education Standard
Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and non-print texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.

Teacher Background
The teacher should already have a decent grasp on the nature of arsenic and its potential health risks, but he/she may not be familiar with other types of water pollutants. Students should have gathered this information during their research, but in order to facilitate discussion, the instructor may want to read up on other common water pollutants. See the web sites below.

Resource Websites
Common water contaminants:
EPA site safe water site http://www.epa.gov/safewater/hfacts.html
Lead contamination http://www.freedrinkingwater.com/water-contamination/lead-advise-contaminants-removal-water.htm



1. In preparation for today’s class, write the following instructions on the board: “With the information you have gathered about arsenic and its effects on human health, create a diagram or chart in which you display this information. Include in your chart the following information:
a) What is arsenic? Describe its nature, qualities, origin, etc.
b) Where does arsenic occur in our environment?
c) How can humans come in contact with arsenic?
d) List various ways that arsenic can harm human health.
This starter activity will allow students to explain what they know about arsenic in detail, focusing on the main questions they will have to answer for their final projects.

2. As students enter the classroom, have them complete the starter exercise. Give students about ten minutes to gather data from their notes, and compose it into a flow chart, bar chart, or a diagram of their choice. Tell students to present the data in a way that is easy for them to understand. You may want to allow students to then share their data with a partner, or discuss it as a whole class briefly, to see if their information is consistent across the class.

3. After students have reviewed what they know about arsenic, have a brief class discussion. Ask the class this question: How does arsenic compare to other common water contaminants? Is it more toxic? Less toxic? How is this determined? Which is easy to remove from water, which is more difficult? You may want use Venn diagrams (on paper or on the board) to compare arsenic to several other water contaminants, such as lead, pesticides, nitrates, etc. Remind the class that this data will help them create a persuasive context in which to write about the dangers of arsenic. Discuss the various resources which students discover. Which resources are the most useful? What makes them so? Who is the intended audience of these resources? How can you tell?

4. Spend the remainder of class (about 30 minutes) formulating a rough draft response to the following question: “How does arsenic affect the population you have studied? Consider three aspects: the environmental, the human health, and cultural implications of this contamination.” Students will use their data and notes as the brainstorming stage of the writing process, and begin to compose a rough essay answering the prompt.

Allow students class time to begin their rough drafts, or you may spend the time reviewing essay composition, including thesis writing, topic sentences, paragraph organization, introductions, conclusion, etc. This portion of class can be adjusted according to the ability level of your students.

Embedded Assessment
Assessment can happen at various stages, depending on your class needs. The teacher should look at student responses to the starter prompt and ensure that arsenic information presented on charts is consistent. During discussion, check to see if students can successfully compare and contrast two topics. Finally, the rough draft should be assessed to determine students’ grasp of essay techniques.

If necessary, assign the rough draft essay for homework, and spend the last portion of class reviewing basic points of essay composition.

Embedded Assessment




PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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