Using Research Tools Successfully

Author: Jill Torrey Emmons

Time: 4-5 class periods
10-15 minutes.
Materials: Reserve class time in library and computer lab, copies of final project guidelines.


Over the course of the next week, students will have the opportunity to research important issues related to their final project on arsenic contamination in ground water. Each research day will begin in the classroom with a “question of the day” as usual, and then proceed to either the school library or computer lab where students will conduct their research. Students will also learn how to keep a research journal, which will contain not only portions of their data, but also their reflections on what they are learning.

Purpose – The goal of this week-long lesson is to allow students to explore a certain region of the world that faces arsenic contamination in their water supply, as well as research the nature and affects of arsenic.

Students will be able to:
1. Record their research observations and reflections by keeping a research journal.
2. Explore a specific region of the world affected by arsenic contamination by using various research skills and tools.
3. Evaluate the usefulness of research tools in writing.

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 instructor should be familiar with the requirements of the final project, as well as arsenic contamination and related issues.

Resource Websites
See websites listed on previous lesson plan.



Day 1
1. Before students enter the classroom, write the following questions on the board:

  • What are some of the most common contaminants found in water?
  • Which are the 3 most dangerous and why?
  • What is arsenic? Where is it found? What is its affect on human health?
  • What countries have problems with arsenic contamination in their water? Evaluate 5 countries and list them from least to highest concentrations.

2. As students come into class, tell them to copy down these questions, preferably in a notebook that they will keep with them throughout the week. This will be their research journal, which they will use to record their discoveries and observations, and will need to bring every day. Explain to the class that as a part of their research they will need to answer certain questions in their journals, which you will post on a daily basis. They will also use their journals to record where they find all their information for citation purposes (this may be done a separate page). Check to see if there are any questions about these procedures, and clarify any misunderstandings. Ask the class if anyone was able to find an article about water pollution (homework from the previous night). Post these in the room and encourage students to take a look at them at a later time.

3. If you have not done so already, distribute the handout that outlines the final project. Review the main points of the handout with the class, and clarify any questions they may have. Establish any additional parameters or requirements for the project at this time, and make sure students understand what they are expected to do. If possible, give them exact due dates for research data, and/or presentation dates. Assign each student a region of the world to focus on for their final project (These may be randomly assigned from the list of countries provided on the handout. Some students will be studying the same region; encourage them to share research tools, but remind them that their projects will be independently rendered).

4. Students will now proceed to either the library or computer lab, depending on which is available and where you want them to spend their first day researching. Monitor their progress carefully, ensuring that they stay on task. Assist them as needed in finding their information.

Day Two
1. Prior to the class beginning, write the following questions on the board:

  • What research tool did you use the most to find information yesterday?
  • How useful was this tool? Evaluate it on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the most useful, and explain how this tool helped you.
  • Is there another research tool which you would like to use more today? Which one? Why?
  • What was the most interesting thing you learned in your research today?

Students should copy down these questions in their research journals at the beginning of class. Remind the students that they do not have to answer all the questions in one research day, but they should have written responses to them all by the end of the week. Tell the class to make sure they bring their research journals each day in order to record data, observations, questions, and their thoughts. Remind them to record where they find all their information for citation purposes, including authors, titles, publishers, dates, page numbers, etc.

2. Mini Lesson
Connecting to Your Research on a Personal Level

Before heading off to the library or the computer lab, you should take about 5-10 minutes to discuss with the students the reasons for keeping a research journal. Ask the class for ideas about this subject. Why would researchers do this? Usually scientists, writers, or any kind of researcher will record not only their data and discoveries, but also what they think and feel about the information they gather. Help students to understand that often the most powerful research is presented persuasively, and in order to be persuasive, one must be confident in the work they are doing. If one is confident about the research, this will come across in the final presentation of the data. If students can connect to their research, they will care more about the issues and their final project will have a greater impact on the audience.

3. Spend the remainder of class allowing students to continue their research, either in the library or in the computer lab.

Day Three
1. Before the students arrive, write the following questions on the board:

  • What is the most surprising thing you have discovered about your region of the world?
  • Where does the arsenic in your particular region come from? (Bedrock? Volcanic activity? Pesticides? Other?)
  • How much arsenic is found in the water of your particular region of study?
  • Which resources have you used so far in your research? Which have you not yet used?
  • Why is it important to draw from a variety of different sources when conducting research?

Have students copy these questions into their research journals as they come into class.

2. You may want to briefly discuss the final question on today’s list regarding resource variety. Help the students understand that in order to draw correct, unbiased conclusions from data they must draw from a variety of sources, including books, magazines, newspapers, encyclopedias, databases, internet sites, etc. Furthermore, the more sources students use in their research, the more credible their arguments will be. Ask the class if there are any questions or concerns that have come up during their research. Address these in class briefly. You may want to enforce a penalty of some sort for students who fail to use a variety of resources in their research.

3. Students will spend the rest of the class period in the library or the computer lab conducting research and writing in their research journals.

Day Four
1. Before class begins, write the following questions on the board:

  • How does arsenic affect the human body?
  • What are the various ways that arsenic can enter the human body?
  • How can arsenic levels in the body be determined?

As students come into class, many will begin to copy these questions into their research journals automatically, but remind any who may forget. If students have already found some answers to these questions, they may write down their responses in class. Address any concerns students may have about their research.

2. The rest of the period will be spent in the library or in the computer lab, so that students may continue with their research.

Day Five
1. Prior to the students’ arrival, post the following research questions for the day:

  • How can arsenic be removed from the water supply? Evaluate at least 3 methods of arsenic removal. Which would be the most successful? Which is the least expensive? Which is the easiest to put in practice?
  • What happens to people in your particular region who are victims of arsenic poisoning? Consider not only physical symptoms, but also social and cultural effects.
  • What are the useful qualities of each resource tool you have used so far?

Students will copy these questions into their research journal to be answered.

2. Students will have one final day to research in the library or the computer lab.

Once students have completed their research, tell the class to keep all their notes and data in a safe place. Encourage them to ponder the information they have gathered over the next few days, and to write about what implications their data has for the health of the people of that region. How can these contamination problems be solved?

Embedded Assessment
Student journals should be assessed periodically to see if students are collecting useful data, answering daily research questions consistently, and using a variety of research tools. While students are researching, float around the room to ensure the class is on task.

Research journals should be collected periodically to be checked, but no additional homework is required. You may want to remind students to continue their research at home, as they may not have sufficient class time to compile and process data.

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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