Why Be An Independent Learner?

Author: Jill Torrey Emmons

Time: 1 class period
20 minutes to label cards/slips of paper with one person, place, or issue that would interest students and to make copies of article.
Materials: 3 x 5 cards or sticky notes, 1 for each desk in room, copies of an article on a controversial environmental issue (see Alaska article below)


One of the biggest challenges with high school students is getting them to be independent learners, motivated and capable of finding information on their own and processing it. Our goal is to get students to this point, where they are familiar with the ways in which knowledge can be attained. This lesson seeks to get students thinking about the importance of being an independent learner and how research skills are a part of this goal. It will also reveal what they already know about various research tools and how to use them.

Purpose – This lesson serves as an engagement piece, helping students to start thinking about why research skills are so useful and how they help us to become independent learners.

Students will be able to:
1. Articulate what they already know about research tools in discussion and in writing.
2. Discover why it is important to be an independent learner by analyzing a controversial environmental health issue.
3. Discuss how research skills can help us become independent learners.

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
For this lesson, the teacher should be familiar with the various resources available for research in their school and local libraries, including the selection of books, journals, encyclopedias, internet sources, databases, etc. You may decide to coordinate with librarians on a library orientation for your class if you have not already done so. Helping students become familiar and comfortable with their libraries can help them in the process of becoming independent learners. You may even offer incentives to the class for obtaining a library card from their public library.

Resource Websites
Library of Congress http://www.loc.gov/
Tucson Public Library http://www.lib.ci.tucson.az.us/
Phoenix Public Library http://www.phoenixpubliclibrary.org/index.jsp
Article on Alaskan Oil Drilling



1. Before students enter the classroom, place cards or slips of paper on each desk which have been labeled with a wide variety of topics that will be interesting to students, such as famous people, exotic places, and intriguing issues. Make sure that each student has such a card. Write the question of the day on the board: “Look at the card placed on your desk, and on a separate sheet of paper write everything that you know about this topic. Then, explain what you might do to find out more about this subject.” Give the class 5-10 minutes to think and respond to the prompt.

2. Begin a short discussion. Ask the class to share what places or people were written on their cards. What do they know about these topics? What if you didn’t know anything about your topic, then what? Ask the students what they would do if they wanted to find information on a topic they didn’t know anything about. Write student answers on the board and discuss the usefulness of each resource. Some answers might be “use the internet” or “look it up in a book”. Consider various situations and alternatives, such as: “What if you don’t own a computer, then what?” Ask the class to consider another situation: “How would you learn if you didn’t have to go to school?” Allow the class to ruminate and discuss this idea. Encourage the students to understand that they are learning and questioning all the time, even when they are not in school, and that there are ways of answering their questions and finding out more about their interests independently, without the aid of a teacher or other adult.

3. Pass out an article to the students about a controversial issue, such as the “Bush Plans Drilling in Untapped Alaska Oil Reserve” article provided. Have the students read this article silently to themselves, and ask them to think about the pros and cons of the president’s plan. Once students finish reading, open discussion again with the following questions:

a) What do you think of the president’s plan? Is it a good solution to the oil shortage?
b) What are some of the drawbacks to this plan?
c) If you didn’t know about the possible damage that this project could cause to the environment, would you be in favor of it? How does the environmental piece of this plan alter your view?
d) What if drilling in this part of the country could bring down gas prices dramatically? Would you support the project?
e) How could research tools help us find out more information about this issue?

Help the class to realize that some important issues we read about may not give us all the information necessary to make a wise decision. This makes it very important for people to be independent learners in order to uncover additional information which may be initially withheld. Being an independent learner, therefore, will enable us to make more informed decisions.

Embedded Assessment
Student responses to the question of the day should be evaluated to determine what the students already know about research tools. Discussion responses may be evaluated also to determine student opinions and their understanding of what it means to be an independent learner.

None for this lesson.

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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