Help Students with Research Writing -

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Thoughtful Learner

Create a Source Conversation

Does this image bring back any memories of past research projects?  

Before the digital age, the humble notecard served a vital role in the research process. Students filled stacks of them with facts, ideas, quotes, and citations from books and other sources. Such a record-keeping system proved to be an effective way to save and organize research, and it is still used in some classrooms today.

At times, though, those notecards had unintended consequences. Too often students' research writing ended up sounding like it came from a stack of notecards. The writers reported fact after fact without explaining why the facts mattered or how different sources compared or contrasted. Rather than bringing together sources for a lively debate, they kept them in separate corners.

These issues persist today. Students still have a hard time integrating ideas from outside sources into their writing. 

To develop this skill, you should encourage students to envision sources in conversation. Ask them, If two sources were in the same room, what would they say to each other? If you entered the room, what would you say? 

The following activity helps students practice this type of thinking. Students record ideas from two sources, compare the ideas, and then write sentences that show how the sources compare and contrast. To help with this final step, the activity introduces useful sentence starters for showing agreement, disagreement, and partial agreement. 

Download a Word Document
Download a PDF

Teacher Support

Consider this support for the activity.



Learning Objectives

  • Locate effective research sources. 
  • Study different viewpoints on a common topic. 
  • Record relevant information from multiple sources. 
  • Compare and contrast different viewpoints. 
  • Integrate ideas from outside sources into writing.  

Teaching Tips

  • To do this activity, students must understand each source's main ideas and supporting points. Recommend close-reading strategies to improve comprehension—annotating, note taking, rereading, etc.
  • Encourage students to return to and make use of the sentence starters on page 2 when doing any sort of research writing. 
  • In their popular book, professors Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein argue that, "The underlying structure of effective academic writing—and all responsible public discourse—resides not just in stating our ideas, but in listening closely to others around us, summarizing their views in a way that they will recognize, and responding with our own ideas in kind." By having students develop these skills at younger ages, you prepare students for college-level thinking and writing.
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