How to Teach One Research Skill

It wasn’t until I became a Library Media Specialist that I realized the importance of focusing on one research skill at a time.

I had been trying to replicate the grand research projects I had planned as a classroom teacher. It was blowing up in my face. Students were getting bored, I was getting bored, and they were taking forever.

Then I remembered what my colleague had always reminded us during our team planning times. Focus on one skill.

Why Just One Skill

36 School Weeks

As a special area teacher, students typically attend their special once per week over the 36 weeks.

When planning out a school year, it’s important to not plan for 36 instructional days. Be realistic and plan for 20.

Assemblies, days off, snow days, field trips, and schoolwide events decrease the number of instructional days.

When Library Media Specialists are part of the fixed schedule, there are times when students may not come to the library for weeks. It happens.

A Lot of Content to Teach

Library Media Specialists don’t just read books every week. There are a range of skills that are taught throughout the year.

  • Coding
  • Engineering
  • Design
  • Media Literacy
  • Digital Citizenship
  • Love for Literature
  • Research

Take that in for a moment. Do the math. That’s approximately 3-5 days for each piece of content. If all 7 content areas are taught in a school year. Even if they are not, that’s still 5-7 days to focus on one content area.

Status of the Class

Factoring in missed instructional days, focusing on one skill makes it easier to remember what each class did last.

When teaching units that are 10-15 days long, remembering what one grade 5 class did last week and the other one that’s missed 2 Mondays of school is difficult to track.

Even with checklists and recording systems, you could accidentally re-teach a lesson, skip a lesson, or even speed up the process. I am guilty of all!

Factor in missed school days. If a research unit begins in October and it’s still happening in December, students will feel like they have been researching forever.

They are ready to move on. Do something new. And they will heartily let you know with groans and complaining.

Choosing the Right Skill

Before choosing the right research skills to teach, know what research skills are being taught in the classroom. If classroom teachers are already teaching students how to take notes, they don’t need to be retaught that during library class. Instead, offer resources to classroom teachers.

Identify what students need to know by the time they leave the school. Work backwards from there.

For example, if grade 5 should be able to cite sources within a text, then grade 4 should be able to cite a source. Keep going down grade levels until you have identified the beginning Kindergarten skill.

Choose skills for each grade that can be taught, practiced, and assessed within 3-5 days. Some examples include:

Assessing the Skill

Library Media Specialists don’t typically provide grades. Be flexible with assessment.

Assessing research skills in Library Media include:

Keep it simple, manageable, and FUN!

In place of grades, give the students achievement badges to show off their skills!

In the end, when focusing on one research skill in place of an entire research project there will be rewards.

First, there will be a greater sense of calm and accomplishment. For both you and the students. There’s no need to stress out about skipping a lesson because there’s a book fair.

Second, there will be time to do other things. Like that one off day where you’ve been fortunate enough to find out that Peter Reynolds, Aaron Reynolds, or Jason Reynolds are offering live read alouds. Most importantly, students will stay engaged. They will continue to be excited to come to library media.