The edWeb webinar, Rethinking the Research Paper, was presented by Michelle Luhtala, a regular edWeb presenter who is also the Head Librarian at New Canaan High School in New Canaan, Connecticut and the winner of the 2011 “I Love My Librarian” Award, the 2010 National School Library Program of the Year (NSLPY), and the Connecticut Library Association’s 2010 Outstanding Librarian Award.

In the United States, the Common Core curriculum requires students to ask questions, read well, and share information based on findings.  Guided inquiry and inquiry-based learning activities are used more and more, and school libraries are becoming an important resource for teachers and students when working on guided inquiry projects.  Luhtala presented an exciting example of an alternative project suitable for high school history, economic or ethics classes that you might want to share with teachers.

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 9.42.32 AMNinth Grade (Secondary Level III, here in Quebec) students were asked to research four classical civilizations – India, China, Phoenicia, America – and their role in modern civilization. Then they had to consider an artifact that would best represent this civilization.

Normally, these students use an acronym, PERSIA, as a way to understand the various aspects of civilizations. The students were instructed to AVOID searching any of the PERSIA terms as keywords. For example, don’t search Mayan civilization geography.

Once students had some of their texts, they logged into Socrative, a cloud based software that allows teachers to create simple quizzes that students can take quickly on laptops and mobile devices, and that can show the results in graphic ways. The students had to identify which elements were on which pages. When the students saw their responses graphed out on a black background, they realized that there are patterns in the way authors convey information. Luhtala noted that this may seem obvious to adults, but it isn’t to teens who are so used to keyword searching on Google.

The students then grouped their terms into 4 geo-categories and organized their information. They were assigned a passage and spreadsheet, and they had to indicate the different terms used in the text. This helped them understand what language looks like in academic literature as texts might not use obvious terms like politics. For example, what aspects of politics would be discussed and what terminology would be used to discuss these aspects?  They discovered that identifying these terms might provide them with better keywords to find more relevant information.

Finally, the students collaborated on creating word clouds that graphically showed what they actually had to do (plan, search, identify, analyze) and what they had to use (text, answers, evidence).  Luhtala says that the students found this to be an engaging way to understand how to search and how to analyze academic texts.

Interestingly enough, all of the elements of The Inquiry Process are represented in this activity.  Students planned, searched, and evaluated their information, and then presented it. Finally, they had to reflect on the activity and what they learned.

To watch this archived webinar, you will need to register to be a member of edWeb, which is free. You can access the webinar at  If you are a member of edWeb, you can also access the presentation slides and chat log as well as the recorded webinar at