Learning Plans & Activities
Using Research to Improve Student Writing

In this lesson, students will inspect an example of informational writing to determine where additional information is needed. They will then generate guiding questions and consider possible sources to find that information.


Language arts




Classroom teacher


Students will examine an informational text for missing or lacking information.

Students will identify the information needed to improve the informational text.

Students will determine possible sources to find needed information.


Self-created example of informational writing modeled after student work (copies for each student)

Presentation to guide discussion (example provided at http://bit.ly/SLCSkills2019Sample)

Print or digital nonfiction book on example topic. Example in sample presentation:
Hanson, Anders. Shaggy Shih Tzus. Abdo Publishing Company, 2009.


One 30-minute session


AASL Standards Framework for Learners

IV.A.1. Determining the need to gather information

IV.A.2. Identifying possible sources of information

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.3.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.3.5 With guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, and editing.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.3.7 Conduct short research projects that build knowledge about a topic.

Instructional Procedure

Share with students that you know they have been writing informational nonfiction based on things they have expertise with. Ask a few students to share their topics.

Tell students that you are also an expert on some topics and give an example of one. (The accompanying slideshow uses a breed of dog as an example.) Reveal that you also decided to create a piece of writing based on what you knew. Share this writing with students.

Tell students that after you finished your writing, you read it and realized there were places where the information is incomplete, where you had questions, or where you think people who read your work might ask questions. (To simulate this, do a quick write of five minutes or less on a topic of choice with no revisions.) Acknowledge that you might simply have forgotten to include some details, but that there could be other places where you need to find information beyond what you already know.

Use the phrase "show more and know more" to describe these two possible reasons that you may need to add to your writing. Invite students to analyze your writing to find areas where you could show more or know more. For example, the second sentence of the example text, "Mine only weighs about thirteen pounds," may cause students to wonder if that is a normal weight for this type of dog or what the average weight is for this type of dog. Share that you know some information, but it would help your writing if you knew more.

Students will use approximately five minutes to work in pairs and analyze the writing. Encourage them to document their questions or ideas directly on the paper. When students have had time to identify areas needing more information in the sample writing, ask pairs to share ideas with the whole group.

Share your set of questions. Ask students where they might look to find the answers to the questions they have asked. Encourage students who give broad answers such as "the library" or "the Internet" to be more specific with where within those places they might look. In general, students should point to a specific online source, a nonfiction book, or an expert. Note that the expert may be the writer of the piece if he or she knew the information but didn't share it in the writing.

Show a table of contents from a nonfiction print or digital book on the example topic. Ask students what chapters of the book they should read to answer the questions that have been asked.

If possible, predict those responses to move quickly to those areas of the book to gather information. As students find information, encourage them to jot notes or bulleted lists below the example paragraph.

End the lesson by reminding students that when they use information from other sources, they need to write down that information. As a class, write the information they should use for citing work.


Given more time, ask students to use an expert piece of text, either print or digital, to not only identify the desired information to improve the informational nonfiction writing, but also to serve as a mentor text in how the writing is structured.

Students may benefit from identifying areas where the writer can "show more and know more" with another student's writing. Pair up writers to give them another opportunity to review informational writing for areas of improvement and receive a second set of ideas from their partner.

To highlight an online source for students instead of a print book, students can navigate the site's online interface in addition to, or instead of, navigating the text features of the print book.

Extend the lesson by modeling the writing of new-found information into the existing text. Ask students to assist in deciding when new sentences need to be added or when a sentence needs to be revised or eliminated because of new information.

If another format is used to cite sources at the specific elementary grade level, use that structure to document the text used.


Classroom teachers will formatively assess students as they apply the learned skill to their own informational writing. The teacher should be assessing a student's ability to identify multiple areas in need of more information, associate a question or phrase that guides the student in the type of information needed, and identify available resources that may hold that information.

This formative assessment can be done through the use of a rubric, student conference, or any other means that fits with the writing model being used in the classroom.

Additional Resources

Learn about the thinking behind this lesson plan in Tom's editorial, "Focusing on Research When Research Is Not the Focus."

About the Author

Tom Bober is a school librarian, 2018 Library Journal Mover and Shaker, former Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress, and author of the book Elementary Educator's Guide to Primary Sources: Strategies for Teaching. He is a Digital Public Library of America Community Rep, a member of the Teachers Advisory Board for the National Portrait Gallery, and a co-chair of the Education Advisory Committee of the American Archive of Public Broadcasting. Tom writes about student learning on AASL's Knowledge Quest blog and publications such as School Library Connection and American Libraries and has given workshops and spoken across the country. His foundation is built on over twenty years in public education, with six years as an elementary classroom teacher, seven years as a building and district instructional technology specialist, and over eight years in school libraries. Find him at https://tombober.com/ and on Twitter @CaptainLibrary.

MLA Citation Bober, Tom. "Using Research to Improve Student Writing." School Library Connection, November 2010, schoollibraryconnection.com/Home/Display/2230095.

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Entry ID: 2230095

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