How I Made Research Interesting!

As the school year or semester winds down, students seem to become "antsy".  They need something that is self-directed so there's no time for them to "zone out" or cause a disruption.  This is when I like to have students work on project based learning.

This year, my 6th grade students are going to work on a research project with a twist - they will research a trip for their Pine Cone Pets!

Research doesn't have to be boring - it can be creative too!

You might know about a famous book character known as Flat Stanley that many an elementary student made a version of and sent off to a faraway relative to see what adventures Stanley could have.  Pine Cone Pets is based on the same idea although we won't actually mail off our pets!  Instead, students will research all the ins and outs of where their pet will visit and combine their information into a PowerPoint complete with budget and bibliography!

You might think this is a zany idea, but zany is exactly what middle school students love about this project!  They loved naming, dressing and making personalities for their pets.

My Procedure:

1.  At least a week ahead of time I surveyed my students and asked them to name one place that they had never visited, but would like to visit in the future.  I also gathered pine cones and glued on googly eyes.
2.  I gathered many travel guides to these places at my local library like Fodor’s Guides, Frommer’s Guides and more.  (we are not 1:1 and getting the computer carts was limited due to testing.)
3.  On Monday, I refreshed their memories of Flat Stanley with a small read-aloud of just the part about when Stanley went on a trip to introduce the Pine Cone Pets.  I explained that groups of students will plan a trip for their new pets.  Then after the students read the project requirements to themselves, I provided an explanation of how they would be graded with the rubric and my fair grading systemNext, students formed groups of no more than 3.  The groups chose a destination out of a “hat” (based on my previous survey).  Then I allowed them to just explore the books and name their pets.
4.  On Tuesday, we went over the due dates which are the steps of the research process These steps are great for chunking for your students with an IEP or 504 plan!  Then I taught a mini-lesson on note-taking and citing sources in a bibliography.  Afterward, students had time to research & take notes.

Note-Taking Mini-Lesson on Biteable.

5.  On Wednesday, students continued to research and take notes.
6.  On Thursday and Friday, we used the computer to begin to assemble the digital products.  
7.  The following week we had another day or so with the computers to put it all together and then it was time to practice presentations.
8.  Finally, students presented.  I graded the entire group using the rubric.

9.  Students reflected and determined points awarded to each group member.

Pine Cone Pets - Research with a Twist!

 The students loved this because they could unleash their creativity not just with their pets, but also with their trip plans.  They really enjoyed investigating new places that now they could talk to their parents about visiting.  Best of all, they were very engaged and learning at the same time!  

If you'd like the complete lesson with all the project directions, rubric, due dates, links to other resources and more, then you might want to take a look at this:

Click here on the image to learn more!

It will be 28% off with code: thankyou17 during the Teachers Pay Teachers sitewide sale for Teacher Appreciation Week on Tuesday, May 9, 2017 and Wednesday, May 10, 2017!

You could also take your chances at winning a $10 Teachers Pay Teachers gift card!

All you have to do to enter is comment below with your e-mail address and respond to this post or tell me what you do for research projects in your class!  

I'll pick one lucky winner on May 9, 2017 - Tuesday - by 9pm EST!  That will still leave the winner the rest of Tuesday and all of Wednesday to shop, shop, shop!  :)

Good luck and thanks for stopping by!


  1. Thanks for sharing this post! I like to teach my 6th graders how to start researching using a tool called "A Google a Day"

    1. "A Google A Day" sounds interesting! It sure would keep kids from overusing the internet! :)

  2. We use YouTube a lot ๐Ÿ˜‰

    1. YouTube is a great resource! Students just need to be reminded that it's just one of many! :)

  3. Love the idea of the pine cone pets. My students are a smidge older, but I know they would still get a kick out of this. Usually, we do our research project right at the start of grade 9 before teaching To Kill A Mockingbird.

    1. I find that the stranger the idea, the better the students like it! :)

  4. For Spanish I, my students sign up and research a Spanish Speaking country (I have 1 class that there are no repeats in assigned countries, but the other classes have some of them researching 1 country to every 2 students, so I break up bigger areas, such as Mexico. This way, it still feels like the area to be researched is all their own). I follow a similar schedule as you, and yes, it is very difficult to get access to the computer carts around this time of year!! Some additional activities I have them do is create a shared Pinterest board with me and the others who share their country in other classes so that they can brainstorm and share ideas and cool finds. It also allows me to see if they all are contributing to the gathering of ideas, and it allows me to add ideas, if necessary. Then, I give them a set budget and from the available funds, they have to create a sample 5-day itinerary for their trip to that country, complete with costs of airfare to potential souvenirs. It is so much fun for them to see how different each individual trip would be based on the miney they have to spend!

    Thank you so much for sharing your ideas and for this giveaway opportunity! It will definitely help with my overstuffed cart!!! :-)

    1. I love the idea of making a Pinterest board as part of the project! I may have to add that in...:)

    2. It is fun because many of them don't use Pinterest, and it opens their eyes to new ways of finding and saving their research. Plus, if they ever need to access the info, they just go to their board, click on the link and it brings them right to the site. No worrying about losing their notes with the info written down. :-)

  5. The students at my school are fairly multi-cultural so I like to do a heritage research project so they can learn about where their ancestors are from. The first step is to interview there parents/grandparents!

    1. This is so great because some kids don't know a lot about their heritage. I like when they are able to share different traditions/celebrations of their culture because it teaches the others in the class about the world. So much fun, Annie G!

  6. Pine cone pets! What a cute idea! Definitely pinning this to remember for next year.


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