How to Teach Informative Writing and Launch Your First Research Project

Children as young as first grade (and even kindergarten) can learn to do research as you teach informative writing. The key is to do it in a structured, organized way with lots of support.

Teach Informative Writing and Research

Learning how to research information is a valuable skill that students will need throughout their lives, beyond just writing reports for school. We live in an age where we have immediate access to a wealth of information. Teaching young children how to research will not only help them to better understand the world they live in, but is also a way they can learn how to locate information, analyze it, and apply it to solve problems.

So you want to have your students write an informative piece and do research but don’t know where to start? Let’s get to it!

children sitting at a laptop with text that reads "How to Teach Informative Writing and Launch Your First Research Project"

How to Do Research Projects as You Teach Informative Writing

Step #1: Grab Your Materials

The first thing you should always do is grab your curriculum guide, writing rubrics, and the list of standards. Always start at the end! You want to have an end goal in mind as it’s too easy to get lost in the details.

stack of curriculum binders

It’s a good idea to keep these documents saved in a folder on your computer. This way you aren’t scrambling for them every single time you need them. Another option would be to create a folder on your bookmarks bar in your web browser with links to each of them.

Step #2: Choose an Overall Topic to Research

Think about your students and their interests, as well as any themes in your reading, science, or social studies instruction. Choose a topic that will be highly engaging and tie in nicely with what you are already covering in other subject areas. This is a great way to integrate content as you teach informative writing.

If it’s February, you may choose to have your students research influential African Americans for Black History Month. Students love to learn and share information about real people that they have heard of (or haven’t heard of yet)!

If you’re teaching your unit on animals, you might have your students each research a different one. Most children are interested in learning about animals. Plus, there are so many choices and it ties in excellently with most science curriculums in some way for younger students.

informative writing animal report on zebras and ipad

Alternatively, you can have students choose their topics. But for your first research topic, I suggest keeping it a little more structured. This way you can more easily offer streamlined support through one-on-one conferences or during whole group lessons.

Step #3: Have Students Choose What to Research

Have students choose their topic [from the general overall topic you selected]. When starting a research project with students for the first time, I like to involve the students’ families. I let the parent and child decide together. Since I use Bloomz to communicate with parents, I create a signup sheet through the app where parents sign up for a topic. I include a deadline for them to make their choice, and once that deadline is reached, I pull the students aside during snack time to have them choose their topic if they still haven’t selected something yet.

screenshot of blooms showing how parents and students can sign up for informative writing topics

If you plan on doing the entire project within the classroom, there are many ways you can have them choose their topics. You can pull popsicle sticks with their names on them at random and have the kids tell you what they want to research as your record everything on a chart or SmartBoard. 

Or you can have the students write their top 3-5 choices on a piece of paper and give it to you so you can attempt to give everyone one of their top choices.

Step #4: Plan for Guiding Questions

Think about the main topic you chose and what you’d like the kids to research regarding it. If you’re doing animals- do you want them to include where they live? What they eat? If your students are new to research projects you will need to guide them a bit. 

page with guided questions

Keep in mind that you can always release this responsibility to them later as you teach informative writing during the year and show them how to generate their own questions if you like. If you’re just starting out, make a list of the questions you want them to find out.

Step #6: Put Up Some Boundaries

Choose a list of search engines and resources for your students to use. Make sure they are safe and your students will be able to find info on their topics there. You can also take your students to the school library to look for texts that relate to their topics.

child researching an animal in the library

Step #5: Show Them How It’s Done!

Explicitly model how to do research for your students. Show the kids step by step how to look up information related to the questions they need to answer, using online resources (and texts, if you like). Telling them isn’t enough- they need to see what the process looks like.

Step #7: Practice Together

Guide the students through another set of research as a class. Lead them through the process by providing support and encouraging participation. This is another chance for students to see what the research process looks like while involving them more and offering support.

teacher teaching informative writing with a small group of children

Step #8: Let them Try It

It’s finally time for students to try it on their own[ish]. If you are involving their families, send the questions home for the students to research. If you are doing the research in school, have them do it in class if you have the resources. Offers support and guidance as needed.

Step #9: Bring it All Together

Model how to use the research to write a simple report. Use the topics you modeled earlier in the project and show students exactly how they can take the information they found and put it together to create a report. You may also choose to do a shared writing activity as a class to practice together before letting them try it on their own.

The very first time you have students write research reports, you may want to consider keeping the activity very structured by providing sentence starters. Once they’ve had a chance to try it this way, you can remove the support. My Animal Research Report Project resource has two versions of reports so you can differentiate within your classroom or start with the more structured activity before releasing the responsibility of writing an entire informative writing piece.

Guided questions and report pages for zebra

When students begin writing their actual reports, provide support and guidance as you would with any writing activity in your classroom. Note any areas of weakness or struggle. Use that to plan for future whole group writing mini-lessons, small group lessons, or one-on-one conferences.

Teach Informative Writing, But Stay Focused on the Actual Research

Put your focus on one thing at a time. Writing is so challenging to teach because we tend to try to teach all the things at the same time, and it can be overwhelming for students. For a first research project make sure you are staying focused on the actual research aspect. 

Ensure that students understand how to search for information safely and how to record the information they find. Model how to determine whether a fact is necessary or not. Keep the actual writing part simple for this first time, because you can always expand on it as you teach informative writing in the next research project when the students are more comfortable!

Teach Informative Writing and Research

The key to teaching young children to research is providing bumpers- questions to guide them and preselected resources to consult. You’ll also want to make sure you model and guide them so they understand exactly what you are looking for. In the process, you’ll be learning so much! My animal research report resource has everything you need from start to finish to guide your students through their first research report as you teach informative writing.

Free Animal Research Reports

Get your students started with their first research project as you teach informative writing using these free animal reports! I’ve included ten different sea and ocean animals for students to research and learn about. 

informative writing research reports on sea animals

Click the image below to grab your free animal research reports!

informative writing animal report on jellyfish with text that reads, "Animal Research Reports, Free, Ocean and Sea"

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Melissa Glenn

I’m a teacher, a certified Reading Specialist, and the author behind "Real Life in the Classroom". I love to create classroom resources and share ideas to help real teachers in real classrooms easily plan and implement instruction that they can feel great about.

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Hi, I'm Melissa!

I’m Melissa Glenn of Real Life in the Classroom. I live in New Jersey with my husband, Tom, our two children, and our dog, Klaus. I taught first grade for 12 years and I also have a certificate in Reading Specialization. I love spending time with my family, all things tech, [online] shopping, and new books!