Real Research

What am I supposed to do? I don’t even know what to research. What is research anyway? Mrs. Krebs said I had to have my topic today by Period 5. What is a topic anyway?

Tommy had no idea what he wanted to research. Mrs. Krebs was always talking about passion. He wasn’t passionate about anything. What is passion anyway? Tommy wandered over to the sports section, hoping to get distracted from the task at hand. He reached for another football book. This one seemed new. Mrs. Stokes proudly asked him if he had seen it yet.

“No, I never saw this one before. It’s all about the greatest touchdowns in history—college and NFL. It looks great. I have to see if…”

“Is Doug Flutie’s hail Mary pass against University of Miami in there?” asked Mrs. Stokes.

“Let me look…” Tommy paged through the index and found it. “Yes, here it is. Do you remember that pass, Mrs. Stokes?” Tommy asked, a bit flabbergasted she would remember a football game from 25 years ago. He sized up the 60ish gray-haired librarian. “Cool.”

“Oh, yes, my husband and I watched it. I always like to root for the underdogs. That was a great game and Boston College was going to lose it with 5 seconds to go. I think we watched it at my mom’s house–maybe Thanksgiving? Was that when it was?”

“It was the Friday after Thanksgiving,” said Tommy, right away. “Great connect with Gerard Phelan. One of the best.”

“It looks like you know your touchdowns, Tommy!” said Mrs. Stokes. “You didn’t even have to look any of that up in the book.”

“Yeah, it’s just as well. I came in because I need to find a topic for my research. I guess I better get one before the bell rings.”

“May I help you? Did Mrs. Krebs give you any guidelines?”

“Just something about being passionate. Whatever that means.”

“How about football? It looks to me like that is a passion of yours. You read every football book I can get into the library.”

“I can research football? Really?” Tommy asked, hopefully.

Interesting that in the short piece above, I am the teacher who didn’t explain research, topic, and passion adequately to Tommy. I’m reading Nonfiction Matters right now, by Stephanie Harvey. It was published in 1998, so it’s somewhat dated, but the basics are incredible and inspiring. I will be a better teacher of nonfiction reading and writing next year as a result of this read. In addition, I will be more able to steer my students into meaningful genius hour projects. I highly recommend Nonfiction Matters.

The prompt for this entry came from the #TeachersWrite Summer Writing Camp courtesy of Margo Sorenson and Kate Messner.

Okay…ready to write? Today’s Thursday Quick-Write is courtesy of guest-author Margo Sorenson!
A student walks into the library/media center at lunchtime. What is she/he thinking? Worried about? Dreading? Hoping or wishing for? What are the risks/stakes for him/her? Show us in a paragraph or two.
Note from Kate: Some possible formats for this quick-write:
• A journal entry from that character, written later on
• A letter from that character to his or her best friend
• A letter from that character to his or her worst enemy
• A poem in the character’s voice
• A monologue in the character’s voice
• A conversation in dialogue between the character and a friend/the librarian/an enemy
For those of you in the middle of a work-in-progress, try this with your main character, or better yet, a secondary character you want to develop more fully. Imagine him or her walking into a room and feeling uncomfortable and awkward. Why? You can write this from a third person perspective, from the focus character’s point of view, or for a twist, try writing from the point of view of a disinterested observer in the room — someone who has no idea who the person is or what’s going on. What would he or she observe in terms of mannerisms and body language?
Feel free to share a paragraph from your Thursday Quick-Write in the comments later on if you’d like!

6 thoughts on “Real Research

  1. I loved how Tommy discovered his passion in this piece. Thanks for the suggestion of Nonfiction Matters. With CCS I’m looking for ways to better teach nonfiction.

    • Yes, Kay, it totally aligns with so much of the Common Core Standards! I finished the book in just a few days and took notes all over it. It would be an interesting book to revise due to all the changes in technology. However, Harvey really was all over collaboration through technology in the 90s, but now it just looks a little different. You would not be disappointed to find a copy. Thanks for visiting!


  2. Excellent name for the librarian!! I’m so glad you took up this challenge. You’re a great teacher and our kids are lucky to have you!

  3. I love that you were able to show his football passion by what the character was doing and saying. Just what I try to teach my kids and what I need to do better in my writing. Thanks for the idea about the book too. I was surprised I didn’t have that one in my “library.” It’s on my iPad Kindle now to read soon.

  4. Thanks, Sheri,
    That means a lot coming from you! I need to keep remembering to show, not tell myself.

    I will look forward to hearing what you think about Nonfiction Matters.