Lesson 2 Choosing a Topic
Lesson 2: Choosing a Topic and Forming a Research Question
In today’s lesson, you will introduce a few search engines that may help students choose and narrow down a topic. These search engines may be especially helpful when students are researching unfamiliar topics. The Tech Tools featured in this lesson are discussed in more detail below.
KartOO ( is a very unique search tool; it provides a conceptual map that shows the connections between the various search results and specificallyrelated terms. In the left-hand sidebar, you can find your search term broken down into smaller topics. If you click a topic, it displays a new concept map for that topic. Language can easily be changed by clicking one of the flags in the lower left corner—a nice feature for ESL students and teachers.
Clusty ( is also a unique search tool; it organizes its findings into clusters of similar results and lists them in the left-hand sidebar. When you click one of these clusters,you see only the results that pertain to that specific topic. Clicking a plus sign next to a topic narrows down your search even further. Sometimes a topic can be broken down several times.
Ask.com ( formerly AskJeeves.com, offers search suggestions as you type in your search term. This may help students narrow the focus of a search or find relevant keywords. Ask.com also allows you to conduct a search by asking a question rather than just by entering a search term. It is able to find the keywords in the question and then conduct the search. For example, a student could type either of the following into the search engine: “How were the Egyptian pyramids constructed?” or “construction and Egyptian pyramids.” This option could be helpful for students who have difficulty locating keywords in their research question.
Objectives for Lesson 2: Students will be able to use a concept map or technology tool to narrow down a topic.Students will be able to write a research question on a given topic and locate keywords within that topic.
Introducing the lesson
•Review Lesson 1 by asking: What is research? What are the steps in the research process? What technology tools can help you with research?
•As a class, brainstorm a list of possible subjects that students might like to learn more about.
Presenting the lesson
Use the information provided in the slides to explain how to narrow down a topic and form a research question. The more students practice the process of selecting a subject, narrowing it, and then creating a possible research question, the more confident and successful they will be when they need to do it independently. Listed below are some possible ways to extend the discussion.
•Use a concept map to narrow a topic. As a class, using the list you brainstormed in the introduction, select one subject and create a concept map to show topics within that subject. Discuss whether each topic is well focused. Is it still too broad to research successfully? Is it too narrow to find enough to say about it? Narrow one topic until you have a topic focused enough for research.
•Use the search engines mentioned in the lesson to narrow the same subject you used to create the concept map and then compare the class’s results.
•Use your class concept map to form a research question that asks exactly what you want to find out about your narrow topic. Then locate the keywords within that question. Discuss synonyms you might use as substitutes for those keywords and as new options in your search query.
Talk About It
Help students understand that the research question given as an example (“What should schools do to help students make good decisions about nutrition?”) is too broad. It isn’t specific enough to focus the research. Show students possibilities for narrowing the question. Possibilities include:
•Should principals allow vending machines in schools?
•What should middle school students know about the food guide pyramid?
•How does the nutritional value of school lunches affect student obesity?
Decide whether you want students to complete the activity in class or outside of class. The directions in the presentation require students to use the Internet to complete the activity. If your students will not have Internet access, you might alter the directions by asking students to identify one of the topics they are interested in and create a research question based on that topic.
If students need additional support in the activity, you could show them the second Your Turn slide, which gives a frame for each answer, or the Possible Responses slide, which shows complete suggested answers.
Following up on the lesson
•Ask students to write down two things that they learned from today’s lesson.
•Have students independently select a subject, brainstorm possible topics, select one topic, and form a research question.
Following this lesson, students will narrow a topic and form a research question for a whole-group, small-group, or individual research project. If students are working independently or in small groups, conduct student conferences to make sure they are selecting appropriate topics that are not too broad or too narrow to be successful.
Offer students time to exploreindependently the search tools introduced in the lesson. Ask students to compare the tools and explain which one they prefer to use and why.
If students are having difficulty brainstorming subjects, provide them with high-interest materials such as magazines. Guide students in choosing a familiar topic from the materials. Research will be easier if students have some background knowledge about their topics. Allow students to work with partners to practice using a concept map to narrow down their topics.
Some of the Web sites discussed in this lesson may require a student to register or create an account in order to use the featured online tools. Please remind students never to give personal information on a site without a parent’s or guardian’s permission.Also, Web sites can change frequently, both in content and functionality. Before sending students to a suggested Web site, you may want to preview the site and confirm the provided instruction still aligns with the content and navigational features of the site.
Original content Copyright © by Holt, Rinehart and Winston. Additions and changes to the original content are the responsibility of the instructor.
Writing and Research in a Digital Age1Level One Teacher’s Notes