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Common Core Standards: ELA See All Teacher Resources

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing

Writing CCRA.W.7

7. Research to Build and Present Knowledge: Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

It’s your students’ worst nightmare: You reserve the school library, tell them to pick up a 100-count pack of index cards, and give them a list of possible topics. That’s right, it’s research paper time!

When it comes to research, it all starts with a question. There are two types of questions: super easy and rather difficult. The super easy research question is the stuff your students can answer using Google or a relatively knowledgeable friend. (For example, tell them to ask their smartest friend what the capital of Paraguay is. Either he’ll know, or he’ll take a quick Google break and come back with the answer: Asunción. Then they can make him mad by saying, “Well, of course everyone knows that!”)

The rather difficult research question doesn’t have quite such a simple answer. Research topic questions can run the gamut from: “Should America be focusing on finding renewable energy sources or new oil resources?” to “Why are Americans so interested in watching overly-tanned drama queens slap each other on reality television?” Your students will notice that both of those questions could have any number of possible answers—unlike the question about Paraguay. So in order to do effective research, they will need to start with a question that does not have a specific answer.

However, they also don’t want a question with too many answers. If they were to embark on a research project that asked the question “What is the meaning of life?” they would never get the project done on time (and they’d have to buy an infinite number of index cards for notes) because there are far too many possible ways of answering the question. So it’s important to have a “focused” question, meaning a question that is open to more than one interpretation, but is only concerned about a relatively small topic. So questions on the nature of life and death are out. But questions about the popularity of people named Snooki and what this says about American culture are in!

The point of research is to show your reader that you understand the topic, and can come up with interesting claims and ideas based on it. If research were all about coming up with random facts and throwing them together in an essay, then no one would groan when research projects were announced. It’s very easy to find facts and statistics without getting what they mean—and then putting them together in a random way without really understanding their significance. Like this:

68% of 18-29 year olds like or love reality television (source). There are on average 1.1 bleeped words on reality television shows per hour of programming (source). Four out of five Americans think there are too many reality tv shows (source).

While all those facts may be true, the research presented does nothing to show a deeper understanding of the reality entertainment phenomenon or the possible links between these various statistics. In order to show that they understand the facts they have unearthed, your students must interpret them. Like so:

While 80% of Americans think there are too many reality TV shows (source), this percentage probably does not include a lot of 18-29 year olds because they are clearly enjoying the reality TV phenomenon. In fact, a recent study shows that 68% of them like or love reality television (source). This might be because young people are generally less conservative, and are less likely to be offended (and more likely to be entertained) by watching people use words that need to be bleeped on TV – and reality TV shows are certainly full of those! There are on average 1.1 bleeped words on reality television shows per hour of programming (source).

So in order to create a great research project, your students will need to start with a focused but open-ended question and then find out information about the topic of their question. Once they’ve gotten that information, they need to decide what the facts mean and come up with an answer to their original question. Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy.

Example 1

The following is an excerpt from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll:

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, ‘and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice ‘without pictures or conversation?’

So she was considering in her own mind (as well as she could, for the hot day made her feel very sleepy and stupid), whether the pleasure of making a daisy-chain would be worth the trouble of getting up and picking the daisies, when suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her.

There was nothing so very remarkable in that; nor did Alice think it so very much out of the way to hear the Rabbit say to itself, ‘Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be late!’ (when she thought it over afterwards, it occurred to her that she ought to have wondered at this, but at the time it all seemed quite natural); but when the Rabbit actually took a watch out of its waistcoat-pocket, and looked at it, and then hurried on, Alice started to her feet, for it flashed across her mind that she had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it, and burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it, and fortunately was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge.

In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.

1. What is Alice’s focused research question?
She is very curious to see why a little white rabbit with pink eyes might have a waistcoat-pocket or a watch to take out of it. The research she is doing on this rabbit is focused in that she is not concerning herself with other rabbits and whether or not they have clothing and accessories. She is following a single rabbit in order to learn more about it, rather than attempting to learn about all rabbits at once—as that would take far too much time.

2. How does Alice show a further understanding of her subject?
Although at the time Alice does not see anything particularly strange about the White Rabbit talking to himself about his tardiness, she is able to realize later, after some further research and contemplation, that it is rather unusual for a rabbit to be talking at all. She has a clearer view of what is natural and unnatural for rabbits after taking the time to follow (and research) this particular and extraordinary rabbit.

Example 2

The following is an excerpt from Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

‘Now, if you'll only attend, Kitty, and not talk so much, I'll tell you all my ideas about Looking-glass House. First, there's the room you can see through the glass — that's just the same as our drawing room, only the things go the other way. I can see all of it when I get upon a chair — all but the bit behind the fireplace. Oh! I do so wish I could see that bit! I want so much to know whether they've a fire in the winter: you never can tell, you know, unless our fire smokes, and then smoke comes up in that room too — but that may be only pretence, just to make it look as if they had a fire. Well then, the books are something like our books, only the words go the wrong way; I know that, because I've held up one of our books to the glass, and then they hold up one in the other room.

‘How would you like to live in Looking-glass House, Kitty? I wonder if they'd give you milk in there? Perhaps Looking-glass milk isn't good to drink — But oh, Kitty! now we come to the passage. You can just see a little peep of the passage in Looking-glass House, if you leave the door of our drawing-room wide open: and it's very like our passage as far as you can see, only you know it may be quite different on beyond. Oh, Kitty! how nice it would be if we could only get through into Looking-glass House! I'm sure it's got, oh! such beautiful things in it! Let's pretend there's a way of getting through into it, somehow, Kitty. Let's pretend the glass has got all soft like gauze, so that we can get through. Why, it's turning into a sort of mist now, I declare! It'll be easy enough to get through — ' She was up on the chimney-piece while she said this, though she hardly knew how she had got there. And certainly the glass was beginning to melt away, just like a bright silvery mist.

In another moment Alice was through the glass, and had jumped lightly down into the Looking-glass room. The very first thing she did was to look whether there was a fire in the fireplace, and she was quite pleased to find that there was a real one, blazing away as brightly as the one she had left behind. 'So I shall be as warm here as I was in the old room,' thought Alice: 'warmer, in fact, because there'll be no one here to scold me away from the fire. Oh, what fun it'll be, when they see me through the glass in here, and can't get at me!'

Then she began looking about, and noticed that what could be seen from the old room was quite common and uninteresting, but that all the rest was a different as possible. For instance, the pictures on the wall next the fire seemed to be all alive, and the very clock on the chimney-piece (you know you can only see the back of it in the Looking-glass) had got the face of a little old man, and grinned at her.

1. What is Alice’s focused research question?

2. Prior to the research of actually going through the looking glass, what smaller research questions has Alice asked and answered about the Looking-glass house?

3. How does Alice demonstrate her understanding of the subject of the Looking-glass house?

Possible Answers:

1. What is it like in the Looking-glass house?
2. She asks if they have a fire in the fireplace in the Looking-glass world, and surmises that either they do because she can sometimes see smoke, or they might only be trying to fool her by creating smoke to make it look like they have a fire. She also asks if the books in the looking-glass world are anything like the books she reads at home. By holding up one of her books to the mirror, she decided that their books are similar, but backwards.
3. Alice is able to easily see the differences in the house she lives in and the looking-glass house she is visiting.

Quiz Questions

Here's an example of a quiz that could be used to test this standard.

  1. Read “The Story of The Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was” by the Brothers Grimm, and then answer the questions that follow:

    What is the young man’s focused question for research?

    Correct Answer:

    What does it feel like to shudder?

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is D. The young man is on a quest to feel fear (that is, shudder). He is so focused on the fact that he has never shuddered that he doesn’t wonder about why his father has no respect for him or why everyone seems to think he is an idiot. He believes that learning to shudder will help him make his way in the world—which turns out to be true. So he is not asking how to make a living because he has an “occupation” with his research question about shuddering. And though he does end up marrying the princess and becoming rich, that is an accident of his main research question and not something that he is focused on ahead of time.

  2. Which of the following is NOT one of the ways that the young man tried to answer his focused research question?

    Correct Answer:

    He let himself be buried alive.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is B. The young man was willing to try anything to learn how to shudder, but he never was put in the position to be buried alive.

  3. What assumption does the young man make about the ability to shudder before he embarks on his research?

    Correct Answer:

    He thinks that shuddering, like other skills he has not been able to learn, would help him earn a living.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is A. The youth has never been able to learn any skill, so he thinks that the ability to shudder is another valuable skill that he does not possess. Though he realizes that he has trouble learning, he does not think of himself as too stupid to learn, although his father and brother do. He does not recognize that his lack of fear does make him braver (and in many cases better) than others. He does not believe that his father is withholding the information on how to shudder on purpose, so he does not regard his dad as mean. And while many other people thought that the young man would be a burden on his father, the young man himself did not believe so.

  4. How do we know that the young man still does not understand the subject of how to shudder by the end of the story?

    Correct Answer:

    Because the only time he shudders, it’s because of a physical sensation rather than because of feeling fear.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is C. Even though the young man has been through more frightening experiences than most people have in a lifetime, none of them have made him shudder. When he finally does feel that sensation, it is because of the physical stimulus of cold water and fish swimming over him—he still clearly does not know what it feels like to shudder from fear.

  5. What assumption does the boy make during his research that makes it difficult for him to learn the answer to his question?

    Correct Answer:

    He thinks that all the people and creatures he encounters are either alive or perfectly normal.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is C. The boy is never afraid because he takes everything he sees as perfectly normal and assumes that the ghosts and demons he meets are just regular people. He has no idea what other people and creatures are thinking about him, and he does not spend his time laughing at all of the strange things that happen. Though he fears he’s too stupid to learn how to shudder, he does not worry about having a learning disability. And though he does believe that learning how to shudder will help him earn his living, it does not get in the way of his research.

  6. The following excerpt is from the “The Adventures of Theseus” as told by James Baldwin in Old Greek Stories:

    The Adventures of Theseus

    I. Aegeus and Aethra

    There was once a king of Athens whose name was Aegeus. He had no son; but he had fifty nephews, and they were waiting for him to die, so that one of them might be king in his stead. They were wild, worthless fellows, and the people of Athens looked forward with dread to the day when the city should be in their power. Yet so long as Aegeus lived they could not do much harm, but were content to spend their time in eating and drinking at the king’s table and in quarreling among themselves.

    It so happened one summer that Aegeus left his kingdom in the care of the elders of the city and went on a voyage across the Saronic Sea to the old and famous city of Troezen, which lay nestled at the foot of the mountains on the opposite shore. Troezen was not fifty miles by water from Athens, and the purple-peaked island of Aegina lay between them; but to the people of that early time the distance seemed very great, and it was not often that ships passed from one place to the other. And as for going by land round the great bend of the sea, that was a thing so fraught with danger that no man had ever dared try it.

    King Pittheus of Troezen was right glad to see Aegeus, for they had been boys together, and he welcomed him to his city and did all that he could to make his visit a pleasant one. So, day after day, there was feasting and merriment and music in the marble halls of old Troezen, and the two kings spent many a happy hour in talking of the deeds of their youth and of the mighty heroes whom both had known. And when the time came for the ship to sail back to Athens, Aegeus was not ready to go. He said he would stay yet a little longer in Troezen, for that the elders of the city would manage things well at home; and so the ship returned without him.

    But Aegeus tarried, not so much for the rest and enjoyment which he was having in the home of his old friend, as for the sake of Aethra, his old friend’s daughter. For Aethra was as fair as a summer morning, and she was the joy and pride of Troezen; and Aegeus was never so happy as when in her presence. So it happened that some time after the ship had sailed, there was a wedding in the halls of King Pittheus; but it was kept a secret, for Aegeus feared that his nephews, if they heard of it, would be very angry and would send men to Troezen to do him harm.

    Month after month passed by, and still Aegeus lingered with his bride and trusted his elders to see to the affairs of Athens. Then one morning, when the gardens of Troezen were full of roses and the heather was green on the hills, a babe was born to Aethra–a boy with a fair face and strong arms and eyes as sharp and as bright as the mountain eagle’s. And now Aegeus was more loth to return home than he had been before, and he went up on the mountain which overlooks Troezen, and prayed to Athena, the queen of the air, to give him wisdom and show him what to do. Even while he prayed there came a ship into the harbor, bringing a letter to Aegeus and alarming news from Athens.

    “Come home without delay"–these were words of the letter which the elders had sent–"come home quickly, or Athens will be lost. A great king from beyond the sea, Minos of Crete, is on the way with ships and a host of fighting men; and he declares that he will carry sword and fire within our walls, and will slay our young men and make our children his slaves. Come and save us!”

    “It is the call of duty,” said Aegeus; and with a heavy heart he made ready to go at once across the sea to the help of his people. But he could not take Aethra and her babe, for fear of his lawless nephews, who would have slain them both.

    “Best of wives,” he said, when the hour for parting had come, “listen to me, for I shall never see your father’s halls, nor dear old Troezen, nor perhaps your own fair face, again. Do you remember the old plane tree which stands on the mountain side, and the great flat stone which lies a little way beyond it, and which no man but myself has ever been able to lift? Under that stone, I have hidden my sword and the sandals which I brought from Athens. There they shall lie until our child is strong enough to lift the stone and take them for his own. Care for him, Aethra, until that time; and then, and not till then, you may tell him of his father, and bid him seek me in Athens.”

    Then Aegeus kissed his wife and the babe, and went on board the ship; the sailors shouted; the oars were dipped into the waves; the white sail was spread to the breeze; and Aethra from her palace window saw the vessel speed away over the blue waters towards Aegina and the distant Attic shore.

    II. Sword and Sandals

    Year after year went by, and yet no word reached Aethra from her husband on the other side of the sea. Often and often she would climb the mountain above Troezen, and sit there all day, looking out over the blue waters and the purple hills of AEgina to the dim, distant shore beyond. Now and then she could see a white-winged ship sailing in the offing; but men said that it was a Cretan vessel, and very likely was filled with fierce Cretan warriors, bound upon some cruel errand of war. Then it was rumored that King Minos had seized upon all the ships of Athens, and had burned a part of the city, and had forced the people to pay him a most grievous tribute. But further than this there was no news.

    In the meanwhile AEthra’s babe had grown to be a tall, ruddy-cheeked lad, strong as a mountain lion; and she had named him Theseus. On the day that he was fifteen years old he went with her up to the top of the mountain, and with her looked out over the sea.

    “Ah, if only your father would come!” she sighed.

    “My father?” said Theseus. “Who is my father, and why are you always watching and waiting and wishing that he would come? Tell me about him.”

    And she answered: “My child, do you see the great flat stone which lies there, half buried in the ground, and covered with moss and trailing ivy? Do you think you can lift it?”

    “I will try, mother,” said Theseus. And he dug his fingers into the ground beside it, and grasped its uneven edges, and tugged and lifted and strained until his breath came hard and his arms ached and his body was covered with sweat; but the stone was moved not at all. At last he said, “The task is too hard for me until I have grown stronger. But why do you wish me to lift it?”

    “When you are strong enough to lift it,” answered AEthra, “I will tell you about your father.”

    After that the boy went out every day and practiced at running and leaping and throwing and lifting; and every day he rolled some stone out of its place. At first he could move only a little weight, and those who saw him laughed as he pulled and puffed and grew red in the face, but never gave up until he had lifted it. And little by little he grew stronger, and his muscles became like iron bands, and his limbs were like mighty levers for strength. Then on his next birthday he went up on the mountain with his mother, and again tried to lift the great stone. But it remained fast in its place and was not moved.

    “I am not yet strong enough, mother,” he said.

    “Have patience, my son,” said AEthra.

    So he went on again with his running and leaping and throwing and lifting; and he practiced wrestling, also, and tamed the wild horses of the plain, and hunted the lions among the mountains; and his strength and swiftness and skill were the wonder of all men, and old Troezen was filled with tales of the deeds of the boy Theseus. Yet when he tried again on his seventeenth birthday, he could not move the great flat stone that lay near the plane tree on the mountainside.

    “Have patience, my son,” again said Aethra; but this time the tears were standing in her eyes.

    So he went back again to his exercising; and he learned to wield the sword and the battle ax and to throw tremendous weights and to carry tremendous burdens. And men said that since the days of Hercules there was never so great strength in one body. Then, when he was a year older, he climbed the mountain yet another time with his mother, and he stooped and took hold of the stone, and it yielded to his touch; and, lo, when he had lifted it quite out of the ground, he found underneath it a sword of bronze and sandals of gold, and these he gave to his mother.

    “Tell me now about my father,” he said.

    Aethra knew that the time had come for which she had waited so long, and she buckled the sword to his belt and fastened the sandals upon his feet. Then she told him who his father was, and why he had left them in Troezen, and how he had said that when the lad was strong enough to lift the great stone, he must take the sword and sandals and go and seek him in Athens.

    Theseus was glad when he heard this, and his proud eyes flashed with eagerness as he said: “I am ready, mother; and I will set out for Athens this very day.”

    Then they walked down the mountain together and told King Pittheus what had happened, and showed him the sword and the sandals. But the old man shook his head sadly and tried to dissuade Theseus from going.

    “How can you go to Athens in these lawless times?” he said. “The sea is full of pirates. In fact, no ship from Troezen has sailed across the Saronic Sea since your kingly father went home to the help of his people, eighteen years ago.”

    Then, finding that this only made Theseus the more determined, he said: “But if you must go, I will have a new ship built for you, stanch and stout and fast sailing; and fifty of the bravest young men in Troezen shall go with you; and mayhap with fair winds and fearless hearts you shall escape the pirates and reach Athens in safety.”

    “Which is the most perilous way?” asked Theseus–"to go by ship or to make the journey on foot round the great bend of land?”

    “The seaway is full enough of perils,” said his grandfather, “but the landway is beset with dangers tenfold greater. Even if there were good roads and no hindrances, the journey round the shore is a long one and would require many days. But there are rugged mountains to climb, and wide marshes to cross, and dark forests to go through. There is hardly a footpath in all that wild region, nor any place to find rest or shelter; and the woods are full of wild beasts, and dreadful dragons lurk in the marshes, and many cruel robber giants dwell in the mountains.”

    “Well,” said Theseus, “if there are more perils by land than by sea, then I shall go by land, and I go at once.”

    “But you will at least take fifty young men, your companions, with you?" said King Pittheus.

    “Not one shall go with me,” said Theseus; and he stood up and played with his sword hilt, and laughed at the thought of fear.

    Then when there was nothing more to say, he kissed his mother and bade his grandfather good-by, and went out of Troezen towards the trackless coastland which lay to the west and north. And with blessings and tears the king and Aethra followed him to the city gates, and watched him until his tall form was lost to sight among the trees which bordered the shore of the sea.

    What is Theseus’s focused research question?

    Correct Answer:

    Who is my father?

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is E. Theseus begins his research project (that is, quest) because he wants to know his father. He does not know who he is or what he is like. While he is curious about what has happened to Athens, wants to know the most dangerous way to get to his father’s kingdom, and works to become strong enough to lift the rock, those are not his main concerns. They are secondary to his question about his father. Also, he does not seem to know about his 50 evil cousins, so they are not a part of his research question.

  7. What proof is there that Theseus now seems to understand what his father is like?

    Correct Answer:

    Theseus bravely insists on taking the most dangerous route by himself to Athens.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is C. Theseus wants his journey to be dangerous because he believes that his father is a brave man and would respect him for showing bravery, which is true. While the sword and sandals do seem to fit Theseus, that is not proof of the boy understanding his father. Also, though Aethra told Theseus about his father—which is part of the reason why he now understands him—this does not prove his understanding. He is eager to go to Athens, and will not listen to his grandfather when he tries to talk him out of it. And working hard to become strong was part of Aegeus’s plan for Theseus. Though this is part of the reason why Theseus now understands his father, it does not prove that understanding.

  8. Read the story “The Elves and the Shoemaker” by the Brothers Grimm, and then answer the questions that follow:

    What is the focused research question the shoemaker and his wife try to answer?

    Correct Answer:

    Who is making the shoes overnight?

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is A. The shoemaker and his wife want to know who is being so helpful to them. He is placing the leather out himself, so he knows where it is coming from. He doesn’t want to look a gift commission in the mouth, so he’s unlikely to wonder why the customers are willing to double their prices. Though he is trying to continue working without being able to see well, he is not trying to answer that particular question. And the shoemaker and his wife believe that they know why the elves wear rags—because they don’t have nice clothes.

  9. What incorrect assumption does the shoemaker’s wife make about the elves?

    Correct Answer:

    That they would work harder if they weren’t cold.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is D. The shoemaker’s wife thought having the new jackets would mean that the elves would make two pairs of shoes at night instead of one. Instead, they are so happy to be warm that they don’t want to work at all. She knows her husband is not making it up and she is correct that the elves are helpful and good at shoemaking.

  10. What kind of research do the shoemaker and his wife conduct?

    Correct Answer:

    They hide in the shop and wait for the helper to show up.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is B. Their only research is to wait and watch for their helpers. They do not mention it to anyone else or read books about their helpers. And even though they do make miniature clothes and leave out shoemaking materials, that is not part of the research they conduct to answer their focused question.

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