Helping Students with Research

by Celeste M. Scholz
Middle School Teacher


We’re all familiar with the importance of learning the proverbial three Rs: reading, writing and arithmetic. Since the information explosion, however, educators have talked about a new R -- RESEARCH. We know that today’s students don’t have time to “learn” everything, but to prepare themselves for the information-rich environment of the 21st century, they must know how to find the information they need and present it to others. Initially these research skills are practiced simply, but become more complex as students mature. As a parent I recall, the skills required for research projects rapidly increased in 4th and 5th grade, and completing all the details on time proved frustrating for my daughter. Although research remained somewhat challenging for her in the Middle School years, these travails paid off when she smoothly and successfully completed her I-search project in Grade 9 and IB extended essay in Grades 11 and 12.

Part of the research struggles some students face in the upper elementary, middle school and early high school years revolve around understanding the complexity of the task regarding the details involved and keeping the end product in sight. Eisenberg and Berkowitz have suggested the Big 6, which is a format that helps students in this process, no matter what the teacher’s specific requirements are. By answering the first five of the six steps before the student begins, and referring back to the answers as often as necessary, the student can keep the research process in focus.

The first five steps of the Big 6 are:

  1. Task definition: What do I have to do? What questions do I have? 
  2. Information-seeking StrategiesWhat resources can I use to find the information that I need? Which resources might be best?
  3. Location and Access: Where can I find the resources? How will I find the information I need within the resource?

  1. Using Information: How will I record the information I find? •How will I give credit to each source in my product?
  2. Synthesis: How will I show my results? How will I give credit to all my sources in my final product?

The important last Big 6 step is answered after the research project is complete and BEFORE it is handed in to the teacher.

  1. Evaluation (self):
•Is this my best work?

•Would I feel proud for anyone to see and read this product?

•Is my product complete according to the teacher’s guidelines or grading rubric?

•Did I use my own words?

•Did I give credit to my sources, written in standard format?


As you can see, the Big 6 is really not terribly earth shaking. Yet it is powerful in that the Big 6 can be applied to any project requiring the student to seek information. The format forces students to think about which resources might be best, the Internet or the encyclopedia. (#2)It requires students to organize a method for note taking and recording the source of the notes. (#4). Students are reminded that they must paraphrase or put ideas into their own words and give credit to ideas that are not their own. (#4, #6) Finally, students remember that the teacher’s evaluation rubric should be consulted, so all the important parts of the project are completed and submitted. (#6)


    If you would like to find out more about the Big 6™, I encourage you to visit the website at the targeted audience is primarily teachers of elementary, middle and high school students, the information is interesting and accessible to parents. Many students find a deep satisfaction doing research that interests them. Developing strong research skills in students of all ages will prepare them for success in the 21st century.


Big6™" is copyright © (1987) Michael B. Eisenberg and Robert E. Berkowitz. 


This information was included in C. M. Scholz’s presentation,“Strategies for developing information research skills” at the TESOL Conference in Salt Lake City, April 12, 2002.

Celeste M. Scholz
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