Teacher Feature: Erin Banas’ Truman Research

banasQuestion #1:  Please describe your Truman project.

Students are required to take a position in the prompt, “Was President Harry S. Truman justified in using the atomic bomb to end WWII against Japan?”  A three-point thesis statement is required, which lends itself to a five paragraph essay.  Students are also required to correctly cite their sources parenthetically within the body of their paper, as well as compose an annotated bibliography.  The annotated bibliography requires that students not only summarize their sources, but also they must connect the resources to how it enhanced their paper’s arguments and the quality/authority of the source.

Question #2:  Why do you prefer this prompt over others?

In the several years of utilizing this prompt, I feel that is sparks the interest of both male and female students.  Additionally, this prompt allows students to examine the topic from several different discipline areas (political, military, scientific, etc.).

Question #3:  You have used Google Sites with many resources preselected, do you feel as if you have completely eliminated the need for students to locate and access sources and why do you prefer this method?

Not at all.  By providing students with some preselected resources, I believe it makes the students comfortable at first with getting their feet wet with scholarly resources.  It also helps to keep the students from becoming frustrated and throwing in the towel on the project.  Students are also provided links to the research databases in which they can locate their own resources.  That is ultimately my main goal in making the students independent in conducting research using scholarly resources.

Question #4:  What are the research skills that you hope to focus upon and strengthen during this assignment?

Finding scholarly resources to base their evidentiary support.  Today, technology is a blessing regarding academic pursuits in that it provides students with a plethora of information.  However, not all information on the internet is accurate.  Although it may take a bit of extra time to learn how to navigate library and academic databases, students often find that once they use such resources research becomes a lot easier.

Question #5:  With each student being given the same prompt, do you feel that students ever have trouble offering unique viewpoints?

Not really.  Again this prompt allows students to examine the topic from several different disciplines.  

Question #6:  What is your favorite part of this project?

Witnessing their confidence in knowing they can complete such a rigorous research paper.  On the day I first assign this project I always hear groans from the students and comments such as, “I can’t do this so just fail me now.”  The way in which the research paper is scaffold over the time period of a month, researching and writing the paper is not so overwhelming for the students.  I hope they carry this confidence with them senior year when they complete their graduation project research paper and throughout their freshman year in college.

Question #7:  What is your students’ favorite part of this project?

Students like the research portion to determine which argument is more compelling to them.  Students also appreciate the level of preparedness that this unit gives them to succeed in completing larger research papers.

Shared Google Doc: Editing Marks

If you find that you are asked often by students to provide feedback on their writing (being asked to help edit) and they share them with you via a Google Docs, it can be hard to offer consistent feedback.  You may find yourself forgetting to focus upon one area of their writing because you have spent more time commenting within a different area of their paper.

…you may find that you are re-writing their work versus directing them towards suggestions to improve their work on their own and learn to become a better writer.

…you also may find that you are spending A LOT of time during this process with them.

Each can be a serious problem.

Our school recently received really useful training by one of our English teachers, Carole Lee Deemer, where she directed us towards creating shortcut codes and comment banks.

  • Shortcut codes allow you to type in a sequence of letters and upon hitting the enter key, a pre-determined statement that you have plugged into preferences comes up in its place.  This is what happens when you type in 1/2 and word processing software formats it for you or (c) becomes converted into the copyright sign (only with these, you are creating your own shortcut commands). To create a shortcut code for yourself (to add to the preset ones), go to Tools within the Google Doc and you select Preferences.  You will see the list of preset shortcuts come up, however this is where you can also add your own!  Just type in your code and then, in the next cell, type in what you want it to say.  When you type the code and hit enter, it will convert your code into lengthier text for you, adding it to the paper!
  • A comment bank is a list that you create of common comments that you use with students that you copy and paste into student work using comments to the students to make editing easier.  The copy and paste of the comment saves time over re-writing the comment over and over and over again every time you edit.  I like it because you can really consider the best ways to word your comments.  It is here where I often fail to guide the students versus re-writing for them.  If the comments are designed to guide, this can help you serve that role as a person who guides the student to learn.

After our training, a few teachers collaborated to create codes (at times we threw out common editing marks at times in favor of a short and easy keystroke for quick editing).  We also created comment banks and organized them into categories that could be used at varied points to provide guidance.  We have them here in this shared Google Doc (which will be updated, as needed).

Combining these strategies with suggesting, editing, and commenting features helps it to become much easier and quicker to edit.

Brainstorming your Thesis Statement


photo from Wikimedia Commons:  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Find_your_voice._express_yourself._creative_writing..jpg

Why are thesis statements so difficult for students?

Why are they so hard to teach?

Is it a matter of development to craft a good thesis statement?

Throughout the years, I have gathered and created more resources on thesis statement than for any other research skill.  To write one sentence which is so full, yet so concise is the goal.  As an adult, I can pretty much throw a thesis sentence down on paper, edit a bit, and walk away relatively happy.  For our 13-19 year old students that we teach, how can we expect them to have vocabulary skills along with the organizational skills to categorize all of their topics into one big envelope?  We have to help them and it is quite ironic that we need to offer an abundance of instructional support to yield a simple sentence.  …but we do.

To start, there is the conceptual piece.  Should students receive a really good foundation in the concepts of the role of the thesis statement and its inter-relatedness to the outline and body of the paper or do they get these concepts easily and it is just a matter of writing a really good one?

If they are struggling with the writing, will more examples and models help or are workshop methods more effective?

These are the questions that we ask.  Below, I offer resources that I have gathered or created throughout this piece for readers to access.  Please feel free to answer and reflect on any question above or share resources that you use.

Brainstorming your Thesis Statement Workshop:

Easiest Way to Write a Killer Thesis Statement

Sometimes analogies help students if they are trying to understand the concept of a thesis statement:

Thesis Statement Analogies

Using this organizer, as a class, you can discuss the inter-related aspects of the thesis statement, outline, and body of the paper.

Concept Sort: Thesis, Outline, Body

Finally, here is a checklist for them to assess the quality of their statement.
Good luck teaching this skill.  We really vary the number of supportive resources dependent upon the group and the skills that they have coming into the lesson.

Teacher Feature: Mrs. Burley’s Infographic Project


1.      Please describe your infographics project.

I often show my students the jewels that I find on Twitter–mostly infographics that illustrate topics that we are discussing in class. They started to really take an interest in infographics. We talked about how many people are visual learners and infographics are a creative way to convey information so that it is easily received, interpreted, and processed by viewers. The students loved this and wanted to make their own!

We started by looking at infographics, from a range of different topics, to see what was effective and ineffective. The students decided that effective infographics included short factual statements, relevant and iconic images, simple color schemes, and had a clear topic and scope that was instantly apparent to their viewer. They also noted that all infographics had their sources cited on the bottom. Once we had our criteria established, we developed a rubric.

I impressed upon the students that infographics can be about anything! After we had some fun looking up some of the more absurd visuals, we started a Google Doc where the students could brainstorm ideas for their own infographics; they had to include questions that would help to focus their topic. After the classes evaluated all of the topics, they elected one that the entire class would study so that we could research and fact-check together.

One class chose social networking and another decided on the plight of the polar bear. We started another Google Doc where the students refined the questions to guide their study. We categorized these questions into subtopics which were assigned to different groups of students to research, collectively. Then, the students used a Google Doc to compile their findings and also cite their sources. Next, the students looked over the collective research and chose what content they wanted to include in their individual infographics. In the social networking class, some decided to highlight comparisons between social networks, while others wanted to show the growing numbers of users and demographics. In the polar bear class, some students chose to focus on the population of polar bears over time, citing what contributed to the falling numbers. Others chose to focus on what is happening to the polar bears and what groups are doing to help. Some chose to simply focus on fun facts about polar bears. I like they they were able to choose a direction within a given topic because it allowed for focus and diversity.

To create their infographics, students chose to use either Piktochart or Easel.ly. I showed a short video about each one and brief demonstration to help them make an informed decision. Using the rubric as a guide, they got started. For two days, the students diligently worked on their projects, asking each other for feedback and questioning research. Finally, we had a sort of gallery walk so the students could look at each other’s finished products. It was exciting to see how they each came up with completely different product from the same topics and research.

2.       What was your favorite part of the project?

My favorite part of the project was watching the students take control. They decided what an effective infographic should look like. As a class, without much involvement on my end, they decided what topic they would study. They worked together on their research and made sure their findings were valid, for the good of the class. It was a joy to see them invested in this project, and invested in each others’ success.

3.       What was your students’ favorite part of the project?

The students especially loved the collaborative aspect of this project. We have talked about the potential of Google Drive, but through this project, they discovered and experienced the benefits themselves. The students enjoyed the process, but more than that, I observed many of them talking about how they could use infographics in other classes. They wanted to find infographics to share with their teachers and family, to make sense of what they were learning in their classes, and to satisfy their own curiosity. They talked about how they could make them for projects in their other classes and they were interested in how to share them with the Twitter-verse!

Allison Burley teaches social studies at Palisades Middle School.  She can be found on Twitter at @AllisonBurley