Lesson plan

Informational Essay: Prewriting With Research

Students begin their informational writing process by gathering information through research. They will use a graphic organizer to record important information and sources and reflect on how to present the information.
Grade Subject View aligned standards

Help students develop their understanding of the informational writing process with this lesson that guides them through the research stage of the process. Students will review how to identify credible sources and practice gathering relevant information that they will record on a graphic organizer.

Students will be able to gather relevant information from a variety of sources as part of the research and prewriting process for an informational essay.

(2 minutes)
  • Activate prior knowledge by asking students to think about a time they have conducted research in their lives, whether for school or personal interests.
  • Ask them to think about what type of obstacles or successes they experienced throughout their research. Students may share about difficulty finding trusted sources, an overwhelming amount of information, or an easy answer to their question.
  • Tell the class that they will begin the research and prewriting process for an informational essay in class.
(8 minutes)
  • Introduce the class to the project by sharing that they will each have a research question to address. Explain that a research question is a clear, focused, concise, and complex question. Their research will center around this question.
  • Select a research question from the Informational Essay Writing Prompt Choice Board. You may select one prompt for the entire class or allow students to choose their own. Below is a sample research question:
    • Choose an influential person. What impact have they had on modern society?
  • Display a copy of the Research Graphic Organizer: Note-Taking worksheet and share that the purpose of this graphic organizer is to record information that is found during initial research.
  • Review the steps students will follow:
    1. Find some sources. Look to see if they have relevant information, and evaluate their credibility.
    2. Assuming the source is credible and has relevant information, take notes about the relevant information. Do that for each of your sources. Remember that you should always use multiple sources!
    3. Reflect on your research. See what further research you need to do, and start thinking about how you will structure your essay.
  • Explain the sections in the graphic organizer and specify what type of information should go in each section. Provide time for students to ask any clarifying questions.
  • Point out that the graphic organizer provides a place for students to record information about the sources they used to find information. Share that they will cite their sources when they draft their essays, so it is important to keep track of their sources while they research.
  • Write the word credible on the board, and define it as something that is believable and trustworthy.
  • Display a copy of the Evaluating Sources Checklist, and review the key questions to ask while evaluating sources for relevance, accuracy, bias, and reliability.
  • Remind students that they should check the credibility of their sources before gathering notes from them.
  • Go over the reflection and conclusion questions on the worksheet and explain that these will give learners an opportunity to think about their next steps in their writing process.
(15 minutes)
  • Model the process of putting a search keyword into a search engine, pulling up a result, and evaluating for credibility. Use a topic that was recently studied in class, or use an example research question, such as “How does pollution affect the ocean?”
  • Think aloud about search terms for your research question that could pull up relevant information. For example, some search terms for the example research question could be ocean pollution, impacts of ocean pollution, and pollution in the ocean.
  • Perform the search, and share some information about finding credible sources on the results page.
    • Sites that are associated with trusted institutions are usually reliable. This includes sites run by colleges and universities, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and foundations.
    • URLs that end with .gov and .edu are usually trusted sources.
    • Look for sites that specialize in the kind of information for which you are searching.
    • Check the date to see if the website features outdated or up-to-date information.
    • The style and design of a site can be a clue to credibility. If the site is poorly designed, there is a good chance the information is not credible.
    • The writing style used on the site should be professional and free from error.
  • Discuss the results you pulled up and categorize them as likely credible or non-credible sources.
  • Define relevant as something that is of significance or importance, related to the current matter. Clarify that information is considered relevant if it helps to answer the research question.
  • Provide examples of relevant and irrelevant information related to your example research question. For example:
    • Relevant: Chemicals from trash consumed by marine animals enter the food chain.
    • Irrelevant: Fish have been on the earth for more than 450 million years.
  • Show students how to make notes of relevant information. Add those notes to a teacher copy of the Research Graphic Organizer: Note-Taking worksheet.
  • Discuss the reflection and conclusion questions on the second page of the worksheet, and explain that these questions will support them as they make a plan about their next steps.
  • Distribute a copy of the Research Graphic Organizer: Note-Taking worksheet to each individual, and have them write their research question in the top section.
  • Ask students to quickly jot down two or three search terms that could provide relevant information about their research question.
  • Call on volunteers to share suggested search terms for their research question.
(20 minutes)
  • Share expectations and guidance for research time in the classroom, and share that students will most likely need to complete their research outside of this lesson.
  • Go over the research materials, whether digital or non-digital, that students may access.
  • Provide time for students to research and begin completing the note-taking graphic organizer.


  • Provide students with their own copy of a completed graphic organizer for a sample topic to use as a reference.
  • Teach a pre-lesson about the research process and how to choose important, relevant information.
  • Group students in strategic partnerships during research time so that students who need more support can work with more advanced students.


  • Encourage students to formulate their own research question using a “how” or “why” question starter. Prompt them to think about a more abstract question, such as "How has music shaped your community’s culture?"
(10 minutes)
  • Circulate during independent working time to evaluate student understanding of the research process, including their ability to determine which information is relevant to their research question.
  • A week or so after the lesson, once students have had ample time to complete the Research Graphic Organizer: Note-Taking worksheets, review the worksheet to determine student proficiency in gathering relevant information that answers their research question.
(2 minutes)
  • Ask students to pair with a peer. Prompt them to each share something interesting they found in their research.
  • Preview the next lesson by telling students that they will use their notes to organize their information as they prepare to draft their essay.

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