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Writing Reports, from Top to Bottom

Don't let school reports get your child down. With our great tips your kids will be well on the way to acing them.

Choosing a topic

  • Try to pick something fun. Encourage your child to choose a topic that genuinely interests her. There's nothing worse than slaving away on a subject that makes you yawn.

  • Keep it manageable. If your child is all set to research The Expansion of the American West or Ancient Egypt, help him narrow his scope to something more targeted, like The Gold Rush or Mummies. At the same time, a topic that's too narrow or obscure will drive him crazy searching for information where none exists.

  • When your child begins to research a topic, you can help brainstorm questions to guide the search for information. What subtopics and words might not already be in the title? Thinking out loud helps clarify where you're headed.

    Finding information

  • Discuss ideas for using relevant magazines, books, newspapers, and websites.
  • Accompany your young child to the public library.
  • Help an older child sift and evaluate information on the internet.
  • Remind your child that no matter how interesting the fact or tidbit, if it doesn't answer a question about the topic, out it goes. Kids who indiscriminately grab every scrap of information often need permission--and encouragement--to discard irrelevant material.
  • Taking notes

  • Does your student have plenty of 3x5 note cards? Elastic bands to keep stacks of cards together? A cardboard box or milk crate to keep project-related materials in one place?

  • Life is a lot simpler when each note card contains only one fact.

    Compare the differences in these two note cards for a research paper on baseball:

    A good note card:

    • Lists source (Ex.: World Book, Volume 2, page 133)
    • Heading or subtopic from outline
    • Limited to one fact
    • Has personal note/question

    Bad note card:

    • Source not indicated in top right corner
    • Heading too vague
    • Too many facts
    • No name after quote

    Making an outline

  • Does your student have specific outlining guidelines from the teacher?
  • Some kids get overwhelmed by all the "stuff" they have to process. If your child has problems plugging information from the note cards into an outline, he may need a hand organizing the note cards into stacks of related facts.
  • The bare bones
    Using information collected on note cards, your student can make an outline similar to this. It's the bare bones of what will later become a fleshed-out written report. Here's part of an outline for a research paper entitled The Early Days of Baseball.
    1. Baseball is born
      1. Rounders
        1. Originated in England in the 1600s.
        2. Differences between rounders and baseball.
      2. The Abner Doubleday theory
        1. Many people think Abner Doubleday invented baseball in 1839.
          1. Doubleday's friend, Graves, claimed he was a witness.
          2. A commission credited Doubleday with inventing the game.
        2. Historians say theory is bogus.

    2. Baseball becomes popular
      1. Interest soars after 1900:
        1. Kids' favorite warm-weather sport.
        2. Crowds follow pennant races and World Series.
        3. Star players become national heroes.
        4. Known as "the national pastime."
          1. Quote from philosopher Jacques Barzun: "Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball."
      2. The Babe Ruth era
        1. Babe Ruth joins NY Yankees, 1920:
          1. Plays outfield.
          2. Hits more and longer home runs than anyone before.
        2. Other heroes:
          1. Lou Gehrig.
          2. Rogers Hornsby.
        3. Radio stations begin broadcasting games:
          1. Play-by-play accounts reach millions of people.

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