One of the most dreaded activities by many a student is the Research Paper. It goes by several names - Biography, Compare and Contrast, Persuasive Essay, Analysis, Argumentative, Informational... The possibilities are endless.
The challenge is where to find the needed authorative sources -- especially ones your child can read and understand. Google, Yahoo!, and MSN search engines are all a good first start. And who doesn't love Wikipedia? But, as nearly every teacher will tell you, Wikipedia is not written by experts, it often contains wrong information, and so cannot be considered an "authoritative" source for research.
There are some excellent research tools out there designed especially for kids. These are particularly useful for elementary and middle school students (K-8), who may find useful articles using adult search engines, but not at your child's reading level.
The first of these kid-friendly research sites I really like is KidsClick!, web search for kids by librarians. This site is maintained by the librarians from the Ramapo Catskill Library System in New York. You can do a traditional search, type in the word or phrase, then click "search". Or you can pick from hundreds of topics sorted by kid-friendly catalog names. The results of your search show the reading level of each link (grades 0-2, 3-6, 7+). You can even do an advanced search that limits the results to specific reading levels. Please note that there are fewer results for grades 0-2, and the results for grades 3-6 are closer to the 6th grade reading level than the 3rd.
Online research for elementary age children (K-5) is particularly difficult because most of the articles on any topic are well beyond their reading level. Check out MrDonn.org, designed for young students. Don and Lin Donn have written articles on social studies topics typically covered in these early grade levels. World geography, ancient civilizations, U.S. government and American cultures are all well focused and accessible. Older students will find the articles useful as well, especially for introductory knowledge on a topic.
You navigate through the site by selecting a topic; there is no search engine specific to the website. But the site is easy to navigate, and drill down to a specific research topic. Be sure to check out the clipart link on the site, also sorted by subject area. The clipart, designed by Phillip Martin, is free for use by students and teachers for the classroom, and is sprinkled throughout the MrDonn.org site.
MrDonn.org has been a favorite of elementary school teachers for years. It has won numerous awards and it would be the first place I would suggest to all students doing research for social studies papers.
Another kid-friendly search tool is the Fact Monster, from Information Please of Pearson Education. Fact Monster's search results include the type of source - kids' almanac, feature article, biography, or encyclopedia. In their Homework Section, they have a topic area for Research Skills, which gives you pointers on writing your paper, doing the research, and evaluating sources. Other useful links include an almanac, encyclopedia, dictionary and thesaurus. There's even a section for games.
A very helpful research tool they have is the "cite" link, at the bottom of their articles. This provides the MLA format for citing the article in your bibliography. Citation pages have another link, More about citing Fact Monster, that explains in detail the citation format for different types of articles, such as encyclopedia, almanac and feature articles. Though targeted at elementary and middle school students, Fact Monster is useful for all grade levels.
Is your child having difficult picking a research topic or knowing where to find the resources they need? NoodleQuest may be what they need. NoodleTools designed a series of nine questions to help define what the student requires, such as primary sources, historical or up-to-date information, and pictures or maps. After answering the questions, NoodleQuest provides you with a research strategy -- links to the most promising sources of information based on your needs.
NoodleTools has two other tools for creating the bibliography for that research paper: NoodleBib MLA Starter and NoodleBib Express. NoodleBib MLA Starter is designed for students in grades 1-5. After registering, you can create a bibliography page for your paper by answering questions about your type of source and filling in the information requested. The resulting bibliography can be printed or copied into a Word-compatible document. NoodleBib Express lets you choose MLA or APA format, provides fill-in-the-blank, then generates a citation. It provides a broader range of source types than the starter version, but cannot be saved. You must copy and paste the citation into your own document. All in all, NoodleTools is a great resource for your research paper.
There are many other research resources available. Check out my list of dozens of Online References and Research Skills tools at LearningReviews.com for more options.