Research and Blogging

Research and Blogging: Seedlings of Civic Engagement from the Classroom

Grade Level

11th Grade

Subject Area

English Language Arts


Lisa Rothbard, Skyline High School

The Hook

How many times have we heard our students ask in the middle of a L&B_2lesson, “Why are we doing this? What is the point?”  How many times as students did we (or do we still) challenge our own teachers in the same way?  As with anything, students – younger and older – perform better when they feel connected to their work, and that connection needs to be immediate. The old, “You’ll need this in college and career” line is only met with blank stares, apathetic nods, and heads falling to the desk.

So the question becomes, how do we design our curriculum so that it feels relevant and meaningful to students now while also preparing them with skills that they actually will, like it or not kids, need in the future? A critical part of the answer to this question, I’ve come to learn, is through what we call an ‘authentic audience”. One aspect of civic engagement is to move students out of the classroom, so they can connect with and feel heard by larger, real world audiences. When the students know that eyes other than mine will review, critique, support, and offer feedback on their work, the quality of what they produce soars.  I’ve seen it; we’ve all seen it – when our students present in front of each other, they care; when they present in front of a panel of adults who aren’t their teacher, they care a little bit more; when they travel to present findings to their city’s mayor or state representative, they care a lot! But how often in a given school year can teachers plan and organize major presentations for all their classes? It can’t happen daily, weekly, and probably not even monthly. This matters because we know the value of practice and the need for daily student engagement. In order to have an authentic audience for the students in my classes, I have them create blogger profiles to share their work with each other and a broader readership.

The lessons I’m going to share in this piece are not about blogging in the classroom. Rather, they will showcase the way in which I teach students to develop certain research and critical thinking skills that are a prerequisite for any form of civic engagement.


In my 11th grade ELA class, students engage in a research unit on contemporary civil rights issues. The three lessons described here are crucial steps in this overall research unit. They teach students some of the vital skills they need in order to successfully research, analyze, and form conclusions about complex issues. Specifically, these three lessons focus on:

  1. Analysis of evidence from a single source

  2. Evaluating the credibility and relevancy of sources found online

  3. Synthesizing and analyzing corroborating and contradictory evidence from multiple sources on the same subject

Learning Outcomes

Students will be able to:

  1. Analyze and explain the significance of a single piece of evidence in response to a given prompt (or research question).

  2. Evaluate the credibility and relevancy of various sources found online about a given issue or research question.

  3. Synthesize and analyze the significance of evidence from multiple sources, explaining the extent to which corroborating and contradictory evidence work together to support or oppose an argument in response to a given prompt or research question.

When in the year is the lesson taught?

Typically, I teach this research unit in the Spring of my students’ junior year, after they have spent the Fall and Winter developing the foundational skills they need to be successful with this more rigorous project.  However, you will see as you read these lesson plans that they can be used periodically throughout the year in any unit that asks students to make an evidence-based argument while referencing multiple texts.


The whole research unit as I teach it can take 5-6 weeks. Each of the lessons expanded upon here can be taught in 1-4 days (with ample opportunities for practice throughout the unit).


I provide students with a research question and 4 online sources that provide evidence to inform an argument. The research question asks, “Should the New York Police Department continue to use its ‘Stop and Frisk’ policy as a way to reduce crime in Manhattan?” Over the course of about two weeks, the students read, analyze, and assess the credibility of the sources in order to form an evidence-based argument about New York’s ‘Stop and Frisk’ law.

Prior Knowledge

I teach this unit in the Spring of the school year, but as I mentioned, the lessons could be used throughout with different texts. With that said, by this point in the year, my students have spent ample time practicing the following:

  • Selecting relevant and compelling evidence from a text in order to make an argument in response to a given prompt

  • Using the “analytical sentence frame” that you’ll see in these lessons to explain and elaborate upon the significance of evidence from a text

  • Writing paragraphs and essays using an increasingly more rigorous outline and structure (note: you’ll see the body paragraph outlines I use and build upon in the lessons expanded upon below)

In this unit, the students would have already learned and/or practiced:

  • key vocabulary for the unit

  • how to identify and distinguish between the three persuasive appeals: ethos, logos, and pathos

  • how to identify the 6Ws for a source (note: I only use the first page of this document)

Detailed Lesson Plans

  1. Lesson #1: Selecting and Analyzing Evidence

  2. Lesson #2: Source Credibility

  3. Lesson #3: Synthesizing Corroborating and Contradictory Evidence from Multiple Sources

Assessment and/or Extension Ideas

As you look through the materials associated with each lesson, you’ll see opportunities for single paragraph assessments. If time permits:

  • After lessons 1 and 2, have your students write one analytical paragraph for each source in response to the “Stop and Frisk” research question.  The paragraph outlines provided show students how to analyze evidence and provide a sourcing statement in a structured body paragraph.

  • After lesson #3, have your students use the body paragraph outline provided on the back of the handout to write a one-paragraph response to the research question. This time, students are expected to use corroborating or contradictory evidence in the same paragraph.

  • As students work throughout the unit, they can post these more formative writing assignments on their blogs for feedback from an authentic audience. They can also post reflections on the research process.

  • By the end of the unit, the students can demonstrate their mastery of all these skills by writing and publishing on their blogs an evidence-based opinion piece in response to their chosen research question.


End Notes: Learning Standards

  • Common Core Standards:

    • Reading Standards Grade 11:

      • Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.

      • Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.

    • Writing Standards Grade 11:

      • Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

      • Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products in response to ongoing feedback, including new arguments or information.

      • Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

      • Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the strengths and limitations of each source in terms of the task, purpose, and audience; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and overreliance on any one source and following a standard format for citation.

    • Listening and Speaking Standards Grade 11:

      • Present information, findings, and supporting evidence, conveying a clear and distinct perspective, such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning, alternative or opposing perspectives are addressed, and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and a range of formal and informal tasks.

  • Civic Engagement Components:

    • All three lessons are focused on issue analysis. Civic engagement requires that students are able to read, analyze, and synthesize information before they can make and be recognized for their coherent, effective arguments.

    • The Assessment and Extension ideas (incorporating blogging) include more opportunities for taking action and reflection.

About the Author

Since beginning her teaching career at Skyline High School in Oakland, L&B_2CA in 2009, Lisa has taught 10th and 11th grade English Language Arts (ELA) in Skyline’s Education Academy and AP English Language and Composition.  This year, she serves as an instructional coach and leader for the school’s ELA department, offering differentiated, individual support to all ELA teachers while also planning and facilitating professional development sessions for the department and the whole staff. Additionally, over the years, she has served as the chair of Skyline’s English Department, a representative on the school’s Faculty Council, and as a member of Oakland Unified’s ELA Teacher Leader Cadre.

Lisa participated with the district’s EDDA initiative (Educating for Democracy in the Digital Age) for two consecutive years, focusing on the design and implementation of curriculum around research and digital literacy. The lessons shared from this unit focus on the preliminary issue analysis skills students need in order to feel prepared to take civic action.

Lastly, Lisa works part time as a Manager of Teacher Leadership for a local advocacy organization, Great Oakland Public Schools. She leads the organization’s teacher policy fellowship, whose focus is to increase involvement among educators in local education policy issues.

From 2005-2007, Lisa worked as the Communications Associate at Preschool California, a non-profit, advocacy organization in Oakland.  Her experience drove her to pursue a Masters in Public Policy at the University of Michigan’s Ford School and a graduate school summer internship in the communications department of the DC Public School District.  Additionally, Lisa has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in English Language Arts (Go Blue!) and a Single Subject ELA Teaching Credential from Alliant University.  Her favorite novels include Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.