Incorporating Research into Writing Using Scope Nonfiction

Kim Wagner all photos


Editor’s Note: Scope stories and articles serve as great mentor texts for a variety of skills. We love this idea from Kim Wagner, a Scope advisor and middle school teacher, for modeling the integration of research into writing.


When my students did research projects in the past, they often had a difficult time integrating their research into their writing. While reading “The Snake That’s Eating Florida” from the March 2016 issue of Scope, it occurred to me that the article would make a perfect mentor text for practicing this important skill.


What you’ll need:

Key skills:
evaluating sources, author’s purpose/craft, developing a central idea, supporting details, finding text evidence, close reading, integrating research into writing

Time: two class periods


Day 1

Step 1: Model research skills

  • Choose any Scope nonfiction article. I used The Snake That’s Eating Florida.”   
  • Do a think-aloud with the whole class, reading through the first paragraph of the article and identifying where the author used research.
  • Model how to do a simple online search by searching for one of the statistics or facts included in the article and evaluating the sources that come up. By the spring, my class has learned what makes a source credible, but I reiterate some of those points again and again.  
  • Pose the following questions to the class to get students thinking about whether the information in question works to support a central idea or whether it serves some other purpose:
  • Where might the author have gotten this information?
  • Why might she have used this information at this point in the article?
    (This is a great author’s craft and purpose question!)


One student guessed that the author could have gotten this information from Encyclopedia Britannica.


Step 2: Identify how the author incorporated research
Pair up students and assign one paragraph of the article to each pair. Ask students to identify the following:

  1. the parts of the paragraph that include research
  2. from where they think the author might have gotten that research
  3. the words and phrases used to incorporate the research into the writing

Note: Because I don’t have access to enough computers for all students, I gather reference books (for example, Encyclopedia Britannica, The World Factbook, and books about snakes and the Everglades) and have students select from these as possible sources for the author's research. I post a brief description of each book to help students draw conclusions about which books could have been used for each piece of research.


Students noticed the way author Lauren Tarshis seamlessly integrated this attribution into her writing.


Step 3: Identify how the research develops the central idea

  • Have students work individually and pick a new paragraph from the article.
  • Direct students to write down, in a notebook, the parts of the paragraph where they think research was used, the sources the author could have used, and how the research does or does not develop a central idea of the article.
  • Reconvene as a class to discuss and address any questions that came up.



Higher-level activity: Have students come up with search terms they could use, such as “Burmese python” and “Everglades,” and create a list of criteria to evaluate the credibility of a source.

Lower-level activity: Distribute the graphic organizer (a blank version can be found here), which will give students further practice in identifying sources, integrating research, and identifying whether the research supports the central idea.



Day 2
Step 4: Apply skills to a new text

For a summative assessment, use a new text and have students work individually and apply what they learned from Day 1. I used “Sheepdogs to the Rescue," the nonfiction article that was paired with the python article.


I like to do this activity 4-5 times a year with my classes, going a little deeper each time. It works incredibly well. Analyzing and discussing how an accomplished, professional writer incorporates research—facts, details, quotes—into her writing demystifies the process for my students. They really get it! It’s made a big difference in their ability to integrate their research into their own writing. I found that this activity also works well for students’ reading comprehension because it involves close reading. What started out as a research and writing activity ended up being a whole reading strategy!


Kim Wagner is Language Arts teacher at Hendersonville Middle School in Hendersonville, NC. She is also a Scope advisor.


All comments are moderated before publishing.

I love these ideas and the resources--The students really have to think like an author when they are doing these activities! Thank you, Mrs. Wagner for sharing!

Wow! What a wonderful way to teach students a real-life application of writing and research. These are powerful skills that will help them for years to come. Your students are so lucky to have you.

Great lesson! I love the depth of knowledge and critical thinking skills that you are requiring of your students. The best thing about this lesson is that it can be used with any of the Scope nonfiction articles and also translates to any nonfiction lesson. Good job on you part and that of your students!

I love how this assignment can work to teach reading skills and writing skills at the same time. Teaching writing is especially challenging because it requires so much teaching of thinking skills as well, but it's wonderful to see that you have crafted an activity that covers all of the bases. This plan of yours will help students analyze material in a logical progression that will lead to a better understanding of the piece they are reading AND will also result in students internalizing ways to write and think more clearly. Nice work, Kim!