I have the privilege of doing something this semester that I only get to do every once in a while–teach a private or small group of students who have taken many classes with us before how to write a BIG research paper. Most students who start out with us in elementary school of taking CQLA (Character Quality Language Arts) classes follow a protocol similar to this:

1) CQLA A and B for first four years or so (depending on when they begin)

2) CQLA C for two years

3) MC 10 I: High School Essays

4) MC 10 II: Four Research Reports

5) Speech and debate

6) Literature with Joshua (formerly)

7) CLEP English with Joshua (formerly)


Every once in a while we get a student who wants the challenge of going beyond MC 10 II’s research reports and doing the BIG ONE!

  • 32-50 paragraphs
  • 8-12 sentences per paragraph
  • 10-15 total sources
  • A parenthetical (MLA Style) citation for each piece of information in the paper
  • 10-15 quotes in the paper
  • Massive Checklist Challenge for the entire project



It is a one-semester (16 weeks or so) undertaking that is not for the faint of heart. It sounds daunting, but the students who sign up for this special arrangement have already learned all of the pieces incrementally with me in the previous years–many years. And I spread the project out for them weekly over the entire semester, so it truly comes in bite-sized chunks.


I thought I would share our first meeting via video with you (and the chapter that goes with this video–warning: it’s long if you’re downloading/printing!) so that you can see how to approach such a big project.



Click here or on the page below to download this chapter!




Here are some tips if you decide to “try this at home”!


1) Be sure that the student has learned all of the skills that will be used in this endeavor.

Yes, I am teaching these skills again, but it is never a good idea to bring too many new skills together in huge project. The girls have had all of the elements of the research report in previous classes/my previous books. Now we will review those as we get to each skill needed for the BIG ONE! (See my steps for an easier research report here)


2) Watch out for your division of work.

I look at the entire project and the time that we have to complete it and divide up all of the elements. I assured the students that it will be broken down for them–and that they will get bite-sized chunks that are doable. It’s stressful for students to have assignments that are too “loose” (ie. research for four weeks). They need to learn HOW to put all of the steps and elements in place, and it is up to us to divide the work up in manageable pieces.



3) Break the entire paper down into sections and paragraphs with them.

You will notice in the video how much I emphasized breaking the paper down into six, eight, or ten sections with paragraphs beneath those. I do this in all of my books–teaching students to see each “section” as its own mini report as opposed to looking at the entire thirty-two paragraphs and wondering where to start.



4) Teach a simplified research method.

Years ago, in an attempt to simplify a task that was very challenging for me in high school, I came up with the “Overview Source Method” and the “Color-Coding Method” for research report writing. I love teaching this to students as I am giving them something that they can take into college and beyond. (Read my snow day/research catch up story from my high school days here)

(I still use it in book writing and blog writing!) I am giving them something that I truly wish I had, had when I was their age. It works amazingly well! (Here’s my Overview Source Method)



5) Keep close tabs on their progress.

Don’t make assumptions about where you think they are–or that they are where you think they should be! This is big, hard stuff. They need our guidance every step of the way. We can see a problem that they might overlook and fix it for them before it gets out of control or they get too far down in the process and have to go back and redo weeks of work.


I hope you will print off the free download lesson and follow along as I introduce this challenging task to a couple of awesome students!


(Oh, and text or call me if you want to put in your request for a certain live, online Meaningful Composition class for next year! And see why MC books work here!)


Check out how I teach Opening and Closing Paragraphs for Research Reports!


P.S. What are your biggest challenges in teaching research writing? How can I help you?


...and download my Kid's Faves list plus get access to my language arts freebies!

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