This is the research unit that I did with my Regents students. We took ten class days to prepare for writing the research paper. The first class was for explaining the process in advance, and the remaining nine classes are outlined below.
Research Paper: War and The Odyssey
Your assignment is to create a critical thinking paper; a thoughtful answer to a question of your own devising (which you have cleared with me in advance), based on your own interpretation of specific passages in your research articles and The Odyssey. Your interpretation should be defended with logical arguments. Clarity and organization in the presentation of your argument are crucial, both to the persuasiveness of your paper and to your grade.
You will have a choice between the two following general topics:
- Soldiers returning home from war (any war except the Trojan War)
- Loved ones and families of those who went to war and either have yet to return (MIAs and POWs) or who never returned
Your task will be to narrow down the topic to a specific war in history, and then create a specific “yes” or “no” question about that topic (see later in these notes for examples). Once you have the questions formulated (to which the answer is either “yes” or “no”), take your position (in other words, answer your own question). Once you have your position, you need to come up with three reasons why you answered the way you did (these will become your signposts). As soon as you finally have your question, your position, and your reasons for your position, you are ready to write your thesis statement.
Class activities preparing for writing the paper:
Activity 1: Writing three questions to which the answer is either “yes” or “no” that relates to soldiers returning from a specific war, or families who await(ed) word on loved ones in a particular war
Activity 2: Library visit to find sources that will provide information about the selected war as well as finding both “yes” and “no” answers to their questions. They will then have to decide which of the three questions will be the focus of their paper. Students need five sources that will both support and provide a counter argument against their position on the question. No more than two sources may come from the World Wide Web; they may use the electronic databases that the school purchases, or they may use books (but NO encyclopedias of any kind, either print or electronic).
Activity 3: Taking a clear position and creating a thesis statement with three solid signposts. Students are then told that they will have a body paragraph for each signpost as well as one body paragraph that will give background information about the war they have chosen (for a minimum of four body paragraphs for the essay).
Activity 4: Using the five sources, students will create five bibliography cards and number them in the upper right-hand corner. Students will then put the cards in alphabetical order, therefore creating a preliminary Works Cited list.
Activity 5: Students must create 50 note cards, taking ten concrete details from each source. If they cannot get ten details to support and/or argue against their position from a particular source, then the source isn’t strong enough and they have to find another one. Each note card must contain a direct quotation (concrete detail or CD), and the corresponding number from the source’s bibliography card also goes in the upper right-hand corner of each note card. Students must also mark in the upper left-hand corner which signpost paragraph the CD supports/argues against or if it goes in the “war background” paragraph.
Activity 6: Connections to The Odyssey. For those writing about a soldier returning home from war, the students must find connections to the journey home for Odysseus and relate it to the soldiers returning from war that they are targeting in their paper. For those writing about loved ones waiting for the return of a soldier, you may focus on either Penelope or Telemachus. Make note cards for each connection (copy lines that you could possibly embed). These will be new CDs (at least ONE per signpost).
Activity 7: Students will divide their 50 note cards into 4 piles (one for each of the aforementioned body paragraphs) based on the notations in the upper left-hand corner of the cards. By doing so, they will see if they have unbalanced details/research based on the number of cards per pile. If they have no cards for a particular pile (because they have no CDs to support that particular signpost or information about the war), they know that they will have to return to the research process to find information and make additional cards (including a new bibliography card, if necessary). They will then choose one of the four piles pile and lay the cards out in front of them. From there, students must discard 50% of that pile’s CDs that they had originally come up with. This is where they have to be more discerning about the details that will ultimately end up in the paper (BUT they must keep all cards to show the process they went through). Repeat for remaining three piles.
Activity 8: For all the “keeper” cards in the Note Card piles, students will go through and highlight the key phrases from the sentences they’d copied (CDs) to use as embedded quotations. There will be no “sentence plops” in the paper!
Activity 9: Students will create a topic sentence outline for the overall paper. First, students must come up with a “hook” to use as an opener for the introduction of the paper…they must get the reader’s (my) attention and make me want to read what they’ve written. Choices of hooks include: imagery, an anecdote, a pithy quotation, or a shocking statistic. All that has to go on the outline is the first sentence or two that they are thinking of using as an opening. They must then include their improved thesis statement. From there, they have to outline the body. They will provide the topic sentence for each body paragraph as well as the sentences embedding the choice of concrete details from their Note Cards (see example below):
A. Topic Sentence for first signpost
1. Sentence with embedded quotation of strong support for argument as CD1 (cited).
2. Sentence with embedded quotation of strong support for argument as CD2 (cited).
3. Sentence with embedded quotation of counter argument as CD3 (cited).
4. Sentence with embedded quotation refuting counter argument as CD4 (cited).
5. Sentence with embedded quotation from The Odyssey making a connection to the topic as CD5 (cited).
Concrete details from Note Cards will have been further pared down to a minimum of five CDs per paragraph.
Once students have finished with their topic sentence outlines, they go on to finish writing the essay by filling in the paragraphs with their commentary. Final essays due in four weeks, which gives students plenty of time to see me with any questions or problems.