This is part four of a six-part series. Each page contains a video providing an overview of the contents of the page.
You can find the narrated slide show version of this web page at Vimeo (on the right)
Once students have worked their way through the process of questioning and exploring information, they begin to organize their thoughts about their topic, problem, or issue.
Assimilation involves processing, associating, and integrating new ideas with already available knowledge in the human mind.
Assimilation also involves altering thinking and rejecting information that isn't relevant or doesn't meet a students' belief system. The key to this stage is maintaining an open mind.
Carol Kuhlthau has found that as students identify and select ideas they form a focused perspective of their topic. Their direction becomes more clear. As they see how existing ideas connect with new information their confidence and enthusiasm increases.
This stage is characterized by sudden moments of insight. Learners begin to see how ideas fit together, discover new ways of thinking and alternative points of view.
Let’s explore five elements of the assimilation phase of inquiry. Let’s start with reading and inquiry.
Reading and Inquiry
Reading is often the primary source of information during an inquiry. Nonfiction reading across content areas is a critical skills for today's students.
However at this point in the process, students are often thinking “I’ve collected all this stuff, now what do I do with it?” They want credit for their gathering activities. Learners don’t know what to do once they’ve collected all their ideas. They want to go straight right to the answer, paper, or final product without reading what they’ve located.
Students need strategies to scaffold their reading.
Skimming is used to quickly identify the main ideas of a text. When you read the newspaper, you're probably not reading it word-by-word, instead you're scanning the text. Skimming is done at a speed three to four times faster than normal reading. People often skim when they have lots of material to read in a limited amount of time. Students use skimming when you want to see if an article may be of interest in your research.
Provide students guided experiences skimming online articles. Scholastic archives their articles. This would be a good source for practice articles.
There are many strategies that can be used when skimming. Some people read the first and last paragraphs using headings, summarizes and other organizers as they move down the page or screen. You might read the title, subtitles, subheading, and illustrations. Consider reading the first sentence of each paragraph. This technique is useful when you're seeking specific information rather than reading for comprehension. Skimming works well to find dates, names, and places. It might be used to review graphs, tables, and charts.
- Skimming exercise. Practice skimming and answering questions.
Scanning is a technique you often use when looking up a word in the telephone book or dictionary. You search for key words or ideas. In most cases, you know what you're looking for, so you're concentrating on finding a particular answer. Scanning involves moving your eyes quickly down the page seeking specific words and phrases. Scanning is also used when you first find a resource to determine whether it will answer your questions. Once you've scanned the document, you might go back and skim it.
Provide students with three online articles, ask them to scan the articles and select the one that best fits their question. Online journals such as The Smithsonian, National Geographic, or Nature work well for these types of activities.
When scanning, look for the author's use of organizers such as numbers, letters, steps, or the words, first, second, or next. Look for words that are bold faced, italics, or in a different font size, style, or color. Sometimes the author will put key ideas in the margin.
Reading off a computer screen has become a growing concern. Research shows that people have more difficulty reading off a computer screen than off paper. Although they can read and comprehend at the same rate as paper, skimming on the computer is much slower than on paper. In addition, students need practice navigating websites for information. They need to be able locate areas of the website using the navigation tools and search tools. Provide practice by giving students a link to the entry page of a website and asking them to locate information within the website.
- Scanning exercise. Practice scanning for information.
Resources for Skimming and Scanning
- Improving Your Reading. This article explores ways to increase reading comprehension across subject areas.
- Reading Check or Reading Soft. Check your reading speed and learn more reading faster.
- Reading Faster. This article by Ron Kurtus discusses speed reading and skimming
- Reading Strategies. This article helps students learn to read different types of materials efficiently.
- Speed-Reading. This article helps student learn to read more efficiently.
When conducting an inquiry, students are looking for information that will be useful in addressing their questions and problems. Provide students with questions to help guide their reading. Students often recognize information they already know and forget to look for new information.
BBC contains good articles for this type of assignment.
Use the following question to help students locate useful information:
- What information matches what I already know?
- What information is new to me?
- What information is useful in addressing my questions?
- How can this information be organized?
- How can this information be stored and cited so I can fit it again later?
- How do various pieces of information fit together?
- What types of knowledge are found and useful (i.e., conceptual, procedure)
There are three keys for reading during research.
- Match. Match what you already know with what you need to know. There's no reason to keep making notes on information you already have. Example: Remote islands are using solar power because no other power is available. This is new information.
- Record. Take notes. Include a citation, summary of key points, quotations if needed, and ideas about how the information relates to the questions. Example: This article is from BBC.
- Organize. Think about how information can be organized. Choose tools that best match the information. Example: This article fits with other information about why solar energy is important in rural areas.
Resources for Reading Comprehension
- Book Cover Guide (interactive). Learn about how to use the front cover, back cover, spine, and flaps to learn more about a book.
- Dynamic Duo Text Talks: Examining the Content of Internet Sites. This lesson asks students to compare three websites. Adapt the lesson and worksheet for three website in your content area.
- Strategies for Reading Comprehension
- Organization Strategies
- Vocabulary and Reaction Worksheet
- Teaching Critical Reading with Questioning Strategies. This article by Larry Lewin provides classroom practices that help students become critical readers.
- Graphic Organizers for Reading Comprehension. This lesson provides great worksheets to build graphic organizers.
There are many ways to take notes.
It's important that students become accustomed to keeping track of the resources they use before beginning the process of writing or creating a final product.
- Source (title, author, publication date, URL)
- Notes - Basic information; don't copy
- Evaluate - SWAT - do you trust this information?
- Ideas - What is your reaction to this information? How could it be used to help answer your questions? What opinions do you have? What other questions do I have about this information?
Use Is This Source Useful? (PDF) handout for ideas.
The key to notetaking is the cognitive process of asking relevant questions, locating quality information, and recording the key ideas without simply copying information.
Practice three different approaches:
Paraphrase and Summarize. A traditional approach to note-taking is paraphrasing or summarizing information. Provide students with practice in summarizing information. This works well with screen reading. Rather than copying, students read off the screen, think about what they read, and switch to a word processing document. Ask them to write without looking at the original document.
- Paraphrase: Write it in Your Own Words. This series of pages explores paraphrasing.
- Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing. This series of pages explores quotations, paraphrasing, and summarizing.
- Sum It Up: Make a Long Story Short (Grades 3-8). This activity asks students to summarize.
- Summary and Paraphrasing. This interactive exercise provides practice in summarizing.
Text-messages. When you take notes, you can't write everything down. The second approach is to think of note-taking like sending a text message. What is the most important information you need to remember? Include the key words and your thoughts about the usefulness of the information without using lots of words.
Trash or Treasure is an example of a technique used by many teachers and students. When taking notes, you only want to keep the treasures. Think of a treasure map. The map is the article and the X on the map is the exact location of the buried treasure. When you find the spot with good information, toss aside the dirt and rocks (trash). Record the treasure words that help answer the research question. Demonstrate this approach using a research question (highlight key words) and a sample article (mark out unrelated information and circle the treasures). Go back and mark out more words until you focus on the "spot" containing the best treasure.
Help students build arguments. "I'm looking for information about conifers that will grown best in our area. I'll trash information that doesn't fit my need." The Trash or Treasure approach is effective in helping young people collect evidence and build arguments.
Invent your own ways to help students analyze information.
Many online tools can be used to organize notes:
- Awesome Highlighter - highlight content from web page
- Bounce - NEW option for annotating screens
- BookGoo - highlight documents
- Crocdoc - review and markup documents
- Diigo - highlight, annotate, take notes
- Forlater - will email you a reminder
- Soshiku - keep track of work
- Twiddla - highlight and take notes on documents.
Citations & Plagiarism
As students take notes, it's important that they cite sources.
Model the process of citing sources. Complete a citation as a group identifying the required information. Use Leslie Preddy's Pre-Search Activity 2: Free Inquiry (PDF) sheet as an example.
- ALA Style
- Citation Style Chart. This chart includes APA, MLA, and CMS styles.
- Documenting Sources: Overview. This series of pages explores how to document sources.
- MLA Style
Consider the use of an online citation builder.
Easybib is a cool service that helps you cite sources, but it also provides resources for research. You can search the bibliographies of the many people who have cited sources to locate good materials for search.
Discuss the copyright law with students and why citing sources is important. Use online interactives to teach about the law.
- Cyberbee Copyright Check. This interactive explores questions and answers about copyright.
- Fair Use Travelogue (interactive). Learn about copyright.
- How to Cite a Site (Grades 6-8). This lesson answers the question: How do I cite different types of online source?
- How do I cite sources. This article provides a nice overview on how to identify and cite sources.
- MLA Interactive Tutorial. This tutorial takes students through the process of creating an MLA format citation.
- Strategies for Fair Use. This series of pages explores the copyright law.
- What is a citation? This article describes and provides examples of citations.
Plagiarism is a concern of both students and teachers. It's a form of academic dishonesty and occurs when a student claims the work of others as he or her own. It doesn't matter if the "copying" is intentional or not. It's still plagiarism. There are three easy ways to avoid plagiarism. First, cite all information including audio and images used in a project. Second, always use quotes when copying directly from a source. Third, summarize or paraphrase key ideas not entire passages.
Creating a final product that involves transforming information from one form to another is an easy way to avoid plagiarism. For instance, turn historical facts into a visual timeline or turn a photograph into a paragraph description. Or ask students to make a comparison rather than simply reporting on a topic.
There are some great online resources to help teach students about plagiarism.
- Avoiding Plagiarism. This series of pages explores plagiarism.
- Avoid Plagiarism. This interactive exercise helps students avoid plagiarism.
- Plagiarism Tutorial. This is a tutorial.
- What is plagiarism? This article defines plagiarism and provides some examples.
Evidence & Associations
As students collect data, they need to begin thinking of this information as evidence to support their thoughts and address their questions. Otherwise, they'll end up with a report that's simply a patchwork of quotes from articles.
The Ds of Evidence
Students need to keep their central question in mind as they work with evidence. For instance, they might ask "what should be done with "road kill"? Use the Ds of evidence to guide this their analysis. They could use the visuals collected from sites such as the Wild Images Gallery: The Cycle of Life after Death from Banff National Park in Canada to analyze the question and possible solutions (see a sample image from the series on the right).
Apply the Ds of Evidence to this problem:
- Discover Identify new ideas and ways of thinking about the evidence
Rather than taking the animal to a landfill, we could leave the animal where it dies.
- Discern Identify the origins of information and underlying thinking
We need to think about the needs of the scavengers.
- Detect Seek out fallacies, flaws, and misinformation along with reasons for these errors.
In some cases, they drag the animals into the woods. This is different than just leaving them where they die.
- Deduce Identify possible conditions and consequences
There are scavengers in both rural and urban areas.
- Divide Organize information by comparing how people, places, and events are alike and different. Also, classifying information into categories based on commonality
Different animals would be killed depending on the area and different scavengers would eat them.
- Dictate Identify themes, patterns, and generalizations
There's a cycle of life after death that repeats itself everywhere.
- Devise Build arguments by organizing evidence
Animals will disappear on their own in a couple weeks.
The Ds of Evidence can be applied to any topic such as The Lost Colony of Roanoke.
My teacher asked me to select an image that represents the main idea of my inquiry. I'm applying the Ds of Evidence to see if this illustration by John White really emcompasses my understanding of the native people at Roanoke during the 1500s.
John White (1540-1593) was an artist and become governor of Roanoke Colony. His were some of the earliest images by Europeans depicting native people. The recreations at historical sites match White's images and the materials available for construction in the 1500s. In 1590, Theodor de Bry copied White's work, but distorted the images.
The Ds of Evidence can be applied to any question or problem such as "how harmful is smoking to human health?"
In addition to analyzing evidence, students also need to begin organizing this information. Although assimilation occurs deep within our brain, we can use visual activities to build these associations. Marzano, Pickering and Pollock (1997) identified six graphic organizers that correspond to six common information organization patterns:
- Descriptive patterns. Webs are used to represent facts about people, places, things, and events.
- Time-sequence patterns. Timelines and cycle diagrams organize events by chronology.
- Process/cause-effect patterns. Fishbone charts and “how do” diagrams organize information into a causal network or into steps leading to products.
- Episode patterns. These visuals organize information about specific events including setting, specific people, duration, sequence, and cause and effect.
- Generalization/principle patterns. Use hierarchies to organize information into general statements and supporting evidence or examples.
- Concept patterns. Use concept maps to organize classes and categories about people, places, things, and events.
These patterns can be applied to syrup production.
Another way to build associations is to make comparisons of personal relevance. For instance, use state and local websites to make local connections.
- Baton Rouge Digital Archive
- Bayou State Periodical Index
- Louisiana Digital Library
- Louisiana Useful Web Links
Students need tools such as concept maps for organizing information. As students take notes and arrange their ideas they begin to see where they need additional information related to their focus.
Rather than a semester-long project, think about how you can use online information to model how information can be skimmed, analyzed, and categorized. Each of the following activities requires students to skim for information, then organize their findings.
English. Exploring superheroes is a fun way to explore the fictional world of characters. Go to the Superhero Database. Ask students to categorize superheroes showing their results on a chart or concept map. Students could then build their own.
Science. The macroinvertebrates found in water indicate the health of the water. Go to the Benthic Macroinvertebrates in Our Water page. Click on a creature and scan the page for indicator information. Categorize the macroinvertebrates into helpful and harmful. Then create a visual diagram showing at least four creatures in each of these two categories.
There are many technology-enhanced tools to help students organize, visualize, and associate information they gather.
The ReadWriteThink tools from the National Council of Teachers of English can be used across the curriculum. The website has links to their many organizing tools.
- Alphabet Organizer
- Biographer's Interview
- Character Trading Cards
- Circle Plot Diagram
- Comparison Map
- Drama Map
- Essay Map
- Fractured Fairy Tales
- Graphic Map
- Hero's Journey
- Letter Generator
- Literary Elements Map
- Mystery Cube
- Persuasion Map
- Plot Diagram
- Profile Publisher
- SoundTrack Song Chart
- 2 Circle Venn
- 3 Circle Venn
- Word Matrix
Data Calculation and Conversion
Data Calculation and Conversion
- Do you need to calculate or convert numbers? Use an online tool.
- General Explanations - Explanation for Converting Units,
- General Tools- Google Search Features and Soople.
- General Widget Tools - Widgetbox
- Area - Explanation, Area of Shapes - Easy Option, Surface Area of Shapes - Easy Option, Best Option(formulas), Option 1, Option 2, Option 3
- Capacity and Volume - Explanation, Easy Option, Best Option (formulas), Option 1, Option 2 , Option 3
- Central Value - Explanation, Mean, Median, Mode, Mean Calculator - Best Option
- Cooking - Option 1, Option 2
- Counting - Math Prefixes
- Construction Calculators - Roofing Calculator - Option 1, Solar Calcuator - Option 1
- Decimals, Fractions and Percent - Option 1
- Explanation of Converting Decimals to Percent
- Explanation of Converting Decimals to Fractions
- Explanation of Converting Percent to Decimals
- Explanation of Converting Fractions to Decimals
- Explanation of Converting Percent to Fractions
- Explanation of Converting Fractions to Percent
- Percentage Calculator
- Percentage Difference
- Fraction Operation Machine - Easy Option
- Percentage of Item - Best Option (formulas)
- Fuel Consumption - Option 1, Option 2, Option 3
- Health - BMI - Option 1, Calories Burned Running - Option 1, Running Calculator - Option 1,
- Length - Explanation, Best Option (formulas), Option 1, Option 2, Option 3
- Mass and Weight - Mass and Weight - Best Option (formulas), Option 1, Option 2, Option 3, Weight to Volume - Option 1, Weight on Other Planets - Option 1,
- Math Calculators - Option 1, Option 2
- Metric - Explanation of Metric Numbers
- Random Numbers
- List Randomizer
- Random Words - Best Option
- Random Calendar Date Generator - Best Option
- Random Clock Time Generator - Best Option
- Random Decimal Fraction Generator - Best Option
- Random Integer Generator - Best Option
- Random Integer Set Generator - Best Option
- Random Gaussian Number Generator - Best Option
- Random Geographic Coordinates - Best Option
- Random Password Generator - Best Option
- Random String Generator - Best Option
- Random Sequence Generator - Best Option
- Widgets - Integer Widget Wizard
- Roman Numerals - Roman Numerals - Easy Option, Option 1, Advanced Roman Numerals - Option 1,
- Rounding Numbers - Explanation and Calculator
- Speed - Best Option (formulas), Option 1, Option 2
- Standard Deviation - Explanation, Best Option
- Technology - Computer Storage - Option 1, Data Transfer (download) Speeds - Option 1, Option 2
- Temperature- Explanation, Interactive Thermometer, Temperature Conversion - Best Option (includes formulas), Option 1, Option 2, Option 3, Option 4
Data Organization and Synthesis
Use tools where data can be easily organized and reorganized. Use tools to get students thinking about their data and the information they’ve collected. Use real-world company websites such as the AT&T data calculator. Use tools to help students visualize comparisons or see cause and effect.
- Do you want to see many kinds of charts and graphics? Use an online graph or chart creator.
- Charts and Graphs Explanations
- Chart and Graph Generators
- Collaborative Chart/graph makers
- Concept Maps -
- Animal Inquiry Starter
- Cacoo (free, sign-up, 25 sheets, lots of lines, good clipart, insert images, share URL, export)
- Creately (try with no sign-up, sign-up, insert images, lots of K12 templates, basic shapes, share, collaborate)
- Gliffy (free, sign-up, lots of upgrade ads)
- Graphic Map from ReadWriteThink
- Mywebspiration (free, best option, may soon become subscription related to Inspiration software)
- Scribblar (whiteboard and concept mapping)
- Pattern Maker - Option 1
- Timeline Builder
- MagicStudio - stories, images, timelines
- Preceden (free version allows 5 entries; teacher version available)
- Timeglider - remember, plan, learn
- Timeline - ReadWriteThink
- TimeRime - create, share, compare
- Time Toast - images, text, create, share
- Xtimeline - multimedia (video, images) create, share, rate
- Math Software Tools
- Virtual Walls
- Stixy (sign-up, shared stickies and documents)
- Skrbl (no sign-up, share URL)
- Scriblink (no sign-up, math symbols, share URL)
- Twiddla (no sign-up, math symbols, annotate web page, upload images, share URL, collaborate)
At this point in the research process, you want young people to be begin comparing ideas, possible solutions, and alternative ways of thinking. Look for ways to encourage discussions beyond the classroom into hallways and cyberspace.
Encourage students to think of note-taking as more than summarizing information. It’s about collecting evidence and building association. This is a time for thinking rather than making final decisions or drawing conclusions. Provide students with questions to guide their reading.
Use guiding questions to facilitate inquiry:
- What evidence have I collected?
- What are the patterns, relationships, connections, sequences, or causes/effects?
- How do I handle ambiguity?
- How does this new evidence match my prior knowledge?
- How does this relate to...?
- What ideas have we learned that I can apply in this situation?
- Can I give examples and non-examples?
- How and why is this happening
- What inferences and be drawn?
- What additional information is needed?
- How can this data be synthesized?
- How do I know what formula or concept is most useful in applying to this situation?
As you develop assignments related to inquiry, consider the information standards that can be addressed.
(Common Core Standards for Literacy Across the Curriculum Grades 6-8)
Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
Identify key steps in a text's description of a process related to history/social studies (e.g., how a bill becomes law, how interest rates are raised or lowered).
Describe how a text presents information (e.g., sequentially, comparatively, causally).
Analyze the structure an author uses to organize a text, including how the major sections contribute to the whole and to an understanding of the topic.
Identify aspects of a text that reveal an author's point of view or purpose (e.g., loaded language, inclusion or avoidance of particular facts).
Analyze the author's purpose in providing an explanation, describing a procedure, or discussing an experiment in a text.
Compare and contrast the information gained from experiments, simulations, video, or multimedia sources with that gained from reading a text on the same topic.
Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis reflection, and research.
Make sense of information gathered from diverse sources by identifying misconceptions, main and supporting ideas, conflicting information, and point of view or bias.
Seek divergent perspectives during information gathering and assessment.
Organize knowledge so that it is useful.
Use technology and other information tools to analyze and organize information.
Respect the differing interests and experiences of others, and seek a variety of viewpoints.
Connect ideas to own interests and previous knowledge and experience.
Organize personal knowledge in a way that can be called upon easily.
Maintain openness to new ideas by considering divergent opinions, changing opinions or conclusions when evidence supports the change, and seeking information about new ideas encountered through academic or personal experiences.
Locate, organize, analyze, evaluate, synthesize, and ethically use information from a variety of sources and media.
Collect and analyze data to identify solutions and/or make informed decisions.
Use models and simulations to explore complex systems and issues.
Use multiple processes and diverse perspectives to explore alternative solutions.
Websites to Explore
Explore the following online resources to learn more.
- Collecting/Organizing/Managing/Monitoring. Baltimore Public Schools.
- Analyzing/Evaluating/Interpreting/Inferring. Baltimore Public Schools.
Kuhlthau, Carol (2004). Seeking Meaning: A Process Approach to Library and Information Services. 2nd Edition. Available through Libraries Unlimited.
Think about it...
- Discuss an activity that helps students become more effective online readers in your content area.
- Create a mini-lesson to review citing sources and the hazards of plagarism. Consider the use of an online citation builder.
- Build your own Ds of Evidence activity.
- Design an activity that focuses on one of the 6 patterns to build associations.
- Explore data calculation, data conversion, data organization and synthesis technology tools. Discuss how you might use one of these tools in your classroom.