Research-based learning is often reserved for students in upper elementary or middle school, but this is a skill that kids can and do learn at an early age. Yes, you can teach kindergarteners how to do proper research (i.e. be awesome detectives and readers).
Here are eight inspiring research projects on subjects common for the K–2 age group. For each one, we give tips for LEARNING about the specific subject first with key research questions and tasks. Then, we offer a creative project idea, inspired by teachers and educators around the country, for DOING with your students.
1. The World of Bugs
SOURCE: Plain Vanilla Mom
It’s a big, enormous world out there—and there are lots of bugs in it. This is a good one to start with if you’re teaching young elementary students how to research. Spiders, insects, and bugs will forever be fascinating subjects for kids. So this project should generate a lot of excitement.
LEARNING: Assign each of your students a different bug and have them answer very simple questions like: How many legs do they have? Where can you find them? How big are they?
DOING: This bug fossil activity is fantastic! All you need is modeling clay, plastic insects (which you can get at the dollar store), a magnifying glass, and tweezers or tongs. Your students will love making the little molds, and it will really encourage them to pay attention to detail!
2. Money, Money, Money
Source: 123 Homeschool 4 Me
Understanding the value of a dollar, counting, and even doing small math problems with money are all skills that your students will be doing for years to come. Here’s how you can get them going on concepts now.
LEARNING: Start with the basics and make sure your students know the value of each bill and coin. Once they understand this, talk to them about earning money, saving, and even the purpose of banks.
DOING: Get inspired by this money minibook. Either download a free one (see link above) or create your own version to meet your classroom needs. Create several books for your class or one for each student as a quick reference to help them really understand the value of money.
3. History and Fame
Source: Let’s Explore
Every grade level has history and biographies as part of its curriculum. It’s essential for students to learn about historymakers, inventors, artists, and other important people of the past, and there are lots of fun ways to do this.
LEARNING: The research comes first, so it’s a good idea to assign a famous person to each of your students. Have them do a little biography, answering questions like: When were they born? Why are they famous? Where did they live?
DOING: Now it’s time for the fun part, where students get to be creative in reporting their results. Some teachers have the students get up in front of the class to present on their specific person, while others make it an art project. We love biography poster collages, like the one pictured above, because they really encourage students to focus on the most essential biographical facts.
4. Learning Plant Life Cycle
Source: The Imagination Tree
Learning about plant life is always a popular classroom activity. It’s such a great opportunity to show students how things grow, and help them understand where their food comes from.
LEARNING: Students can research farming and agriculture, and learn about where food comes from, both locally and around the world. Discover where tropical fruits like bananas and pineapple come from compared to crops in the United States like corn, potatoes, and beans. Help students understand that all plants have a similar start like the beans you will grow in class.
DOING: Plant your bean plants in a clear container like a jar. You can use paper towel or cotton balls for the planting so students will be able to see the roots grow and develop. Have students track the plant’s progress. They can measure it, take photos, or draw pictures every few days. Your students will love seeing how it changes so quickly.
5. Animal Tracks
Source: Green Kids Crafts
Animals are such a big interest area for younger elementary students, and they make lessons instantly more popular. This really useful lesson covers animals, human anatomy, and animal habitats.
LEARNING: When your class studies animal tracks, students can learn a lot about animals. For instance, they can learn about an animal’s size. They can also compare the size of the animal track to their own handprints or footprints for an anatomy lesson. And students can learn about animal habitats, too! We can help our students understand how all of these items are connected.
DOING: Now that your students have learned about animal tracks, have them recreate the tracks using cardboard scraps and sponges. This will give them a real idea of the actual size and shape of different tracks in the wild.
6. Digging into Dinosaurs
Source: Inquiring Minds
Even though they’re now extinct, dinosaurs remain some of the most popular animals with kids. Once you get your students researching, they can learn so much about these magnificent animals that came before us.
LEARNING: Help your students define the words “paleontology” and “paleontologist.” Next, encourage your kids to research different types of dinosaurs. Have them answer questions like: What were some of the big ones? Which ones could fly? What did different types of dinosaurs eat? These will all be important questions to answer before you dive into a project.
DOING: You can steal the sponge idea mentioned above to also create dinosaur tracks. Or for the ambitious teacher, create your very own giant dinosaur skeleton. This teacher outlined the shape for her students and then let them use packing peanuts and empty cardboard tubes to fill the inside.
7. Environment and Pollution
Source: The Owl Teacher
Whether you’re looking for a good Earth Day activity or you just want to teach your students more about environmental issues we are facing around the world, you can bring home the message by studying water pollution. This is a topic that affects millions every single day.
LEARNING: First, learn about the different types of pollution with your students. Air and water pollution are two big ones to start with. Help your kids learn the difference between these two and what they look like. Then ask them a question like, how could pollution affect animals, humans, and the future? Questions like this might seem too big for little minds, but they can handle it!
DOING: It really helps to see this lesson firsthand, and this Freddie the Fish activity is perfect. You’ll definitely want to see this teacher’s step-by-step instructions describing how she did it, but the basics involve a fish-shaped sponge, plastic containers, and adding different toxins to the water. Your students will really start to see how a little bit of water pollution can really get out of hand quickly.
8. Color Mixing
Source: Preschool Inspirations
Color mixing is always a popular activity, and it’s great for hands-on research. Your students will love being in charge of the colors and watching them change before their eyes.
LEARNING: Talk to your students about primary colors and go over the basics of what happens when you blend colors together. Depending on age, talk to them about why this happens and/or what they are seeing. Work with them to come up with a list or anchor chart about the most common color combinations.
DOING: There are so many great color-mixing activities out there, including mixing colorful ice cubes or having a color mixing station in the classroom. We also love this project from Preschool Inspirations, where they make sensory bottles with color mixing.
Make research for your K–2 students easier by using PebbleGo, a reading and research database specifically targeting younger elementary students.