In high school, one of my teachers taught me a method for using index cards in the research phase of writing reports. Through my college years, it developed into what I now affectionately refer to as the index card system.
In a nutshell, this method uses index cards for recording facts, and then organizes these cards into a straightforward outline that the students can draw from when writing their paper.
I don’t claim to hold the market on this system, as I’m sure I’m not the first to use index cards to prepare for a research paper. However, I thought I would take a moment to share this simple technique for organizing research with you.
The Index Card System
Step 1: Getting Ready
The students will need to begin their research project by selecting a topic for research. Once they have that, they need to choose several categories into which their information will fall. These will help them to organize their index cards as well as help them know how to determine what information is important to their project and what is not.
For example, if the student is researching for a science fair project where his question is, “Which soil is best for house plants to be grown in?” He could come up with the following research categories: What is found in soil, Plant growth, General information about plant structure, and Types of soil.
Once they have chosen their categories, have them assign a number for each one. Then, hand them a stack of index cards.
Step 2: Recording the Facts
Now the students can begin to delve into the available material on their chosen subject.
As they uncover bits of relevant data, they can write one fact in their own words on an index card. They should number each card at the top left with the category in which it fits. Then, they should assign a letter for each reference they use and write that in the right-hand top corner of each card.
This way, after they organize and sort their cards, they will know which references they need to include in their bibliography. So, their index cards would look like the ones below:
Step 3: Organizing for the Report
Once the students have finished their research, they need to organize the cards in preparation for writing their report. They can sort their cards into piles using the research categories which are in the top left hand corner.
Then, have them read through each of the facts to determine the most relevant pieces of information from each pile. You may need to help them as they decide which ones pertain to their project and which do not.
After they have gone through this process, they will be left with an informal outline that can serve as the basis for their report.
The Final Product
The index card system can work for any type of research project that your students may be assigned. Whether your student is just gathering facts for a science fair project or writing a research report, they will find the index card system to be an indispensable tool.