Overview: As a way of giving students practice in developing productive research questions along with enhancing their understanding of how research questions guide the initial research process, this activity directs students to craft a range of questions about their topic. The creative/improvisational element of the activity encourages students to craft questions across a spectrum ranging from extremely narrow to extremely board, with the aim of developing a sense of the kind of question appropriate for the RBA assignment. Students create an "accordion" of these questions to see the full spectrum of possibilities for their research, developing greater insight into the pitfalls of overly-specific or overly-general questions and the advantages of carefully-focused inquiry.
Activity title: Accordion Prewrite
Author: Marvin Diogenes
Course: PWR 1 or PWR 2
Activity length and schedule: Approx. 15-30 minutes. This activity works best early in the research process, when students are working with their topics and well before students turn in their RBA drafts. The activity can also be useful during the TiC and be repeated for the RBA.
- Help students explore their research topics through brainstorming questions, with the result of developing a fuller understanding of how to focus research questions, avoiding the too narrow and too broad.
- Explore how topics can be framed from varied perspectives and distances and that research questions help determine the focus of the research that students do.
- Distribute sheets of paper to students.
- Ask each student to draw a horizontal line through the center of the page. At the end of each line, students will create the two axes of their accordion, with one end labeled "Extremely Narrow" and the other end labeled "Extremely Broad." [see image below for a visual of this chart from Envision: Writing and Researching Argument].
- Invite students to brainstorm as many questions as possible, placing the questions along the axis based on the broadness or narrowness of their scope.
- Once students have filled in the horizontal line with a series of questions that range from narrow to broad, ask the students to reflect on which questions seem most promising for advancing their research, developing their engagement with their topics, and shaping their research plan. Which question or questions will best help students make progress on their research project? How has the activity illuminated the topic and potential focuses for research for them?