Training 21st-Century Research Ninjas

activity_guide_ninjaResearch skills for students are more important than ever, and it’s never too early to start training them to become research ninjas!

Born as digital natives, children develop computer literacy and begin exploring the Internet before they can even read. By the 2nd or 3rd grade, students are expected to perform research for writing assignments and other school projects.

Common Core State Standards and other state education standards emphasize integrating research skills with reading and writing skills at all grade levels. In fact, the Common Core standards include “participate in shared research and writing projects” as early as kindergarten. Even when not explicitly called out, research skills are essential for meeting many of the Common Core and state standards. For example, the Common Core anchor standards include being able to

  • Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions
  • Gather relevant information from multiple sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information
  • Cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking
  • Integrate content presented in diverse media and formats
  • Analyze multiple texts on a theme or topic

Beyond meeting state standards and curricular goals, strong research skills will serve students over the entire course of their lives. Whether they are writing an academic paper, making a health care decision or purchasing a car, students will need to be able to locate, assess and apply information.

In the past, when students were assigned research projects, they had to rely on the resources held within the library’s walls, but those resources were carefully selected by a librarian to ensure that they were credible sources with the information that students needed.

Students today have greater access to an increasingly wide world of information that transcends the library walls. Alongside the ease of access to information, however, comes the challenge of finding the right information — that is, information from credible sources that meets the students’ needs.

In this context, librarians are challenged with not only providing high-quality resources in the library but also teaching students the research and critical thinking skills they need to navigate the seemingly infinite information sources outside the library. Students need to be able to

  • Strategize their research plan
  • Identify credible, useful sources
  • Locate sources and information
  • Gather information from various sources
  • Evaluate the sources and information
  • Organize and present information

Traditionally, students have learned research skills by completing worksheets or writing a research paper. But there are lots of ways to make learning research skills relevant and fun. The following are just a few ideas.

Ninja Walk. Place small ninja footprints leading from the library entrance to the nonfiction section and then to the circulation desk. Encourage children to use their “ninja walk” while they explore the room.

Name That Photo. Find and post a photo of something with multiple elements, such as a historical figure in an interesting place in the world, standing alongside a strange animal or plant (e.g., President and Mrs. Nixon at the Great Wall of China). Challenge kids to prove their ninja research skills by answering questions about the photo.

Landmark Hunt. Have kids work in pairs or small groups to choose a famous landmark. Each group will investigate the landmark using resources in the nonfiction collection and then create a travel brochure about their site.

Fun Fact Bookmarks. Hand out bookmarks with fun facts (such as Upstart’s Fun Facts Bookmarks). Have students find sources for each of the facts on the bookmark. Then let students make their own fun fact bookmarks with facts they find in library resources.

For more activity ideas and resources, get Upstart’s free Be a Research Ninja Activity Guide.


Lisa Bintrim

Lisa Bintrim

Lisa Bintrim, Ph.D., is the former editor of LibrarySparks magazine, UpstartBooks and The Very Ready Reading Program. In this role, she focused on identifying and sharing innovative, engaging programs and resources for school and public libraries.