That’s what the research process is truly about, wouldn’t you agree? So much of what we hope to teach can begin with what kids are passionate about, and many of the teachers I work with know from experience that when new learning journeys are fueled by passionate inquiry the rewards are great.

How do we help kids define and begin chasing their passions as researchers? How do we help them integrate what they love with what we want them to learn? These are the greater challenges, and often, when teachers throw the doors open and provide student choice, they find themselves confronted by levels of frustration that they didn’t expect.

“I don’t know what to study,” our students will tell us, and we’ll ask them to begin with what interests them.

“Nothing interests me,” a few will decide.

“Just give me a topic,” some will demand.

“Just tell me what you want,” they’ll say.

When kids move through a system that defines research as report writing around teacher-defined topics, their passions are quickly tucked away along with the critical thinking process necessary to any worthwhile journey. Inviting kids to define their passions and to carve a path for themselves as researchers may sound exciting and it is, but when kids haven’t been asked to do this before and they don’t have a frame of reference for what success might look like, the experience can be more than a bit daunting.

The following reflections, processes and tools have provided valuable support to many of the young researchers I’ve worked with recently and the teachers who inspire them. I’m wondering how you would enhance this list, as there is so much more that anyone could add. What are your thoughts about passion-driven inquiry? Which research processes and tools do you recommend? How do you help students begin defining and chasing their passions?



  1. Angela, I’m thinking that writing and passion are connected. If students are using writers’ notebooks as collections of ideas, musings and wonderings, they can be mined for themes, patterns or obsessions. Teacher-as-guide can help students to find research questions in their interests. What do you think?

  2. Yes! We use them in workshop all the time, and these are territories that can define their research inasmuch as they define their creative writing. The conversation is so important…giving them time and space to talk and to generate and refine ideas and questions. Great point.

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