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Topic Equations


In this activity students will explore their own interests and connect those interests to a specific field of study. The purpose of this activity is to help students find the right research topic in an assigned field. It follows an equation: Area of Interest + Area of Study = Research Topic

Learning Strategies 

  • Connecting
  • Determining Importance
Clarifying Confusion, Classifying Information

Lesson Plan Stages 

  • Investigation

Content Areas 

  • ELA
  • Math
  • Science
  • Social Studies

Learning Strands 

  • Reading
  • Writing

Common Core Instructional Shifts 

  • Building Knowledge in the Discipline


Create a sample Areas of Interest chart to share with students. Create a sample Curriculum Connections chart to share with students.

Activity Steps 
  1. Introduce Topic Equations.

    Begin a discussion with students by asking, “Why is it important for researchers to care about their work?” There are examples in all subjects of researchers who have strong personal connections to their work. For example, there are scientists who study diseases because someone they know suffered from that disease. There are military historians who study a war because their grandfathers were soldiers. There are mathematicians who develop formulas for studying baseball statistics because they love the sport. All of these are examples of researchers finding the connection between the content area and their personal interests. The goal of the topic equations activity is to help students think through their personal interests and find the connections to the content.

  2. Model Areas of Interest chart.

    Divide the paper into quadrants: “Things I Like,” “Things I Do For Fun,” “Things I Care About,” and “Things I am Interested In.” Brainstorm items for each category. Remind students that this exercise is about thinking about themselves and their interests in and outside of school.

  3. Students complete Areas of Interest chart.

    Give students about five minutes to complete their chart. When they have finished have them pair up; each student shares some highlights of their Areas of Interest for 30 seconds. Encourage students to revise their lists based on the conversations they have with others.

  4. Model Curriculum Connections.

    Create a three-column chart. Label the headings “Interests,” “Subjects,” and “Topics.” Model completing the chart for students. For example, a social studies teacher may select “I care about my family” from his Areas of Interest chart. The next step is to think about a unit of study from the class. The teacher should provide a list of the units for students to help focus them. A sample unit could be the Great Depression. If using a textbook in class, the table of contents can be a useful way to think about the subject category. In the third column the student brainstorms topics that would connect the idea of family and the Great Depression. A sample topic could be orphanages in the Great Depression or the impact of family members migrating for work on the rest of the family.

  5. Complete chart.

    Students work individually to complete their Curriculum Connections chart.

  6. Conduct small group brainstorm.

    In pairs or small groups, students share their Curriculum Connections chart. Students should be encouraged to brainstorm with each other and add new topic ideas to their list.

  7. Select top three topic ideas.

    Student will select their top three ideas and explain in two or three sentences why they want to study that topic.

  8. Hold Teacher-Student conferences.

    A teacher-student conference of about three minutes should be enough to review the student’s top three choices and finalize the topic. In this conference it is important for the teacher to make sure the connection is strong between the interest and the curriculum and that there is enough information out there for a student to research.

  9. Reflect.

    Students can reflect individually or as a group, orally or in writing. · On a scale of 1-5, how helpful was the topic equation activity in helping you select a topic? · When do you think you might use this activity again?

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