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45 Fabulous 1st Grade Science Projects That Little Learners Will Love

Hands-on science is a surefire way to connect with every kid.

Collage of 1st grade science projects, including pencil refraction and a window greenhouse

First graders will cheer when you announce that they’ll get to do a real, hands-on science experiment! These 1st grade science projects are easy for kids to do, with concepts that will help build their science knowledge for the future.

To make it even easier to find the best science projects for 1st graders, we’ve given each a rating based on difficulty and the materials you’ll need:


  • Easy: Low or no-prep experiments you can do pretty much anytime
  • Medium: These take a little more setup or a longer time to complete
  • Advanced: Experiments like these take a fairly big commitment of time and/or effort
  • Basic: Simple items you probably already have around the house
  • Medium: Items that you might not already have but are easy to get your hands on
  • Advanced: These require specialized or more expensive supplies to complete

Animal and Nature Science Projects for 1st Grade

Weather science experiments for 1st grade.

  • More 1st Grade Science Experiments and Projects

Learn about animals, plants, and the Earth in general with these fun science activities for first graders.

Sort animals by features

Charts showing zoo animals sorted by category.

Difficulty: Easy / Materials: Basic

Use a printable or pull out the toy animals and have kids sort them into categories. It’s an early introduction to classification systems.

Learn more: Animal Sort at Fairy Poppins

Build the layers of Earth with Play-Doh

A ball of play doh has a slice taken out of it. It has a yellow center, a brown layer, a red layer, and a blue and green outer shell (first grade science experiments)

Another creative use for Play-Doh! Teach your students about the different layers of Earth and then have them create the layers using different colors of Play-Doh.

Learn more: Layers of the Earth at Evans Elementary School

Turn a plastic bag into a greenhouse

House made of green paper, with zip top plastic bag containing paper towel and sprouting seeds (First Grade Science Experiments)

Difficulty: Easy / Materials: Medium

Turn your 1st grade science class into gardeners! Use a damp paper towel in a plastic bag to allow them to see a seed sprouting and growing roots.

Learn more: Greenhouse Bag at Lessons for Little Ones

See how shadows change throughout the day

First grade science students measuring the shadows on a sunny day on the playground

Start in the morning: Have kids stand in one spot on the playground while a partner traces their shadow with sidewalk chalk . Ask them what they think will happen when they stand in the same spot during the afternoon, then head back outside after lunch to find out.

Learn more: Shadow Experiment at The First Grade Roundup

Discover how plants drink water

Three glasses of water dyed different colors with a celery stalk in each

Capillary action is the name of the game, and your 1st grade science kiddos will be amazed at the results. Place celery stalks in cups of colored water, and watch as the leaves change color!

Learn more: Capillary Action at Lessons for Little Ones

Build a bird feeder

Platform-style bird feeder built from colorful wood craft sticks and filled with mixed seed (First Grade Science Experiments)

Set young engineers loose with wood craft sticks , glue, and string to create a bird feeder. Then research the best seeds to fill them with, and hang them outside your classroom window to draw in some feathered friends.

Learn more: DIY Bird Feeder at Mombrite

Observe the birds at your feeder

Once your feeder is in place, teach kids to identify common birds and keep track of their visits. Report their findings to one of Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Citizen Science projects to let kids be part of real-life research. ( Find more bird-watching activities for kids here. )

Experiment with apples and oxidation

Four jars with apple slice in each, filled with air, water, vinegar, and oil, with two magnifying glasses

Apples turn brown when they’re cut open due to oxidation. Is there any way to prevent that from happening? This experiment aims to find out. ( Explore more apple activities here. )

Learn more: Apples Experiment at Camping Teacher

Use colorful beads to learn about camouflage

Printed picture of a wildflower meadow with colored beads laid on top

Animal camouflage is an important way for prey to protect itself from predators. To learn how effective it can be, place matching colored beads on top of a photo of wildflowers and see how long it takes students to find them all.

Learn more: Camouflage Activity at The First Grader Roundup

Expose a sponge fish to pollution

A series of images showing fish-shaped sponges in containers filled with oil, dirt, etc.

It’s never too early to start learning about how important it is to protect the Earth. Use sponge “fish” to see how polluted water affects the wildlife living in it.

Learn more: Pollution Experiment at The Owl Teacher

Dig in the dirt with claws

Student's hand wearing pink glove with plastic spoons attached to fingers, digging in dirt

Animal adaptations allow creatures to live in just about every environment on Earth. Learn how claws help some animals survive and thrive by gluing plastic spoons to a glove.

Learn more: Claw Glove at The First Grade Roundup

Observe plant transpiration

Tree branch with leaves covered with an air-tight plastic bag (First Grade Science Experiments)

Many plants take in more water than they need. What happens to the rest? Wrap a plastic bag around a living tree branch to see transpiration in action.

Learn more:  Leaf Transpiration at Teach Beside Me

Try these science activities to explore wind, rain, and more with your firsties.

Create a weather vane

A weathervane is made from a pink container with a pencil with a sewing needle in the eraser coming out of it. A straw with a piece of paper are attached to the top horizontally (first grade science experiments)

A weather vane is one of the oldest scientific tools—they help people know which way the wind is blowing. Learn how to make your own with this cool weather experiment.

Learn more: Weathervane Experiment at Rookie Parenting

Grow a rainbow

Paper towel stretched between two glasses of water, with rainbow colors stretching across it (First Grade Science Experiments)

Kids learn the colors of the rainbow along with chromatography as they watch marker streaks climb up and meet across a wet paper towel. The word might be a big one for little kids to learn, but they’ll love to see it in action!

Learn more: Grow a Rainbow at The Best Ideas for Kids

Make it rain

Glass of water with shaving cream on top and blue food coloring dropping down

You need rain to make a rainbow. Simulate a rain cloud in a jar with shaving cream and food coloring, and see how the coloring saturates the “cloud” until it simply must fall.

Learn more: Shaving Cream Clouds at Fun Learning for Kids

Create frost in a can

A tin can has frost developing in it (first grade science experiments)

This is an especially fun experiment during those chilly winter months. First, fill the can with ice and halfway with water. Then have the kids sprinkle salt in the can and cover the top. Finally, shake it and wait about three minutes for the frost to begin to appear.

Learn more: Frost in a Can at Kindergarten Worksheets and Games

Create an avalanche

Blue tray covered in flour and small pebbles (First Grade Science Experiments)

Learn about the destructive power of an avalanche in a safe way with this experiment. All you need is flour, cornmeal, pebbles, and a plastic tray.

Learn more: Avalanche Experiment at A Dab of Glue Will Do

More 1st Grade Science Projects and Experiments

Looking for more? Try these experiments on a range of subjects to teach first graders all about science.

Give gummy bears a bath

Four plastic cups with liquid and gummi bears, sitting on a printable worksheet (First Grade Science)

Drop gummy bears into different liquid solutions to see how they change (or don’t) over time. Kids will learn about osmosis, as well as how scientists must be good observers.

Learn more: Gummy Bear Experiment at First Grade Buddies + Co

Play a DIY flute

First grade science student playing a homemade pan flute

These homemade flutes are fun to play, but they also help young kids learn about sound. Let them experiment with straw lengths to see what tones they can make.

Learn more: DIY Pan Flute at Buggy and Buddy

Play with Play-Doh to learn why we have bones

Worksheet entitled Why Do I Have Bones with Play-Doh, drinking straws, and simple model of human figure

Ask kids to build a person from Play-Doh and see if it will stand on its own. Then show them how adding drinking straws gives it structure and strength, and explain that bones do the same for us! ( Get more clever ways to use Play-Doh in the classroom here. )

Learn more: Play-Doh Bones at Keeping My Kiddo Busy

Find out which objects magnets attract

Two sheets labeled Magnetic and Not Magnetic with small u-shaped magnet and a basket of small objects

Equip students with magnets and send them out to explore and discover which objects the magnet will stick to and which won’t. Record their findings on the free printable worksheet at the link.

Learn more: Magnet Science Experiments at Fairy Poppins

Grow a crystal garden

Glass bowl holding blue water solution covered in crystals

First grade science students might not grasp the concept of supersaturated solutions, but they’ll still love a good crystal project! Grab some magnifying glasses and let them examine the crystals up close (try not to touch, as they’re very fragile) to see the cool geometric structures.

Learn more: Crystal Garden at Babble Dabble Do

Build a jelly bean structure

First grade science student building a structure from jellybeans and toothpicks

If you’re doing this STEM project in the spring, jelly beans make the perfect base. If you can’t get a hold of jelly beans, try substituting tiny marshmallows in their place. Make sure to have some extras on hand since little hands are likely to snack as they build.

Learn more: Jellybean STEM Challenge at The STEM Laboratory

Experiment with marshmallow Peeps

Three cups labeled water, vinegar, and soda, each with a pink marshmallow bunny floating in it

Peeps used to just be an Easter treat, but these days you can find them in different shapes throughout much of the year. Use them to practice making predictions and recording observations with this sweet experiment.

Learn more: Easter Peeps Science Experiment at Gift of Curiosity

Spark excitement with static electricity

Pink balloon with scrap of yellow tissue paper stuck to it, labeled Static Electricity Experiment for Kids (First Grade Science)

No doubt your 1st grade science students have already encountered static electricity by rubbing a balloon on their hair. This experiment takes things a step further, letting kids explore which objects an electrically charged balloon can pick up and which it can’t.

Learn more: Static Electricity Balloons at Kids Activities Blog

Melt crayons to explore solids and liquids

A rainbow of crayons laid on white paper, melting and running down. Text reads Melting: Solid to Liquid, Solid plus Heat equals Liquid

Dig out some old crayons and use them for this easy experiment that demonstrates the difference between liquids and solids. When you’re done, you’ll have a cool piece of art to display. ( Discover more uses for broken crayons here. )

Learn more: Melting Crayons at First Grade Circle

Talk through a paper cup phone

Two green paper cups connected at the bottoms by long pink string (First Grade Science Experiments)

This classic experiment will help your 1st grade science class understand that sound travels in waves, through the air, and across other objects. Watching their faces light up when they hear whispers in their cups will make your day!

Learn more: Paper Cup Phone at There’s Just One Mommy

Blow a bubble snake

A little boy is seen blowing out a long stream of bubbles that are all attached (first grade science experiments)

Difficulty: Medium / Materials: Basic

You’ll need to plan this experiment for a day with nice weather since it is best suited to outdoors. You will need an empty water bottle, a washcloth, a rubber band, a small bowl or plate, food coloring, scissors or box cutters, distilled water, dish soap, and Karo syrup or glycerin. There’s a lot of prep, but the end result is definitely worth it!

Learn more: Bubble Snakes at Hand 2 Mind

Learn why we have night and day

Paper plate divided in half, with night illustrated on one half and day on the other

The Earth’s daily rotation gives us days and nights. This simple demo helps kids understand that. They draw a day scene and a night scene on a paper plate, then cover it with half of another plate that can be moved. This is an art project and 1st grade science experiment all rolled into one.

Learn more: Night and Day Play at Universe Awareness

Float food coloring on milk

Glass of milk with blue, red, and orange food coloring floating on the surface (First Grade Science Experiments)

Learn about surface tension by dropping food coloring onto different types of milk (whole, skim, cream, etc.). Then use dish soap to break down the fats and surface tension, and watch the colors dance!

Learn more: Surface Tension Milk at STEAMsational

Drop water onto a penny

Continue your exploration of surface tension by adding water drop-by-drop to a penny. The surface tension will allow you to add far more water than you might think.

Will it sink or swim?

Ask students to predict whether a variety of items will sink or float in water. Then test each object to check their hypotheses.

Blow up a balloon using yeast

Young student pouring yeast through a funnel into a plastic bottle

This is similar to the classic lemon juice and baking soda experiment many kids do at some point. But this one is better for younger kids since you don’t have to worry about them splashing the juice in their eyes. Kids will be just as astonished at the results as the yeast eats the sugar and produces carbon dioxide gas!

Learn more: Yeast Balloon Experiment at The STEM Laboratory

Push on air

A piece of paper says Pushing On Air. It has a barrell, plunger, syringe, etc. on it

Teach your students about air compression and air pressure using a barrel, plunger, syringe, and flexible tube. Kids will definitely get a kick out of air wrestling and popping off their plungers using air pressure.

Learn more: Air Pressure Experiment at First Grade Adventurers

Test your reaction time

Blue ruler dropping into student's hand

Do your students have lightning-quick reflexes? Find out with this easy experiment. One student holds a ruler vertically, while another places their hand just beneath and waits. When the first student drops the ruler, the second catches it as quickly as possible, seeing how many inches passed through their fingers first.

Learn more: Reaction Time Experiment at Science Sparks

Assemble a DIY lava lamp

Glass jar filled with water and floating yellow oil

Your firsties are too young to remember the lava lamp craze, but this science project will give them a taste of it as they learn about liquid density.

Learn more: Salt Volcano Lava Lamp at What Do We Do All Day?

Learn the scientific method with candy

Worksheet labeled Will It Melt? with dish of various candies and a red crayon (First Grade Science Experiments)

See the scientific method in action as kids hypothesize what will happen to various types of candy in the hot sun. Observe, record, and analyze your results to see if their predictions were correct.

Learn more: Candy Scientific Method Activity at Playdough to Plato

Look into mirrors to discover symmetry

Young student's hand holding a mirror on a piece of paper with the letters A I U, showing symmetry (First Grade Science Experiments)

By now, 1st grade science students may have noticed that mirrors reflect objects backward. Ask them to write the alphabet in capital letters, then hold it up to the mirror. Which letters are the same when they’re reflected? Use those findings to talk about symmetry.

Learn more: Mirror Symmetry at Buggy and Buddy

Create a super-simple circuit

A child's hands are shown holding large batteries, tin foil, and a small light.

This is the perfect way to introduce the concept of electricity to young students since the materials and steps are minimal. You will need a D battery, tinfoil, electrical tape, and a light bulb from a flashlight.

Learn more: Super-Simple Circuit at What Do We Do All Day?

“Bend” a pencil using light refraction

Mason jar of water with a pencil in it, viewed from the side

Tell your students you’re going to bend a pencil without touching it. Drop it into a glass of water and have them look at it from the side. Light refraction makes it appear to be in two pieces!

Learn more: Bending Pencil Experiment at STEAMsational

Roll marbles to explore momentum

A ruler propped on one side on a flat book, with a marble rolling down it toward a folded index card (First Grade Science Experiments)

Momentum is “mass in motion,” but what does that really mean? Find out by rolling marbles of different sizes down rulers placed at various slopes.

Learn more: Momentum Experiments at Frugal Fun for Boys and Girls

Dunk eggs to understand dental health

A series of plastic cups filled with varieties of soda, juice, and other liquids, with an egg in each

Grown-ups are always telling kids sugary drinks are bad for their teeth, so try this experiment to put your money where your mouth is! Eggshells are a good substitute for teeth since they’re both made of calcium. Leave eggs in different kinds of beverages to see which ones do the most damage to the shells.

Learn more: Dental Health Eggs at First Grade Funtastic

Melt ice cubes to make new colors

Plastic containers holding colored ice cubes floating in water of different colors

Color mixing is one of those incredibly cool activities that kids will want to try again and again. Make ice cubes using primary colors, then let them melt together to see what new colors you can create.

Learn more: Color Mixing at Gift of Curiosity

Fly a paper airplane

Kid absolutely love creating and flying paper airplanes, so this experiment is sure to be a hit. Have your students create different-style planes and then experiment with thrust and lift to see which fly the farthest, highest, etc.

Weigh items with a homemade balance scale

Hands are shown punching holes into small plastic cups (first grade science experiments)

Make a simple balance scale with a coat hanger, yarn, and some plastic cups. Have students gather items from around the classroom, make predictions about which will be heavier, then test their hypothesis.

Learn more: DIY Balance Scale at WikiHow

If you love 1st grade science, be sure to check out these 25 First Grade STEM Challenges .

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First grade science students will love these hands-on activities! Grow a rainbow, learn about camouflage, build a bird feeder, and more!

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Home » 1st Grade Teaching Resources » 33 Engaging & Inspiring 1st Grade Science Projects

research projects for first grade

33 Engaging & Inspiring 1st Grade Science Projects

There are a lot of 1st grade science projects that can help children draw conclusions and make connections to the world around them. In first grade science, children learn about topics within life, physical, and earth sciences. That means there are a lot of different types of science experiments to choose from when looking for an engaging (or easy) project for your class or at home.

research projects for first grade

Table of Contents

What science topics do 1st graders learn, the best 1st grade science experiments, what are some easy science projects, check out these additional 1st grade resources.

Through the life sciences, first graders learn about the characteristics that differentiate living and nonliving things. They learn about animals and how they adapt to and interact with their surroundings. 

Children at this age also learn about the seasons, weather patterns, and the water cycle through the earth sciences, along with the phases of the moon. 

research projects for first grade

First graders are also introduced to the basic concepts of motion and forces where they explore how objects move, and they manipulate variables so they can compare cause and effect . Students this age learn how to ask a question that can be answered through investigation and observation. So a good science experiment that supports these topics starts with a testable question that children will be able to answer at the conclusion of the investigation.

In partnership with Teach Simple , whose marketplace is full of educational materials created by actual teachers (plus 50% of all revenues go to them), I’ve gathered 33 great kid-friendly science projects that your first grader will enjoy in the classroom or to pass the time by at home. Have a look! 

The projects in the list below address the topics I mentioned above that 1st graders learn in school. Allow your child to take the time to manipulate variables and make observations and discuss them with you during the experiments so they can also learn how to draw conclusions. 

  • Make A Rainbow From Children’s Museum

research projects for first grade

First graders love to learn about rainbows. This experiment shows how white light is a combination of all the colors of the rainbow. When you shine the flashlight on the glass of water, the light waves are refracted, or bent, causing the light to break into its various colors. 

Supplies you’ll need:

  • Clear glass
  • Darkened room

If you’re looking for a bit more to hit this concept home, try out Teach Simple’s Colors Science, Literacy and Math Activity by KP Classroom, which provides companion activities to support this experiment. 

research projects for first grade

  • Balloon Rocket From Scishow Kids

This is one of the most fun 1st grade science fair projects and it introduces the laws of motion and forces. During this project, students will observe when we blow the balloon up with more air, it should travel farther. Students will need to observe, measure, and record data. 

  • String (2-3 yards length recommended)
  • 2 chairs or other object to tie each end of the string

Download this Hands-On STEAM- Physical Science e-book for supporting materials by Classroom Complete Press. 

research projects for first grade

  • Fluffy Slime Experiment From Elmer’s Store

research projects for first grade

This is a fun and easy experiment where 1st graders learn how to mix multiple substances to create one new substance. I like the Elmer’s Fluffy Slime Kit set linked below as it makes two batches of soft, fluffy slime in two colors.

Pair this experiment with activities from this Hands-On- Physical Science: Matter & Materials unit for a lesson about states of matter by Classroom Complete Press. Have students discuss which state slime might fit into and why. 

research projects for first grade

  • Crayon Box STEM Activity By The Core Coaches

research projects for first grade

This project is designed to help your students think outside the box and learn how the world works. It helps students explore the engineering design process using common materials.

This digital download includes a list for material recommendations, but this challenge can be done with materials you have on hand, such as:

  • Pipe cleaners
  • Popsicle sticks
  • Cotton balls
  • Rubber bands
  • Leaf Chromatography Project From Lostronaut’s Store

research projects for first grade

When learning about the four seasons, a natural question for first graders to ask is why leaves change colors in autumn. 

To start this project, use a Seasonal Cycles Worksheet by Have Fun Teaching, to develop background knowledge prior to the experiment. 

research projects for first grade

Next, have students go outside and collect different leaves. Break the leaves up, put the pieces in a cup, and add rubbing alcohol. Then use the chromatography kit linked below to set up the strips and watch the color bleed up. Discuss the different colors that separate out during the chromatography process.

  • Dancing Rice From Farmingdale Library

Dancing rice is the perfect chemistry experiment for first graders because it demonstrates a chemical reaction. When vinegar is added to baking soda, the hydrogen ions in vinegar react with the sodium bicarbonate in the baking soda and releases gas. 

  • White vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Optional: Food coloring 
  • Shoebox Guitar By Twin Sisters Digital Media

research projects for first grade

What’s better than conducting a science experiment about sound? Use the shoebox guitar project to teach students about vibrations and how sound travels. Then make some classroom music and dance out all that 1st grade energy.

  • 4 rubber bands of varying thickness

Living vs Nonliving: Yeast vs. Sand

This first grade science experiment compares the properties of yeast and sand which look similar, but one of them is living and the other is nonliving. 

Use this activity to spark a conversation about the properties of living and nonliving things and what all living things have in common. 

This STEM Workbook and Living and Nonliving Things activity pack provide worksheets and activities to support learning about living vs. nonliving things. 

research projects for first grade

  • Sink Or Float From Mayta The Brown Bear 

This fun lab is a great introduction to the concept of density. 

Gather whatever items you have on hand and a large bin of water. Have students make predictions about which items will sink and which will float. They can test objects like a small sheet of tinfoil, a pebble, a flower, a leaf, a stick , a marble, etc. 

You can also use this Sink or Float Recording Sheet to collect data by Cherry Workshop. 

research projects for first grade

  • Blubber Experiment From Learn With Mrs.B

In this experiment, students investigate the insulating properties of shortening or petroleum jelly as a substitute for animal fat. 

  • Plastic zip baggies 
  • Lard (shortening) or petroleum jelly
  • Bowl of ice water

Combine this experiment with a lesson about arctic animals using some Polar Animals Flashcards by Fiddleticks Education or with this animal science unit All About Polar Bears to teach them how arctic animals stay warm in their polar environment by Simply Schoolgirl. 

research projects for first grade

  • Fossil Factory By Twin Sisters Digital Media

research projects for first grade

Get your students ready for a fossil adventure. First graders can design their own fossil out of clay and then go on an outdoor field trip to dig around for fossils outside after learning a bit more about them.

  • Natural objects
  • Rolling pin
  • Plastic knife
  • Paint brush
  • Cloud In A Jar Experiment By Lilibette’s Resources

research projects for first grade

When learning about either weather or the water cycle, creating a cloud in a jar is the perfect activity to show children how clouds are formed when warm water vapor rises toward cooler temperatures and attaches to condensation nuclei. Specific instructions on how to make the cloud in the jar are available in the Clouds Mini Project Resource Pack below.

  • The Penny Experiment From Kids Fun Science

This super easy experiment demonstrates the properties of water cohesion and surface tension. Start with a testable question like “How many drops of water fit on the head of a penny?” 

Children should make their predictions. Let students design an investigation to answer the testable question. This experiment lends itself to teaching the scientific method . 

  • Cup of water
  • Create Your Own Tornado From The 4M Store

research projects for first grade

Who doesn’t love learning about how storms form? First graders will have fun putting their model together and simulating a tornado from this kit full of everything you need. 

For further learning, have students listen to an audiobook, Tornados and Hurricanes by Twin Sisters Digital Media

research projects for first grade

  • How Many Pennies Can My Boat Hold? From KSU iTeach

In this experiment children will design and construct their own tinfoil boat. Then they will predict how many pennies the boat can hold before it sinks. 

This experiment demonstrates the property of density. 

  • Bucket of water

A Water Experiment Journal by Kindergarten Cafe that includes a worksheet for students to collect data and record their observations is a great supplement.

research projects for first grade

  • Making Rock Candy From The Sci Guys

This chemistry experiment shows students how increasing water temperature causes sugar to dissolve. You can also show your children how sugar doesn’t dissolve in cold water. As you increase the temperature, it begins to dissolve, creating a new solution that results in a sweet treat everyone can enjoy later. 

  • Optional: Flavoring
  • Elephant’s Toothpaste From Michigan Medicine

Students will learn in this project how different substances react to create a new substance, and, in this case, heat energy. The yeast removes the oxygen in the hydrogen peroxide, causing bubbles. Heat energy is released, creating what is known as an exothermic reaction. 

  • Food coloring
  • Plastic water bottle
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Liquid dish soap
  • Measuring cup
  • Paper plate
  • 1 tablespoon of dry yeast
  • Grow Your Own Crystals From The 4M Store

research projects for first grade

A favorite 1st grade science project is growing crystals. You can do this with a pre-packaged kit, like the one linked below, or with a variety of household items, including Borax. 

Crystals form when water evaporates from a mixture. You can also teach your first graders about the different geometric shapes that crystals form. And this can be paired with a lesson about evaporation using these The Water Cycle Printables by My Kind of Crazy. 

research projects for first grade

  • Shiny Penny Experiment From SciShow Kids

This experiment introduces the concept of variables in a way that first graders can easily understand. Students will use a number of different substances to polish dull pennies. The independent variable is the substance being tested to polish the penny. This is the variable that we are manipulating or changing. 

  • Can of cola
  • Lemon juice
  • Tarnished pennies
  • Build Your Own Rain Gauge   From Community Play Things

research projects for first grade

When learning about weather, have students make their own rain gauges. When it rains, they can make predictions about how much rain will fall and collect data on the actual amounts. 

Resources for this lab and other weather related activities can be found in Teach Simple’s Hands-On STEAM- Earth and Space Science Grades 1-5 by Classroom Complete Press.

research projects for first grade

Students may also be interested in the audiobook When I Grow Up, I Want to Be a Meteorologist to supplement the concepts learned by Twin Sisters Digital Media.

research projects for first grade

  • Capillary Action Of Water In Plants By Madeleine Rein

If you’re looking for a fun way to demonstrate how plants take in water from the roots and distribute it to the rest of the plant, this is an easy and engaging experiment for first graders. 

  • White flower
  • Jar of water

To learn more about plants and their parts, you can couple the experiment with the book: Plant, Plant, What Do You See by Kindergarten Cafe. 

research projects for first grade

  • Jumping Frogs (Static Electricity) From Science Sparks

This is a fun take on using a balloon and rubbing it against fabric to create static electricity. 

Have students predict how many paper frogs will be attracted to and stick to the balloon. Another variation on the lab is to have students time how long the frogs stick to the balloon. 

Supporting materials to teach about static electricity can be found in this resource: Hands-On Physical Science: Electricity and Magnetism . 

research projects for first grade

  • Popsicle Stick Catapult From stlDenise3D

Children will create a catapult with a plastic spoon, popsicle sticks, and rubber bands. 

After constructing the catapult, ask children to choose objects to launch. Some suggestions include marshmallows, cotton balls, and other soft items. 

Students can predict which objects can be launched the farthest. Teach Simple’s unit on Force and Motion by Classroom Complete Press reinforces the concepts in this 1st grade science project. 

research projects for first grade

  • Oreo Cookie Moon Phases From Hungry SciANNtist

Learning the phases of the moon can be challenging. So why not make it fun by using Oreo cookies to model each phase of the moon? 

Students can easily create their own model in groups or individually. 

Then have students review the moon phases using some Moon Phases Flashcards by Fiddleticks Education or this It’s Just A Phase activity to further reinforce the concept by Have Fun Teaching. 

research projects for first grade

  • Rolling Pin Pulley From STEM With Mr. C

In this first grade science fair project, children will learn the mechanics of simple machines by constructing their own pulley. Engage students in a discussion about where they might see pulley systems in the world around them. 

Then, use a Hands-On Physical Science: Simple Machines activity pack to introduce the mechanics behind simple machines by Classroom Complete Press. 

research projects for first grade

  • How Does Composting Work? From Educational Insights Store

research projects for first grade

Americans waste about a pound of food per person each day. Composting has become a popular way to let food waste decompose rather than throwing it away. But how does it work? 

Try out this easy classroom compost kit and let students make observations over a number of weeks as they watch what happens when different types of materials decompose.

This project can be an extension of Teach Simple’s lesson on the Flower Life Cycle by My Kind of Crazy or Watermelon Life Cycle by My Kind of Crazy. 

research projects for first grade

  • Fun With Ramps By Twin Sisters Digital Media

research projects for first grade

The perfect 1st grade science project can be found in Teach Simple’s Science Projects: Volume 1 resource. Your 1st graders will have fun sending different objects down ramps and comparing how far each object travels. They can also change the incline of the ramp to test whether that affects how far objects will travel. 

  • Flat moveable surface to use as ramp
  • Rollable objects
  • Marker Chromatography From Science Kids

This fun experiment combines science and art. Students will learn how substances are made up of more than one component by separating colors from ink samples through the capillary action of the water traveling through filter paper. The water dissolves the ink, causing colors to separate. 

  • White coffee filters
  • Washable markers
  • Craft stick
  • Binder clip
  • Paper towels

Use this activity in conjunction with other activities from Teach Simple’s Colors Science, Literacy and Math Activity Packet by KP Classroom 

research projects for first grade

  • Experiment With Milk Art From SCIENCE FUN For Everyone!

This experiment allows students to explore their creative side. As children put ink drops into the milk, point out that the drop stays in place. Introduce the concept of surface tension of water. Show how the dish soap breaks the tension. 

Teach Simple’s Let’s Investigate! Hands-On Science activity book by Classroom Complete Press, includes a lab investigation worksheet to complete along with this experiment. 

research projects for first grade

  • Make Your Own Bubbles From Howcast

In addition to the fun of creating their own long-lasting bubbles, students will learn about states of matter and mixtures in this fun project. 

  • Optional: Glycerin

Use this lab as an extension of Teach Simple’s States of Things States of Matter activity pack by Have Fun Teaching. 

research projects for first grade

  • Evapotranspiration In Plants From MooMooMath And Science

We know that plants need water to live, but what happens when they take in more than they need? Small openings in leaves release excess water vapor into the atmosphere in a process called evapotranspiration. This is an important part of the water cycle. 

  • Potted plant
  • Clear jar that fits over plant
  • Aluminum foil

You can also take the class outside and rubber band a plastic baggie around a leaf on a tree or bush.

Teach Simple’s Water Cycle Printable Activity Book contains materials to teach and review the water cycle with first graders by My Kind of Crazy. 

research projects for first grade

  • What Do Plants Need To Grow? By Ready-Ed Publications

research projects for first grade

This activity from Teach Simple’s STEM Workbook- Grade 1 teaches first graders that plants need light and water in order to grow. This experiment supports lessons on plants and living vs. nonliving things. 

  • Masking tape
  • Plant seeds
  • Water 
  • Make Your Own Anemometer From Go Science Girls

research projects for first grade

Teach kids about how to measure wind by building anemometers. Pair this fun 1st grade science project with the Weather Wise! lesson plans on weather and forecasting. 

research projects for first grade

After building their anemometers, students can measure wind speeds and collect data to make weather forecasts. 

  • 5 small disposable cups
  • Thick cardboard
  • Which Foods Are The Best Conductors? From SkelangDirect

research projects for first grade

This 1st grade science fair project teaches students about how energy is conducted and the difference between conductors and insulators. The kit below includes all of the materials needed to get this project started.

Have students record their observations on Teach Simple’s Science Observation Journal Pages by Kindergarten Cafe. 

research projects for first grade

  • Which Colors Absorb The Most Heat? 

The procedure for this first grade science fair project is included in Teach Simple’s Let’s Investigate! Hands-On Science activity book . First graders will learn that darker colors absorb more heat while lighter colors reflect it. Engage students in a discussion about practical applications of this knowledge. 

  • Different colors of construction paper

Science experiments do not have to be complicated and time consuming to be rewarding. For example, the Oreo Cookie Moon Phases Model mentioned above is a fun way to teach first graders why the moon appears to be different shapes throughout the month. Children can compare their model with their Moon Phases Flashcards to check the accuracy of their edible model by Fiddleticks Education. With a quick and simple setup, this project is easy for kids and teachers to use and understand.

research projects for first grade

If you’re looking for more easy setup experiments, Teach Simple’s STEM Workbook has more simple yet engaging science projects. The key to 1st grade science projects is to make them interesting and relatable to your students, no matter the difficulty level.

About the Author Kelly Rende has a Masters degree in Special Education. She has been teaching middle school science and STEM courses for 18 years. When not teaching, she can be found writing or on an adventure with her children and dogs.

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Firstieland - First Grade Teacher Blog

Where learning feels like play.

Animal Habitats – A First Grade Research Project

Learning about animal habitats in first grade is always a fun and exciting activity.  Students love learning about different animals and this lesson makes it even more engaging when they get to build their own habitat!

Learning about animal habitats in first grade

Page Contents

What Is A Habitat?

To begin, we needed to understand the definition of a habitat and the animals that lived in the different habitats around the world. We watched a couple of short videos on Youtube to help us set the stage.

research projects for first grade

Choosing An Animal To Research

animal books for first grade

Pre-Writing Activities

animal habitat flip book

Building Our Animal Habitats

animal habitat materials

Our Completed Animal Habitats

animal habitat diorama

Writing Our Reports

writing animal reports in first grade

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35 Science Projects For 1st Graders

Curious kids turn into junior scientists with these fun and simple  science projects for 1st graders. Science doesn’t need to be difficult or complicated! Here’s our list of the best first grade science activities that are totally doable and use simple supplies for home or in the classroom.

research projects for first grade

What Do First Graders Do In Science?

At this stage, the emphasis is on cultivating curiosity, honing observation skills, and fostering a love for discovery. The first grade science curriculum typically covers a diverse range of topics, encouraging students to engage in hands-on activities that make learning both immersive and enjoyable.

First Grade Science Topics Include:

  • Living and Non-Living Things: Students learn to differentiate between living organisms (plants and animals) and non-living things (objects and materials). They explore the characteristics and behaviors that define living things.
  • Plants : First graders discover the life cycle of plants, from seed germination to growth and reproduction. They learn about the role of sunlight, water, and nutrients in plant development.
  • Animals: Students explore various animal species, their habitats, and basic characteristics. They learn about different types of animals, their body parts, and how they adapt to their environments.
  • Weather and Seasons : Children are introduced to basic weather patterns and the four seasons. They learn about the different types of weather conditions and how they change throughout the year.
  • Basic Earth Science : First graders might learn about the Earth’s landforms (mountains, valleys, etc.) and bodies of water (rivers, lakes, oceans). They also explore concepts like day and night and the rotation of the Earth.
  • Matter and Materials : Students are introduced to different types of materials (solid, liquid, gas) and their basic properties. They learn to describe and compare materials based on attributes like color, texture, and size.
  • Energy and Forces : Young learners are introduced to the concept of energy and different forms of energy like light and sound. They might explore simple machines and basic forces like pushing and pulling.
  • Light and Shadows : First graders might learn about sources of light, how light travels, and how shadows are formed. They observe and experiment with light to understand its properties.
  • Simple Experiments: Students engage in simple hands-on experiments to learn about cause and effect relationships, make predictions, and develop their scientific inquiry skills.
  • Observation and Recording : Emphasis is placed on developing observation skills and recording findings through drawings, diagrams, and simple written descriptions.
  • Environmental Awareness : Children might learn about the importance of taking care of the environment, recycling, and conserving resources.
  • Basic Astronomy : An introduction to the sun, moon, and stars might be included, along with the concept of day and night and the idea that the moon changes shape.

Using the Scientific Method

The scientific method is a process or method of research. A problem is identified, information about the problem is gathered, a hypothesis or question is formulated from the information, and the hypothesis is tested with an experiment to prove or disprove its validity.

Sounds heavy… What in the world does that mean?!? It means you don’t need to try and solve the world’s biggest science questions! The scientific method is all about studying and learning things right around you.

As children develop practices that involve creating, gathering data, evaluating, analyzing, and communicating, they can apply these critical thinking skills to any situation.

Learn more about:

  • Using The Scientific Method With Kids
  • Observation In Science

The use of the  best Science and Engineering Practices  is also relevant to the topic of using the scientific method. Read more here and see if it fits your science planning needs.

Creating A Science Fair Project

Science projects are an excellent tool for kids to show what they know about science! Plus, they can be used in all sorts of environments including classrooms, homeschool, and groups.

OUR TOP TIP: Pick a project that your child has expressed interest in. Engaging your child in this process will be much easier when they are the driving force behind it !

Kids can take what they have learned about using the scientific method , stating a hypothesis, choosing variables , making observations and analyzing and presenting data.

Want to turn one of these experiments into an awesome science fair project? Check out these helpful resources.

  • Science Project Tips From A Teacher
  • Science Fair Board Ideas
  • Easy Science Fair Projects

Get your FREE Science Activities Calendar

research projects for first grade

35 Science Projects for First Graders

Color mixing.

Use watercolors to learn how mixing primary colors creates different colors.

Sink or Float Experiment

Grab some everyday objects and a container of water to explore the concept of density and why some objects sink while others float.

Egg In Salt Water

Will an egg float or sink in salt water? This is a fun version of the sink or float activity above. Ask lots of questions and get kids thinking with this salt water density experiment.

research projects for first grade

Seed Germination Experiment

Use a seed jar to observe how plants grow from seeds and what they need to survive.

Shadow Puppets

Make these fun printable shadow puppets to explore how light interacts with objects and creates shadows.

Edible Moon Phases

Use oreo cookies to create the phases of the moon to explore how the moon changes as it moves around the earth.

Make Rainbows

Use a simple glass prism, and other ways to see how light is made up of different colors and can be separated into a rainbow.

research projects for first grade

Dissolving Candy

Add some hard candy to different liquids to explore how substances dissolve in some liquids but not others.

What Absorbs Water

Explore what materials absorb water and what materials do not absorb water. Use items you already have on hand for this easy science project.

Grow Crystals

Learn about how crystals are formed and can take different shapes. You can grow crystals from borax , salt and sugar .

Make a Volcano Eruption

Kids will love this erupting chemical reaction with just two simple ingredients, baking soda and vinegar. Also try one of these fun variations with LEGO , a water bottle , apple and even a pumpkin .

research projects for first grade

Inflating Balloon Experiment

Observe gas production during a chemical reaction with this fun balloon science experiment. You can also set it up with soda and salt to observe a physical reaction.

What’s Magnetic and What’s Not

Explore how magnets attract and repel each other.

Solid, Liquid, Gas Experiment

Observe how water can change from a solid to liquid and back.

Rain Cloud In A Jar

Where does rain come from? How do clouds make rain? Explore weather science with this rain cloud in a jar activity. Also, try this shaving cream rain cloud model.

research projects for first grade

Balloon Rockets

Use a balloon and a straw to see how the force of air can propel an object forward.

Make a Windmill

Explore the concept of harnessing wind as a energy source with a simple to make windmill or wind turbine.

Bubble Science

Bubbles are just fun to play with! Learn how bubbles form and why they’re round with these bubble activities. It’s all to do with surface tension.

Is it a liquid or is it a solid? Fun hands-on science and play with our easy 2 ingredient oobleck recipe.

research projects for first grade

Grow Flowers

Watching flowers grow is an amazing science lesson for kids. Check out our list of the best seeds for kids to pick up and plant, and grow quickly.

Coffee Filter Flowers

Coffee filter flowers are a colorful STEAM activity for kids to explore solubility. Color a coffee filter with markers and spray with water for a fun effect.

Magic Milk Experiment

The chemical reaction in this magic milk experiment is fun for kids to watch and makes for great hands-on learning. The perfect science activity as you already have all the items for it in your kitchen.

research projects for first grade

Oil and Water Experiment

Find out why oil and water don’t mix with this simple to set up science project. It is all due to differences in density.

Lemon Battery

Grab some lemons and a few other supplies, and find out how you can make lemons into lemon electricity!

Salt Painting

Combine science and art to learn about absorption with this easy salt painting activity.

research projects for first grade

Lava Lamp Experiment

Add a chemical reaction to an oil and water experiment to create a homemade lava lamp.

Rainbow in a Jar

Create liquids with different densities that you can make a colorful layered liquid tower with.

Make Air Foils

Explore the effect air resistance has on a falling object with these to make paper air foils.

research projects for first grade

Water Xylophone

Use different amounts of water in glass jars to learn about how vibrations create sound waves.

Paper Airplane Launcher

Learn how design affects the flight of paper airplanes with a paper plane launcher.

Egg in Vinegar

What happens to an egg when it is left in vinegar for a few days? Observe how an acid reacts with and dissolves a shell.

research projects for first grade

Make A Sundial

This paper sundial is an easy way to understand how shadows change over time.

Electric Cornstarch

All you need is oil and water to explore static electricity with a balloon.

Toy Car Friction Experiment

Use a toy car and different types of materials to explore how friction affects the movement of an object.

Water Refraction Experiment

Demonstrate how refraction of light occurs in water with this simple water refraction experiment.

Melting Crayons

Learn how heat causes crayons to melt. It’s a great example of a physical change.

make crayon stars with kids

Helpful Science Resources To Get You Started

Here are a few resources that will help you introduce science more effectively, so you feel confident yourself when presenting materials. You’ll find helpful free printables throughout.

Science Practices

A new approach to teaching science is called the Best Science Practices. These eight science and engineering practices are less structured and allow for a more free – flowing approach to problem-solving and finding answers to questions. These skills are critical to developing future engineers, inventors, and scientists!

Science Vocabulary

It is never too early to introduce some fantastic science words to kids. Get them started with a printable science vocabulary word list . You’re definitely going to want to incorporate these simple science terms into your next science lesson!

What Is A Scientist

Think like a scientist! Act like a scientist! Scientists, like you and me, are also curious about the world around them. Learn about the different types of scientists and what they do to increase their understanding of their specific area of interest. Read What Is A Scientist

Science Books For Kids

Sometimes the best way to introduce science concepts is through a colorfully illustrated book with characters your kids can relate to! Check out this fantastic list of science books that are teacher approved and get ready to spark curiosity and exploration!

Science Tools

Scientific materials or science experiment tools are a must for every budding scientist! If you want to get your kids started with simple science experiments then you are going to need a few basic science tools to get started. Check out some great science tools you can add to your kit.

Science Supplies List

Many science concepts start in the kitchen with simple materials you already have on hand. Fill a plastic tote with easy-to-find supplies, and you will have a  DIY science kit  filled with learning opportunities that are sure to keep them busy all year long!

research projects for first grade

~ Projects to Try Now! ~

research projects for first grade

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10 of the Best 1st Grade Science Projects and Experiments

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Are you looking for science activities to do with your 1st graders? No sweat. We have you covered. Check out our list of 10 science projects and experiments that you can try with your 1st graders this month.

Demonstrating Photosynthesis: Writing in Grass | Education.com – Grades K-5, How does photosynthesis affect grass? Complete this project to find out.

Can plants be nourished with juice, soda, or milk instead of water? | Education.com -Grades K-3, Learn whether plants can live and grow when ‘watered’ with juice, soda, or milk.

How Does Color Affect Eyesight? | Education.com – Grades 1-5, Find out which colors are easier and more challenging to read at a distance. This super simple project requires volunteers and color charts you can print from the web.

A Battery That Makes Cents | Sciencebuddies.org – Grades 1-2, Can you make a battery from 24 cents? Make a battery from a pile of coins and find out how different amounts of coins affect the amount of energy produced.

Sandwich Test: Wrap it Up | Easy-Science-Fair-Projects.net -Grades 1-2, Play with your food by testing how well different kinds of sandwich wraps keep bread fresh. Is the most expensive one the best? Or does the cheapest work just as well?

How Many Letters? | ScienceBuddies.org – Grades 1-4, How much memory does a computer use to “remember” a series of letters? Find out how much memory a computer uses to remember 1000 letters.

Jumping For Geodes: Can You Tell the Inside from the Outside? | ScienceBuddies.org Grades 1-4, Can you tell what’s inside a geode from looking at the outside? Learn more out these unique rocks and crack some open to discover the surprises inside.

How Water Beats Rock | Education.com – Grades 1-5, Discover how water is more potent than rocks.  Experiment with ways that water can break the stone.

Soil Type and Liquefaction | All-Science-Fair-Projects.com – Grades 1-5, Experiment with sand, clay, and loam and find out which type of soil dissolves most easily.

Effects of Temperature and Humidity on Static Charges | Education.com – Grades 1-5, Use balloons, a rubber ball, and a scarf to investigate why those socks stick together when you take them out of the dryer and how conditions in the air affect static electricity.


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research projects for first grade

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The Brown Bag Teacher

Teach the Children. Love the Children. Change the World.

January 18, 2015

Penguins and Polar Bears: 1st Grade Research

Laying our foundation.

We started our week with a quick pre-assessment . Split into 5 groups, students visited each of the questions (set on a table) and wrote/illustrated their ideas about the true/false phrases below. At the end of the week, we revisited the assessment and corrected our thinking!

Integrating Our Learning

Penguin comparisons, how does blubber protect animals.

Throughout the week, we were amazed at just how cold the North and South Poles can get. Living in Kentucky, it’s incredibly difficult to imagine what -76 degrees feels likes, and even more difficult to imagine living there. Over and over, I heard – how can animals live in such cold places?? Therefore, a blubber experiment was in order! To make the experiment manageable, a parent volunteer joined our class, so we could split into 2 groups. Thank goodness for volunteers!

We started the experiment by placing our hand in a bowl of ice water for 5 seconds (long enough for students to feel cold but not long enough to hear complaining). We then went back to our desks and wrote about about the first phase using a recording log from my Tundra Resource .

Penguin & Polar Bear Adaptation Research

Now, this experiment answered just one of our questions about all things cold and we had MANY!

So, we made our 1st venture into research. This is a Common Core skill for 1st graders, but one that it really hard to put into practice….I mean our kids are 7. Still, it needed to happen, so this week I channeled my kids’ curiosity. Knowing that my friends were not ready for prime-time research, we used QR Code research mats. Using 6 websites and videos I pre-read and pre-watched, I linked them on the below mat. Then, using iPads with a partner, students explored the resources I included and took notes about their learning. ( SNAG THE FREE QR CODES HERE .)

research projects for first grade

Well, friends, it was definitely an awesome week. You can snag these resources for your own classroom here on Teachers Pay Teachers in my Exploring the Tundra  resource.The highlight was the research. My kids were so excited to explore and learn, and using the QR Code mats made it so simple. Have you used QR Code Mats before? What other tips do you have for research in the primary grades? I’d love to hear your ideas!

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Reader Interactions

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January 18, 2015 at 1:13 am

Love the QR code mat. They still have the choice of where to get their information but it's from websites you know and can trust rather than a random google search. Thanks for the great ideas 🙂 Sheri.

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January 18, 2015 at 9:30 pm

Of course, Sheri! Especially in 1st grade, they definitely aren't ready to discern a Google search, and I would be SO afraid to see what might come up. 😉

January 18, 2015 at 4:29 am

Thanks so much for the QR code mat! What a fabulous idea! My kids will love it!

Marissa First Grade STARS

January 18, 2015 at 2:56 pm

This is a fabulous idea! Thank you so much for sharing- my kids love using QR codes. Carol

January 18, 2015 at 9:29 pm

Thanks so much, Carol! I'm so glad it will work for your friends. 🙂

January 22, 2015 at 7:05 am

You inspired me again! I was just blogging about Chatter Pix and was browsing your blog to link your post. These QR mats are amazing and are something I WILL start doing with my kiddos. Seems like 1st grade is also a perfect fit for you! Kristen

January 27, 2015 at 2:28 am

Thanks so much for creating this! I have been wanting to work on research but I didn't figure out the best way to handle it with my first graders. This is perfect!! I know the kids will be so excited to use their iPads and also to learn. Do you plan on making any other qr research mats?

April Wolfelicious [email protected]

January 28, 2015 at 2:00 am

Hi April! Thank you so much. I'm planning on doing a math for each month. It keeps us researching and gives us some hands-on technology practice. As we use them, I'll make sure to share!

March 10, 2016 at 4:27 am

I love the QR mat. We are researching sea animals I have made some ThingLinks to store videos, websites and information about sea animals so my students can access the info on their iPads. Here is a link to my sea turtle ThingLink. https://www.thinglink.com/scene/646187209774333952 Thanks for sharing your research ideas. I love researching with first graders, they are so curious!

March 27, 2016 at 6:24 pm

These are awesome! I can't wait to see what other research mats you make!

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December 13, 2016 at 3:56 pm

Thanks for the freebie! My students and I love using QR codes but I haven’t spent the time to create my own. I love using it to research.

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Always a fan of your work. Thank you so much for sharing this for free. I am so excited to use it when we go back!

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  • Research Skills

50 Mini-Lessons For Teaching Students Research Skills

Please note, I am no longer blogging and this post hasn’t updated since April 2020.

For a number of years, Seth Godin has been talking about the need to “ connect the dots” rather than “collect the dots” . That is, rather than memorising information, students must be able to learn how to solve new problems, see patterns, and combine multiple perspectives.

Solid research skills underpin this. Having the fluency to find and use information successfully is an essential skill for life and work.

Today’s students have more information at their fingertips than ever before and this means the role of the teacher as a guide is more important than ever.

You might be wondering how you can fit teaching research skills into a busy curriculum? There aren’t enough hours in the day! The good news is, there are so many mini-lessons you can do to build students’ skills over time.

This post outlines 50 ideas for activities that could be done in just a few minutes (or stretched out to a longer lesson if you have the time!).

Learn More About The Research Process

I have a popular post called Teach Students How To Research Online In 5 Steps. It outlines a five-step approach to break down the research process into manageable chunks.

Learn about a simple search process for students in primary school, middle school, or high school Kathleen Morris

This post shares ideas for mini-lessons that could be carried out in the classroom throughout the year to help build students’ skills in the five areas of: clarify, search, delve, evaluate , and cite . It also includes ideas for learning about staying organised throughout the research process.

Notes about the 50 research activities:

  • These ideas can be adapted for different age groups from middle primary/elementary to senior high school.
  • Many of these ideas can be repeated throughout the year.
  • Depending on the age of your students, you can decide whether the activity will be more teacher or student led. Some activities suggest coming up with a list of words, questions, or phrases. Teachers of younger students could generate these themselves.
  • Depending on how much time you have, many of the activities can be either quickly modelled by the teacher, or extended to an hour-long lesson.
  • Some of the activities could fit into more than one category.
  • Looking for simple articles for younger students for some of the activities? Try DOGO News or Time for Kids . Newsela is also a great resource but you do need to sign up for free account.
  • Why not try a few activities in a staff meeting? Everyone can always brush up on their own research skills!

research projects for first grade

  • Choose a topic (e.g. koalas, basketball, Mount Everest) . Write as many questions as you can think of relating to that topic.
  • Make a mindmap of a topic you’re currently learning about. This could be either on paper or using an online tool like Bubbl.us .
  • Read a short book or article. Make a list of 5 words from the text that you don’t totally understand. Look up the meaning of the words in a dictionary (online or paper).
  • Look at a printed or digital copy of a short article with the title removed. Come up with as many different titles as possible that would fit the article.
  • Come up with a list of 5 different questions you could type into Google (e.g. Which country in Asia has the largest population?) Circle the keywords in each question.
  • Write down 10 words to describe a person, place, or topic. Come up with synonyms for these words using a tool like  Thesaurus.com .
  • Write pairs of synonyms on post-it notes (this could be done by the teacher or students). Each student in the class has one post-it note and walks around the classroom to find the person with the synonym to their word.

research projects for first grade

  • Explore how to search Google using your voice (i.e. click/tap on the microphone in the Google search box or on your phone/tablet keyboard) . List the pros and cons of using voice and text to search.
  • Open two different search engines in your browser such as Google and Bing. Type in a query and compare the results. Do all search engines work exactly the same?
  • Have students work in pairs to try out a different search engine (there are 11 listed here ). Report back to the class on the pros and cons.
  • Think of something you’re curious about, (e.g. What endangered animals live in the Amazon Rainforest?). Open Google in two tabs. In one search, type in one or two keywords ( e.g. Amazon Rainforest) . In the other search type in multiple relevant keywords (e.g. endangered animals Amazon rainforest).  Compare the results. Discuss the importance of being specific.
  • Similar to above, try two different searches where one phrase is in quotation marks and the other is not. For example, Origin of “raining cats and dogs” and Origin of raining cats and dogs . Discuss the difference that using quotation marks makes (It tells Google to search for the precise keywords in order.)
  • Try writing a question in Google with a few minor spelling mistakes. What happens? What happens if you add or leave out punctuation ?
  • Try the AGoogleADay.com daily search challenges from Google. The questions help older students learn about choosing keywords, deconstructing questions, and altering keywords.
  • Explore how Google uses autocomplete to suggest searches quickly. Try it out by typing in various queries (e.g. How to draw… or What is the tallest…). Discuss how these suggestions come about, how to use them, and whether they’re usually helpful.
  • Watch this video  from Code.org to learn more about how search works .
  • Take a look at  20 Instant Google Searches your Students Need to Know  by Eric Curts to learn about “ instant searches ”. Try one to try out. Perhaps each student could be assigned one to try and share with the class.
  • Experiment with typing some questions into Google that have a clear answer (e.g. “What is a parallelogram?” or “What is the highest mountain in the world?” or “What is the population of Australia?”). Look at the different ways the answers are displayed instantly within the search results — dictionary definitions, image cards, graphs etc.

What is the population of Australia

  • Watch the video How Does Google Know Everything About Me?  by Scientific American. Discuss the PageRank algorithm and how Google uses your data to customise search results.
  • Brainstorm a list of popular domains   (e.g. .com, .com.au, or your country’s domain) . Discuss if any domains might be more reliable than others and why (e.g. .gov or .edu) .
  • Discuss (or research) ways to open Google search results in a new tab to save your original search results  (i.e. right-click > open link in new tab or press control/command and click the link).
  • Try out a few Google searches (perhaps start with things like “car service” “cat food” or “fresh flowers”). A re there advertisements within the results? Discuss where these appear and how to spot them.
  • Look at ways to filter search results by using the tabs at the top of the page in Google (i.e. news, images, shopping, maps, videos etc.). Do the same filters appear for all Google searches? Try out a few different searches and see.
  • Type a question into Google and look for the “People also ask” and “Searches related to…” sections. Discuss how these could be useful. When should you use them or ignore them so you don’t go off on an irrelevant tangent? Is the information in the drop-down section under “People also ask” always the best?
  • Often, more current search results are more useful. Click on “tools” under the Google search box and then “any time” and your time frame of choice such as “Past month” or “Past year”.
  • Have students annotate their own “anatomy of a search result” example like the one I made below. Explore the different ways search results display; some have more details like sitelinks and some do not.

Anatomy of a google search result

  • Find two articles on a news topic from different publications. Or find a news article and an opinion piece on the same topic. Make a Venn diagram comparing the similarities and differences.
  • Choose a graph, map, or chart from The New York Times’ What’s Going On In This Graph series . Have a whole class or small group discussion about the data.
  • Look at images stripped of their captions on What’s Going On In This Picture? by The New York Times. Discuss the images in pairs or small groups. What can you tell?
  • Explore a website together as a class or in pairs — perhaps a news website. Identify all the advertisements .
  • Have a look at a fake website either as a whole class or in pairs/small groups. See if students can spot that these sites are not real. Discuss the fact that you can’t believe everything that’s online. Get started with these four examples of fake websites from Eric Curts.
  • Give students a copy of my website evaluation flowchart to analyse and then discuss as a class. Read more about the flowchart in this post.
  • As a class, look at a prompt from Mike Caulfield’s Four Moves . Either together or in small groups, have students fact check the prompts on the site. This resource explains more about the fact checking process. Note: some of these prompts are not suitable for younger students.
  • Practice skim reading — give students one minute to read a short article. Ask them to discuss what stood out to them. Headings? Bold words? Quotes? Then give students ten minutes to read the same article and discuss deep reading.

research projects for first grade

All students can benefit from learning about plagiarism, copyright, how to write information in their own words, and how to acknowledge the source. However, the formality of this process will depend on your students’ age and your curriculum guidelines.

  • Watch the video Citation for Beginners for an introduction to citation. Discuss the key points to remember.
  • Look up the definition of plagiarism using a variety of sources (dictionary, video, Wikipedia etc.). Create a definition as a class.
  • Find an interesting video on YouTube (perhaps a “life hack” video) and write a brief summary in your own words.
  • Have students pair up and tell each other about their weekend. Then have the listener try to verbalise or write their friend’s recount in their own words. Discuss how accurate this was.
  • Read the class a copy of a well known fairy tale. Have them write a short summary in their own words. Compare the versions that different students come up with.
  • Try out MyBib — a handy free online tool without ads that helps you create citations quickly and easily.
  • Give primary/elementary students a copy of Kathy Schrock’s Guide to Citation that matches their grade level (the guide covers grades 1 to 6). Choose one form of citation and create some examples as a class (e.g. a website or a book).
  • Make a list of things that are okay and not okay to do when researching, e.g. copy text from a website, use any image from Google images, paraphrase in your own words and cite your source, add a short quote and cite the source. 
  • Have students read a short article and then come up with a summary that would be considered plagiarism and one that would not be considered plagiarism. These could be shared with the class and the students asked to decide which one shows an example of plagiarism .
  • Older students could investigate the difference between paraphrasing and summarising . They could create a Venn diagram that compares the two.
  • Write a list of statements on the board that might be true or false ( e.g. The 1956 Olympics were held in Melbourne, Australia. The rhinoceros is the largest land animal in the world. The current marathon world record is 2 hours, 7 minutes). Have students research these statements and decide whether they’re true or false by sharing their citations.

Staying Organised

research projects for first grade

  • Make a list of different ways you can take notes while researching — Google Docs, Google Keep, pen and paper etc. Discuss the pros and cons of each method.
  • Learn the keyboard shortcuts to help manage tabs (e.g. open new tab, reopen closed tab, go to next tab etc.). Perhaps students could all try out the shortcuts and share their favourite one with the class.
  • Find a collection of resources on a topic and add them to a Wakelet .
  • Listen to a short podcast or watch a brief video on a certain topic and sketchnote ideas. Sylvia Duckworth has some great tips about live sketchnoting
  • Learn how to use split screen to have one window open with your research, and another open with your notes (e.g. a Google spreadsheet, Google Doc, Microsoft Word or OneNote etc.) .

All teachers know it’s important to teach students to research well. Investing time in this process will also pay off throughout the year and the years to come. Students will be able to focus on analysing and synthesizing information, rather than the mechanics of the research process.

By trying out as many of these mini-lessons as possible throughout the year, you’ll be really helping your students to thrive in all areas of school, work, and life.

Also remember to model your own searches explicitly during class time. Talk out loud as you look things up and ask students for input. Learning together is the way to go!

You Might Also Enjoy Reading:

How To Evaluate Websites: A Guide For Teachers And Students

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Learn how to teach research skills to primary students, middle school students, or high school students. 50 activities that could be done in just a few minutes a day. Lots of Google search tips and research tips for kids and teachers. Free PDF included! Kathleen Morris | Primary Tech

10 Replies to “50 Mini-Lessons For Teaching Students Research Skills”

Loving these ideas, thank you

This list is amazing. Thank you so much!

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So glad it’s helpful, Alex! 🙂

Hi I am a student who really needed some help on how to reasearch thanks for the help.

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So glad it helped! 🙂

seriously seriously grateful for your post. 🙂

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So glad it’s helpful! Makes my day 🙂

How do you get the 50 mini lessons. I got the free one but am interested in the full version.

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Hi Tracey, The link to the PDF with the 50 mini lessons is in the post. Here it is . Check out this post if you need more advice on teaching students how to research online. Hope that helps! Kathleen

Best wishes to you as you face your health battler. Hoping you’ve come out stronger and healthier from it. Your website is so helpful.

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Researching with 1st Grade-Teaching Good Research Steps

Mar 19, 2015  •   2 Comments

     Teaching good research habits to younger grades is a very important part of being a librarian.  In the past, I have introduced the research steps using a lesson that connected the Big 6 steps to following a recipe for making an apple pie.  You can read about this “Recipe for Research” lesson on my blog here.       Typically, after I do this lesson, we would investigate Non-Fiction books, Text Features, and databases, and then they would do their research later in their classrooms with their teachers.      This year, I wanted to be more involved in helping them learn how to do the actual research part, so I decided to do a mini-research project with my first graders as part of their library lessons.   Step #1      I started off by asking them what they wanted to learn more about.  Most of them answered with some sort of animal, so we decided that our first research project together would be about animals.        This was actually perfect, as w e had just finished reading the book Those Darn Squirrels  by Adam Rubin. (By the way, if you haven’t read this, it’s a FANTASTIC book.  The kids LOVE raising their fists and shouting “Those Darn Squirrels!” whenever Old Man Fookwire yells at the crazy squirrels in his backyard.  Plus, they were super excited to find out that there are 2 more books in the series!)

      I told them that I was going to research Squirrels since we had just read about them, and then  I introduced them to PebbleGo .   This is an absolutely FANTASTIC database by Capstone Digital!  It is ideal for younger grades, and makes it super easy for them to find information. Each topic is divided into 6 main tabs: body, habitat, food, life cycle, fun facts, and related articles.  Each tab allows the student to either read or listen to the information, and most topics have a video they can watch as well.  It is slightly expensive, but well worth the money!  (If you are interested in checking it out, you can get a free 2 week trial by filling out a short form found here .)  I gave them some time to explore the database so they would be familiar with it for our next lesson, and I told them to think about what animal they would like to research.

Step #2      On their next visit, we quickly reviewed the “Recipe for Research” steps again, and  brainstormed a list of “egg” questions to research about their animal.  T hey came up with things like: what does my animal eat, how fast can it run, who is it afraid of, how does it move, where is it’s home, etc.   I created a Research Brochure (aka: note-taking tool) and had them chose 4 questions to write inside each egg.  

  Once their questions were written down, I asked “What do you think the lines underneath each egg are for?”  They correctly guessed it was for their answers to the questions.  I had them look at the lines, and we discussed how they weren’t very long and they would have to make sure they only wrote down the important words.      I pulled up information on Squirrels on PebbleGo, and we read that “Tree Squirrels have bushy tails that are as long as their body.” I had them help me find the “important facts” and I told them the general rule was they could write up to 3 words from a sentence.  (I am trying to start them early on learning how to paraphrase and write notes, and not just copy everything that they see.)  It was fun writing down their ideas, and then they would check to see if they had more than 3 words. After several tries, they came up with “long, bushy tails”. We practiced a few more times together, and then they  spent the rest of their library time on PebbleGo trying to find the answers for their animal. Before they left, I collected their research brochures to keep them safe for next time. S tep #3       The next week in the library, I showed them another database that I love to use with the younger grades,  Facts 4 Me .  It’s super cheap (only $50.00 for an entire year subscription!) You can take a quick tour of the site to learn more here .  It’s developed by former teachers, and the layout is also very friendly.   Each topic starts with a “Quick Facts” section that gives basic information.  On animals, it gives a variety of info such as: type, habitat, diet, weight, height, etc.  Along the left side are photographs, and under the Quick Facts section are short paragraphs giving more information.    

     At  the bottom, it even gives the exact citation to include on your Works Cited page, so I took this opportunity to begin teaching  them how to do a simple Works Cited page.  For the younger grades, I created just a simple ABC form (A=Author or website, B=Book Title or topic title, C=Copyright date).  I told them anytime they used facts from a source, they had to fill out a slip for their Works Cited page.  I had a stack and we just stapled the slip to their brochure so it all stayed together.  I gave them the rest of this library period to finish finding answers to their questions.

Step 4      Now that they had their answers, I showed them how to take their notes and create detailed, complete sentences on notebook paper.  We also talked about how to write a simple paragraphs (one paragraph for each “egg” question that they had answers for.)  When they were done, I had them work in pairs and peer-edit.  They helped each other with spelling, capitals, punctuation, and made sure that all their egg questions were answered.   Step 5 I gave them a variety of formats to choose from for their final presentation:   1) They could write a basic report using the 2-page format. 

2) They could make their own animal book using the brochure format including a Table of Contents and Author page.

3) Those that wanted to create a true Non-Fiction animal book could create one with a Table of Contents, Index, and Works Cited page.

Step #6      For their finale, each student presented their animal reports to the group.  I believe it’s important for students to get practice talking in front of their peers. Next time, I think it would be fun to Skype with another library and let students from each class share.  Technology options:        There are so many different apps that you can use to present their final information as well.  I love Tellagami and Sock Puppets, and both of these are easy to use.  Since we completed these activities toward the end of the year, our normal schedules were interrupted due to state testing, book fair, and end of the year changes.  Exploring those apps were a great way to keep the kids excited about their research project and provided motivation for them to finish.  If you are interested in doing this research activity with your students, you can find it here on my website or at  TpT store .  I’d love to hear how you do research with your students! Sandy

2 Responses to “Researching with 1st Grade-Teaching Good Research Steps”

Clear and easy to follow, yet thorough and precise. Thank you!

You’re welcome Mona! I hope they help! 🙂 Sandy

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research projects for first grade

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research projects for first grade

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October 30, 2016

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research projects for first grade

Language & Grammar

research projects for first grade

Science & Social Studies

research projects for first grade

Digital Learning

Community helpers unit shared research & writing project.

research projects for first grade

Our first grade classes just finished up our community helpers unit and we had a blast!

We decided to take this social studies unit and make it our shared research project to start off first grade. The kiddos did great!

In this three week unit, we…

  • read informational books about community helpers
  • used our research skills to find important details
  • brainstormed helpers using our ABCs
  • created an ABC book using our pictures and words

Shared research project for community helpers

During reading time in their centers throughout the weeks, the first grade teachers rotated books in our classrooms, so we got a new set of ten books each day to assist with our Community Helpers unit. Students read to a buddy or by themselves and marked important pages with a Post-it note. The Post-it notes notated where they either read about how they help our community or saw a picture of a character helping our community.

Shared research project for community helpers

After about a week of reading and fun activities of community helpers, we made an ABC list of community helpers. The students came up with 24/26 of these.  (Q and Y were really hard for us to think of on our own, thanks, Google!)

Then we began our shared writing!  This took several days. I buddied the students up for one page, so we did about 7-8 pages a day. Each member of the team had a job (writer, thinker, illustrator, etc.)

Here are a few examples we did for the Community Helpers unit…

(And yes, I did the A, B, and C page for modeling.)

Writing project

Then, I created the title page.

Shared research project for community helpers unit

Here, I hole-punched the book together… and put them on binder rings for easy flipping.

Shared research project for community helpers unit

It is now a daily part of our reading library. Students can read through it during the reading center. It is located in the informational book bin. The students feel so proud that a book they wrote is in my library!

Finished book

Click Below for Templates of this Book

Book template

Additional Teaching Resources

Also, this Labor Day/Community Helpers unit pack really helped in the introduction part of our project.

Labor Day & Community Helpers Unit

(Link:  Labor Day & Community Helpers )

(Link:  Community Helpers Flip Book )

For more writing inspiration, check out this post on  Teaching Opinion Writing Tips and Activities.

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PBL in the Early Elementary Grades

Setting up project-based learning with young students can be a challenge, but it’s worth the work, according to first-grade teachers from across the U.S.

Teacher works with small group of students in elementary classroom

Making a change to classroom instruction can be complex, confusing, and even overwhelming. Educators may have reservations about shifting their teaching approach as they consider student response, increased time commitment, or lack of support. They also may not know how to take the leap. But taking the leap to project-based learning is well worth the effort. Moving toward a PBL teaching approach includes many potential benefits for educators and students alike.

Administrators and first-grade teachers from practicing PBL schools across the United States participated in focus-group conversations as part of a project to inform the development of a PBL-based first-grade curriculum. During the conversations, educators offered advice about areas they continue to navigate, what works well, and how to start a conversation about moving toward a PBL approach to teaching.

Anticipated Challenges and How to Address Them

If you’re considering PBL, you might be wondering about potential barriers and how to navigate them. In the course of talking with practicing PBL educators from around the country, some common challenges with PBL implementation emerged.

1. Lack of support from other teachers and/or administrators. Many educators indicated that there’s often a lack of support within the school as well as a general sense that teachers are fundamentally underprepared about how to implement PBL. External support is a crucial factor, so it’s important to talk with teachers and administrators about getting on board before launching PBL efforts. A network of other PBL educators inside and outside of school can provide support and help make the experience successful.

2. Additional time for lesson planning. Time is an important consideration that goes into planning and implementing project work, as a majority of educators mentioned during focus-group conversations. Since integrating PBL takes a substantial amount of time, educators can ask for understanding and flexibility from others in the school with planning, scheduling, and enacting.

3. Shifted role from instructor to facilitator. Successful PBL requires teachers to act as motivators for students in their learning. This shift in classroom control may cause apprehension and a need for adjustment for teachers and learners. Through the use of balanced instruction, increasing the amount of student choice, and providing appropriate scaffolding, this instructional shift becomes much easier to navigate and creates an opportunity to successfully implement PBL.

Successes of Moving Toward PBL

Using a PBL learning approach comes with many benefits and countless opportunities, as the educators we talked with pointed out. These advantages positively impact students, teachers, parents, and communities.

1. Opportunities for collaboration. Collaboration is paramount in PBL and one of the best ways students and educators can further develop soft skills, including communication and problem-solving. Students learn to consider alternative viewpoints, and educators benefit from being able to plan with the support of colleagues, collaborate with teachers from other classes, and think through ideas together.

Collaboration seems to be fundamental to educators’ perspectives with creating successful and meaningful project-based approaches to learning. Through collaboration, students and educators not only develop better project work but also learn important real-world skills that extend beyond their projects and will benefit them in multiple ways.

2. Increased student engagement. By using student voice and choice throughout PBL, educators can create opportunities to engage and motivate students who might otherwise not be interested in actively participating in learning opportunities. Project work requires balance and finesse to maintain engagement over the course of the entire unit. By utilizing PBL curriculum, however, these educators reported greater student connection, particularly for students who are often hard to engage.

When educators take the perspectives of their students into account throughout the learning process, they create engaging ways to keep up with their changing needs. It can be helpful to use formative assessments, including student interviews, as a way to check in with students throughout the PBL process to understand what motivates, engages, and excites them. Increasing student voice by linking student interests and motivations throughout the process can maintain engagement and ensure that students feel connected to the work.

3. Authentic learning opportunities. It’s important to ensure that projects serve a purpose beyond the classroom and allow students to draw real-world connections with the work they’re actively engaged in. When educators provide authentic context for student work through PBL and an authentic audience to present their work to, students feel more connected, excited, and engaged with their project work. Nearly all of the educators in focus-group conversations noted that it’s important for the project work to feel real to students and to remind students of their authentic audience throughout the course of project work.

Starting the Conversation

Previous research shows that PBL can foster intrinsic motivation , increase student engagement, and help develop creative thinking skills. It’s also been proven to be a catalyst that can encourage engagement of student learning , support sustained student interest in exploring novel ideas, and help promote communication and collaboration .   A great place to begin is to familiarize yourself with the essential project design elements of PBL . Next, start small. Think about a project idea you may have once had, dust it off, and start talking with your colleagues about how to bring it to life in your classroom. Then, recognize your capacity.

As demands on teachers increase to equip students with 21st-century skills to help them adapt to a quickly changing society, more educators are turning to teaching methods such as PBL, and it’s essential that administrators know how to support them. Talk with your administrator about your PBL thoughts, hopes, and dreams. Present the evidence, pitch your idea, and prepare for an exciting journey with PBL.

research projects for first grade

Country Research Project

country research project

Our Country Research Project is ideal for older elementary students and middle school students. Before tackling this Country Research Project, we introduce, review, and solidify basic map skills with our FREE Printable World Maps & Activities . By the time my students reach 4th grade, they do one of these projects a year for the next two years.  In this project, you can implement research, writing, reading, and more into your homeschool. Our FREE Country Research Sheets & Maps make teaching and learning about different countries around the world easy!

*If you teach in a school setting or would like to download all of our Country Research Project Printables at once, check out our shop . For those of you looking for more free social studies resources , check this post out!

*Be sure to have these on hand when starting to teach geography. Do you have a  globe ? Check. Do you have a world map ? Check? Do you have an  atlas ? Check. Then, you are all set!

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What is included in our Country Research Project?

Country research sheets.

country research project

Our Country Research Project always starts with one of these country research sheets. There are two options to choose from. Years ago, my oldest did his research using a brainstorming sheet. We made it work, but it was much harder to organize his notes since they were random. The Country Research Sheets give students focus and guide them to information that would make a solid research paper. From experience, these research sheets make it easy to organize information for a 5 paragraph essay.


Blank continent maps with outlines.

country research project

This set of Blank Continent Maps with Outlines coincide perfectly with the FREE Country Research Sheets. Whatever country your student is studying, print the corresponding continent map out. Your student can then locate, label, and color their country within its continent. The worksheet then instructs the student to label the countries bordering countries and oceans. This map is an excellent addition to the Country Research Project.

country research project

The second version includes the outlined map, but has no instructions written at the top. For those you wanting to use these to color all continents rather than one, then you can!


Research paper.

country research project

Once my student completes the country research sheet, it is easy to sit with them and discuss what facts should go into each paragraph of their essay. We literally looked over the facts, and then wrote a 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 next to them. This was an easy guide for  my student to follow when he sat down independently to write his country project paper. If the fact had a 1 next to it, that meant he was to include that fact into his first paragraph. 2 meant second paragraph and so forth. When I teach my kids to write a 5 paragraph essay, I like to break it down into an introduction paragraph, 3 body paragraphs, and then a conclusion or closing. Each paragraph should include at least 3 sentences, but 5 sentences are encouraged. You might be interested in checking out our  5-paragraph graphic organizers . They make creating an essay outline easy!


Project visual.

country research project

Creating a visual for the Country Research Project is one of the last pieces of this assignment. Some kids will love this aspect of the project and this is where their creativity will shine. Other students will not enjoy this part of the project. No matter, encourage them to write notes and facts about their country, add a title, draw pictures, color it neatly, display a flag, and so much more. We choose to create a poster display. Your student may create a PowerPoint presentation, a hanging mobile, or a cardboard display. There are several options to choose from.

Country Project Presentation

End the Country Research Project with a presentation. For those of us who  homeschool, this can be easily down at the dinner table. Allow your student to present to the family before dinner or after dinner. Encourage them to share their visual and what things they learned about their country. Some of my kids have read their paper out loud. In a classroom setting, presenting their project is a must. Public speaking is a skill that should be encouraged when possible. Some kids will really shine when presenting, while others will struggle. Regardless of their strengths or weaknesses, it is always a good rule of thumb to give your child the opportunity to share.


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For the first few years of homeschooling, I created and put together my oldest sons curriculum. On one level, I enjoyed this. It was fun to look at all of the free options and ideas on the web. On the other hand, I got overwhelmed and distracted like a kid in a candy store. As I had more children, life became busier too. It became evident to me that ordering workbooks and textbooks to guide us was ideal for our schedule and life. I still create interactive units to supplement and meet individual needs, but I have found that the workbooks give us  a sense of direction and consistency.

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Frank T. McAndrew Ph.D.

How to Get Started on Your First Psychology Experiment

Acquiring even a little expertise in advance makes science research easier..

Updated May 16, 2024 | Reviewed by Ray Parker

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  • Students often struggle at the beginning of research projects—knowing how to begin.
  • Research projects can sometimes be inspired by everyday life or personal concerns.
  • Becoming something of an "expert" on a topic in advance makes designing a study go more smoothly.

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One of the most rewarding and frustrating parts of my long career as a psychology professor at a small liberal arts college has been guiding students through the senior capstone research experience required near the end of their college years. Each psychology major must conduct an independent experiment in which they collect data to test a hypothesis, analyze the data, write a research paper, and present their results at a college poster session or at a professional conference.

The rewarding part of the process is clear: The students' pride at seeing their poster on display and maybe even getting their name on an article in a professional journal allows us professors to get a glimpse of students being happy and excited—for a change. I also derive great satisfaction from watching a student discover that he or she has an aptitude for research and perhaps start shifting their career plans accordingly.

The frustrating part comes at the beginning of the research process when students are attempting to find a topic to work on. There is a lot of floundering around as students get stuck by doing something that seems to make sense: They begin by trying to “think up a study.”

The problem is that even if the student's research interest is driven by some very personal topic that is deeply relevant to their own life, they simply do not yet know enough to know where to begin. They do not know what has already been done by others, nor do they know how researchers typically attack that topic.

Students also tend to think in terms of mission statements (I want to cure eating disorders) rather than in terms of research questions (Why are people of some ages or genders more susceptible to eating disorders than others?).

Needless to say, attempting to solve a serious, long-standing societal problem in a few weeks while conducting one’s first psychology experiment can be a showstopper.

Even a Little Bit of Expertise Can Go a Long Way

My usual approach to helping students get past this floundering stage is to tell them to try to avoid thinking up a study altogether. Instead, I tell them to conceive of their mission as becoming an “expert” on some topic that they find interesting. They begin by reading journal articles, writing summaries of these articles, and talking to me about them. As the student learns more about the topic, our conversations become more sophisticated and interesting. Researchable questions begin to emerge, and soon, the student is ready to start writing a literature review that will sharpen the focus of their research question.

In short, even a little bit of expertise on a subject makes it infinitely easier to craft an experiment on that topic because the research done by others provides a framework into which the student can fit his or her own work.

This was a lesson I learned early in my career when I was working on my own undergraduate capstone experience. Faced with the necessity of coming up with a research topic and lacking any urgent personal issues that I was trying to resolve, I fell back on what little psychological expertise I had already accumulated.

In a previous psychology course, I had written a literature review on why some information fails to move from short-term memory into long-term memory. The journal articles that I had read for this paper relied primarily on laboratory studies with mice, and the debate that was going on between researchers who had produced different results in their labs revolved around subtle differences in the way that mice were released into the experimental apparatus in the studies.

Because I already had done some homework on this, I had a ready-made research question available: What if the experimental task was set up so that the researcher had no influence on how the mouse entered the apparatus at all? I was able to design a simple animal memory experiment that fit very nicely into the psychological literature that was already out there, and this prevented a lot of angst.

Please note that my undergraduate research project was guided by the “expertise” that I had already acquired rather than by a burning desire to solve some sort of personal or social problem. I guarantee that I had not been walking around as an undergraduate student worrying about why mice forget things, but I was nonetheless able to complete a fun and interesting study.

research projects for first grade

My first experiment may not have changed the world, but it successfully launched my research career, and I fondly remember it as I work with my students 50 years later.

Frank T. McAndrew Ph.D.

Frank McAndrew, Ph.D., is the Cornelia H. Dudley Professor of Psychology at Knox College.

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  23. How to Get Started on Your First Psychology Experiment

    Key points. Students often struggle at the beginning of research projects—knowing how to begin. Research projects can sometimes be inspired by everyday life or personal concerns.