Making Research Exciting Through Student Choice

My favorite option for keeping high school students occupied after end-of-year exams is independent reading. A close second, though, is helping them discover the joy of research. Last year was the first time I collaborated with an AP United States History teacher on a mini podcast project. Taking what we learned from the experience, we teamed up again this month for another round. 

The most important part of research is curiosity. During high school, students write many research papers, often without having genuine interest in the topics. Though some of us could spend all day doing research, teenagers are notoriously distracted by issues such as social media, sports, and sleep. The trick is to spark their imaginations with something that allows the work to come naturally. 

For the AP U.S. History Mini Podcast Project, students find a topic of their choosing that does not have sufficient representation in history classes. They’re required to write a research paper and make a short podcast episode relating to their findings. It’s been well documented that student choice increases learning. As Merrill and Gonser express in their Edutopia article, “by centering choice, educators signal openness to negotiating the middle ground and offer students scaffolded opportunities to practice decision-making, explore their academic identity, and connect their learning to interests and passions” (2021). Through my school librarian lens, I have the opportunity to witness this first hand when students are given the autonomy to lead.

Library Day One

When classes come into the school library on their first day, I give them a brief presentation on resources that will be helpful to them. I start with a slide on how to use my library Canvas page to gain access to my Google Slides presentation, then move to instructions on finding podcasts on their phones and computers, since their first task is to choose any podcast and listen to one episode. I continue by showing them the academic search engine Sweet Search and the Google Books database, where they can get initial information about their topics. I include a short tutorial about using Google Tools to cite sources and generating citations on Google Books. Lastly, I guide them through browsing topics and locating scholarly journal articles through our school databases, highlighting the convenient citation tools. At the end I include a slide with free online writing resources. After the presentation, with whatever time is left in the period, the students use what they have learned to begin skimming possible topics.

Library Day Two

During the second library day, students explore topics with more purpose. I assist them as they spend time using the available resources, and show them nonfiction books that may be useful. As my colleague and I walk around the school library, we engage individual students about their prospective themes. This is my favorite part: getting into deep conversations about issues and observing the students become animated about ideas. It’s this progression of critical thinking that opens their minds and ultimately energizes them about the project. 

Once they’ve chosen topics, I help them find specific articles that will inform their research papers. I also answer questions about podcasts and show them ones that I like to listen to. By the end of the second day in the library, the students have a clearer picture of their goals. Many of them are excited about their topics and compare issues with their peers. Some of them even discuss doing the podcast component with classmates, planning to record a conversation during which their concepts will intersect. 

A mini podcast project is one of countless ideas that can be used as a starting point for engaging learners in research. Partnering with subject teachers, school librarians can create a welcoming space to introduce projects that will stimulate students and allow their research to flourish.


Merrill, Stephen, and Sarah Gonser. 2021. “The Importance of Student Choice Across All Grade Levels.” Edutopia.


Author: Karin Greenberg

Karin Greenberg is the librarian at Manhasset High School in Manhasset, New York. She is a former English teacher and writes book reviews for School Library Journal. In addition to reading, she enjoys animals, walking, hiking, and spending time with her family. Follow her book account on Instagram @bookswithkg.

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