Fourth Grade I-Search: Developing Research Skills & A Love of Learning

If you walk by Nikki Wiseman’s fourth grade class on Friday afternoons, you’ll find the room abuzz with activity and excitement. It’s time for I-Search—the highlight of the week—when students can follow their interests, explore their curiosities, and own their learning experience.

During I-Search, students practice several research skills, including how to:
  • pick a topic,
  • find non-fiction e-books to support their research,
  • glean information and synthesize it in a way that makes sense,
  • manage their time,
  • share what they learned,
  • design a presentation, and
  • present to an audience. 
Mrs. Wiseman purposefully models all the steps during the first two I-Search cycles, guiding the students towards independence and self-regulation. In subsequent rounds, students can choose their own topic and modes of presentation, which often include demonstrations and three-dimensional models. 

Students can do as many I-Search projects as they can independently complete between September and June. Fifth grader Evie “loved it. It was fun when you didn’t know about a topic, to learn about it,” she reflected about her experience in fourth grade. Over the course of the year, Evie I-Searched giraffes, the weather, and Chanukah (a subject swap with a friend who learned about Christmas). Past student projects have included: Dolphins, Coding, Guinea Pigs, and Greek Gods

In addition to learning important research skills through I-Search (like reading, synthesizing, categorizing, writing, presenting, communicating, designing, time-management, and self-management), students gain something even more valuable–a love of learning. When students have the opportunity to make choices in their learning, it builds intrinsic motivation, engages and empowers, and leads to achievement in the classroom and beyond. 

Through this Unit, Students Learn To:
  1. Communicate effectively and creatively, in a range of forms with wide audiences, and for varied purposes.
  2. Develop skills and character traits to support well-being and individual growth.
  3. Approach learning as an active and personal endeavor for which one takes responsibility, pride, and enjoyment.


The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.