Encounter the Research Task Encounter the Research Task Skill 2: Build background knowledge.
In this phase of the research process, you will immerse yourself in some resources and conversation, you should build background knowledge to connect with the content, and discover interesting ideas.Think about what you already know and what seems particularly interesting, curious, surprising, or troubling. Reflect on ideas that matter to you and are worth further investigating. Look into resources available on the topic of your choice. Don't worry if you haven't thought of a good research topic or question by the time you are finished with this step. Ideas for specific research topics and research questions will become clearer as you move through the inquiry. You get a chance to browse through a variety of information sources to explore interesting ideas. At this stage you are more interested in exploring ideas rather than gathering facts. You not worried about formal citations of sources just yet.  We want to dip into a few sources and try to make sense of what we are reading and seeing. We want time to look at a variety of sources on a broad topic so that we can each form a personal understanding, and prepare to identify a specific topic for further research. Think, search, brainstorm, journal, and begin to take notes to make sense of the information that you find.
Skill-builders & Tools

Research and Thinking Tools

The following research and thinkng tools are available to help you begin to plan your research.

  • Search a topic of your choice using a variety of resources
  • Check to see if there is a lot of information, some information, or no information.
  • Do not choose a topic with an insufficiant amount information to help support your research.

BCPS Digital Content

Baltimore County Public Schools' Digital Content and Databases - View your school library's online resources today where you'll find reliable information — available 24/7 — from current magazines, journals, encyclopedias, how-to guides and more. Get the free AccessMyLibrary School Edition mobile app for your device using the links below.

Maryland Ask Us Now

Maryland AskUsNow
 - Live Chat with a network of librarians who will provide resources or answers to a question 24/7.

Google Scholar

Google Labs - Google Scholar
Search through journal articles, abstracts and other scholarly literature.

Google Data

Google Labs-
Data Visualization Project
The Google Public Data Explorer makes large datasets easy to explore, visualize and communicate. As the charts and maps animate over time, the changes in the world become easier to understand. You don't have to be a data expert to navigate between different views, make your own comparisons, and share your findings. 

thinking classroom

The Thinking Classroom - Reflect and Connect Thinking Tools 
The Connection Cube interactive activity helps you connect new learning to what you already know and what you still need to learn. The One-Minute Paper gives you an opportunity to look at ideas from multiple points of view.









Search Engines

Use Popular search engines to find appropriate websites to search.

Top Three Search Engines

Boolean Search Techniques

Use basic search skills and Boolean search techniques as you complete an Internet search.  To learn about basic search skills and Boolean search techniques click on the following link.

Additional Boolean search techniques:

  • Truncating- A symbol at the end of a word stem will return results for all variations on the word stem.  An asterisk is often used to return these results. Example:  manufact* will return results for manufacture, manufacturer, manufacturing, etc.
  • Wildcards - A symbol within a word will return all possible variations inside a word or stem.  An !, an *, or a ? may be used for internal truncation in different search engines Example: wom?n will return results for woman or women.

General References to Build Background Knowledge

Go to a resource, such as an online encyclopedia, current events, websitE, newspaper, or database for a quick general reference to determine general questions and answers to those questions related to the topic. Ask questions that anwer who, what, when, and where.

For Example:

Search for “sports medicine”

Who would be a patient of a sport medicine physician?
What is sports medicine?
What are types of sport related injuries?
When can you require a sports medicine physician?
Where can I go to be treated for a sport related injury?

Possible Keywords from your search for "sports medicine"

  • Anatomy
  • Bruise
  • Shin Splint
  • Joint
  • Pathology
  • Patella Tendinitis
Do Now:
Use the Visual Thesaurus to create a list of keyword to search.

Visual Thesaurus

Digital Thesaurus Online Help Manual

  1. Search for a general one word topic that you have decided to research.
  2. Write out all of the keywords generated from your search.
  3. Search two of the keywords generated from the initial search.
  4. Write any new words generated during the second and third search
  5. Using a search engine, online encyclopedia, online newspaper, and/or database to search at least 5 of the keywords.
  6. Use search results to create questions that answer who, what, when, and where


Organize information using brainstorming and note-taking techniques, converse with peers by learning in small groupscalled Inquiry Circles, and compose in Inquiry Journals in order to connect to the content of the new inquiry.


Brainstorm ideas on your problem or area of interest. While you are brainstorming:
  • Connect to your prior knowledge on your subject
  • What do you already know?
  • Construct questions of your own.
  • Use note-taking skills to provide evidence to support your research
The tools below are traditional forms of brainstorming with paper and pencil.
Click one of the links below to access a brainstorming graphic organizer.  If you prefer the paper/pencil approach to brainstorming, print out the organizer that works best for you and record your brainstorm onto it.  Be sure to hold on to your brainstorm throughout the research process.


Taking notes in research is more important than most people realize.  Not only will effective note-taking provide evidence and support for your research. Through highly developed note-taking skills do we learn about our topic and create a knowledge base from which to conduct original research. Use the resources on the right to introduce yourself to the note-taking method necessary for collecting information while researching in both print and non-print resources.Guide yourself through the list of on-line tutorials and other student resources that will walk you through various methods/styles of taking traditional forms of notes and electronic options.

Learn in Small Groups

Actively involve yourself in inquiry circles. Conversations in these circles will provide support to develop ideas and emerge questions. Inquiry circles are:Typically composed of four to six studentsTailored to students need and abilities, the curriculum content, and the research processArranged by subtopic or they may form their own inquiry circles based on interest in a particular aspect of the study using the subject matter to guide your choices 

Composing in an Inquiry Journal

Inquiry journals are used to help you express their thoughts, feelings and actions across the research process and to reflect on every aspect of the content. Write about the interesting ideas that comes from brainstorming and note-taking, while researching independantly or while participating in conversations with other students in inquiry circles. In this process, you will:

  • Jot down interesting ideas
  • Write about what most interest you
  • Make connections to what you care about
  • Build upon what they already know about as you begin to construct new understanding
boolean search
inquiry circle
inquiry journal
scholarly literature
search engine
Student Resources


Top 15 Most Popular Search Engines

Search Strategies

Boolean Search Techniques
Google Advanced Search
Creating a search strategy

Digging in with Google-Search Tips and Strategies



Online Enclycolpedias

Education Portal-Top Encyclopedia Sites for Student Research Papers

Online Newspapers

News Nettop 20-Most popular and highest-rated sites for news

Google News

BCPS Databases

BCPS Databases


Brainstorming-UNC Writing Center-- This handout discusses techniques that will help you through the challenges of the revising process.

Techniques for Brainstorming Great Ideas-Video- . Learn some popular and effective brainstorming techniques that will work whether you have an hour or two weeks to research.


Techniques for Brainstorming Ideas

Six Creative Ways To Brainstorm Ideas



Taking Notes from Research Reading, Written by Margaret Procter, Writing Support, is a short, informative site that lists three main principles when writing notes specifically for research purposes.

Dartmouth Academic Skills Center-Notetaking, Listening, Participation

11 Note-Taking Tips For The Digital Classroom



Teaching Resources


The Five W’s of Web Site Evaluation-Kathy Schrock





Printed Organizers

Online Tools

Learn in Small Groups

Using Inquiry Circles for Teaching Middle and High School


Composing in an Inquiry Journal

Inquiry journal Prompts Handout

Do Now:

Use the Inquiry Journal Prompts handout to create an inquiry journal, which will be used throughout the research process. Using the keywords that you found and questions that you created in the previous "Do NOW" activity, brainstorm and search various resources in order to create notes to put in the inquiry journal. Use general resources and search engines to help you locate the basic information you will need to answer each question. Begin to think about how to create How and Why questions related to information in your inquiry journals.

Do Next: Return to the Skills Menu to get help with other skills for Step 1: Encounter the Task