Lesson idea: Understanding research methods (with worksheet)

Travis DixonResearch Methodology

This activity is really challenging so it works best late in the course, maybe for an exam review.

Research methodology is best understood when it’s made concrete and practical. Talking about concepts in the abstract will make it hard for students to comprehend. So this lesson idea is a simple way of getting students to think about research methods in a practical way. It will only work towards the end of a research methods unit when they already know the methods – the activity helps to consolidate and deepen their understanding.

This activity would work well for a review activity for IB Psychology’s Paper 3.

This lesson is a good “hangover helper” – it takes no prep time, minimal explanation, maximum student on-task time and you can sit and sip a coffee, nurse a headache, while still causing learning.

Step One: Choose A Topic

Working in groups, students need to decide on a general topic of study that is interesting to them. This could be provided by the teacher and/or they come up with the topics themselves. If you want to provide the list for students, think of topics that students might be genuinely interested in.


  • Neuroplasticity
  • Parenting
  • Gender
  • Cultural differences in … (insert behaviour)
  • Immigration
  • Drugs
  • Addiction
  • Violence
  • Attraction

Step Two: Devise a research question

From a chosen topic, students figure out a specific research question that they would like to answer about that topic.

E.g. Does the amount of time on social media affect grades?

Tip: Basically, any topic will be fine, but if you have an unmotivated class you might want to give them a more specific topic or even the question. e.g. does single parenting affects achievement in school? Does Facebook cause anxiety? etc.

Step Three: How would you gather data to answer your question?

Still working in groups, students discuss which method they would use to answer their question. They could begin by choosing whether to apply quantitative methodology or qualitative methodology. After this, they can be more specific.

Tip: If they’re struggling, get them to see if they’re studying the relationship between variables, or something more general about behaviour. If the former, they’re best to use a quantitative method and if the latter, a qualitative one.

Step Four: Evaluate

Students make a list of strengths and limitations of applying their chosen method to answer the question.

Step Five: The Alternative

Students should now alter their research question so that it would make more since to apply a different methodology. For example, if they chose a quantitative method the first time, how would they alter their research question so that a qualitative method would make more sense. They then discuss which method they would go with and why.

Fasts Finishers? An extension could be to do the same individually and choose their own topic.

Step Six: Collate

Collate the answers from the groups on the whiteboard. I use a data projector and type in a word doc’ table with qualitative down one side and quantitative down the other. We’re collating the research questions and the methods used for each.

Step Seven: Compare and Contrast – Written Summary (Check-in)

In order to see if students learned anything about methodology, I get them to write a summary of what they notice about the similarities with those that chose a quantitative method and those that chose qualitative methods.

Hopefully, they’ll identify the fact that quant’ methods focus on questions about relationships between variables and qual’ methods generally focus on more general questions about understanding people’s experiences of behaviour. I also explain this difference in the follow-up lesson.

I’m not going to lie – this lesson won’t get you any teacher-of-the-year award nominations, but it gets the job done.

Download the worksheets here: