You can have students practice research skills without some of the frustrations of the full research paper. Below are some ideas from Virginia Tech University Libraries, http://www.lib.vt.edu/instruct/assignments.html
Here are more links to research assignment alternatives:
See summary in separate box below.
1. Include a written explanation of why students are doing this research, and an explanation of what the research process should look like for this assignment, or in this discipline. Outline the expected steps of the process.
2. Include written suggestions on the sources, including Internet sources, that might appropriately be used for this research.
Research assignments, in general, should have students learn how to derive information from multiple and diverse formats. Students need to learn how to use and evaluate specific online and print sources—from blogs to collaborative wiki entries to traditional top-flight scholarly journals to data directly collected from the field— independently and when the sources are used in combination. The use of multiple formats causes students to go beyond thinking of research as a competency learned by rote where students use the same predictable set of resources— an approach a large majority of students reported using in our prior student survey." (PIL Handout Study, p. 27).
Encouraging the use of a variety of sources will allow students to use the Internet, which they will use anyway, and give them both the hands on experience and the responsibility of evaluating sources.
3. Give specific written suggestions of library databases that may be useful. (Librarians would be very glad to provide suggestions).
4. Include the suggestion that students seek help from a librarian.
from Project Information Literacy's Handout Study