I know you’ve been there. You’ve taught the kids how to research. You’ve shown them how to embed quotations. You have given them piles of information on how to create a works cited page.
And then you see their assignments.
They are riddled with errors. Quotations are randomly inserted with no introduction, and there isn’t an in-text citation to be found. Let’s not even talk about the works cited pages.
What went wrong?
I’ve been there. Many times. And I’ve come to realize that the problem is not that I haven’t thoroughly taught the information and skills, it’s that I haven’t taught it in a way that helps many of my students really learn.
In the last few years I’ve been tweaking slideshows and handouts, but it wasn’t until I designed some activities that got the kids actively engaged in the process that I started to see real improvement.
The stand and deliver approach is not one I use very often in my classroom because I like to keep my students active. Yet sometimes, you just have to deliver a bunch of information, like you do with research skills. However, the process takes a lot of time, and time is such a precious commodity.
I avoided the lecture by creating student handouts with the information. But unless I read them over with the students, most of them would just shove them into a binder, unread. Reading the handouts to the students was certainly not going to engage them, and many would just tune out anyway.
Handouts were not the solution.
Lecturing and note-taking may be “old school” and time-consuming, but I know that it is a method that engages the brain. Writing notes focuses the students and activates learning in a way that just reading a handout does not. I knew I had to go back to it, but I also knew that it needed to be more than a passive experience for the kids.
My solution was to create a hybrid of the two.
Let me show you how I use this approach when I teach my kids to embed quotations:
I begin with a short, introductory lesson that uses a slideshow to present information on why and how they should use quotations in their writing. In order to keep them actively engaged, I give them a handout – like the one to the left – that has some of the information and several blanks. They need to record the missing information.
Another way to keep kids engaged as you lecture, is to build in lots of opportunities to question them on the information that you are providing. In the example below, I would have just explained to them the importance of providing context for their quotations. Then I give them examples of writing that has not provided any context and ask them what is missing.
After this introductory lecture, I give them some exercises to practice the information that they have learned. I like to get them out of their seats, so I put some samples on ledger paper and put them up on the walls in different areas of the classroom. Students circle around, recording and fixing the errors on the samples, or practicing the skill of embedding and citing, like in the example below:
After they get the broad strokes of embedding quotations, I want them to get more details on types of in-text citations. This is where we can go into information overload and student brains disengage. With my new method, I begin with an activity that gets them actively involved in the note-taking process, but that doesn’t take up too much time.
I created posters that had all of the information on them, as well as corresponding student note pages. The student pages had some of the information on them already, but the key points were left off (see above). I put the posters on the walls of my classroom to create stations and gave the students the handouts. They circulated around the room, filling in the blanks. This activity gets them up and moving while they learn the many ins and outs of citing quotations. They will have to focus their attention to find the information the need, and they will get to write out the key points — hopefully, embedding it in their brains while they go.
After they have finished, I use the slideshow to quickly go over their work. They need to pay attention to make sure they got the correct information in their notes.
Finally, on another day, we repeat the process with the how-to’s of punctuat-ing and formatting quotations.
Since adding opportunities for active learning, grading is not nearly as frustrating as it once was. Yes, there are still errors. There will always be students who don’t take their time to carefully edit their work. However, now I feel like my kids have a much better understanding of how and why to use quotations in their work.
If you’d like to grab these materials, you can check out my Embedding Quotations Lessons.
You can find more active learning opportunities with the Research Skills Learning Stations.