Note: This post relates to content in the eighth edition of the MLA Handbook. For up-to-date guidance, see the ninth edition of the MLA Handbook.

Lesson Plan

Grade Level



Students will incorporate quotations and paraphrases smoothly in their research papers.

Total Estimated Class Time

45 minutes

Additional Outcome

Students will think critically about how their source material connects with the main idea of their research writing.

Course Work or Assignment Underway

Students are working on a research paper or working on revising a previous essay into an essay that uses and cites sources.

Work Completed before Class

Students should have already completed a preliminary annotated bibliography.

Sequence of Classroom Activities 

1. Usually, the first-year composition handbook has a sample MLA-style essay. Use this essay and ask students to highlight in four different colors:

  • Quotations, paraphrases, or summaries
  • The part of the sentence that introduces the quotation
  • Parenthetical citations (if the author’s name is in the sentence and not in the parentheses, they shouldn’t highlight it—it should already be highlighted)
  • The explanation or commentary for how the source material relates to the writer’s main idea.

2. Note that academic writing often uses four moves to integrate source material into the essay:

  • Move One: The writer introduces the context of the source material.
  • Move Two: The writer quotes, paraphrases, or summarizes the source.
  • Move Three: The writer cites the material.
  • Move Four: The writer comments on or interprets the source material for how it relates to the writer’s main idea.
    • Note that this move might be bypassed if the writer has more source material to present, in which case, the writer moves back to Move One for the new material.
    • Note also that these four moves might not come in the exact same order. But more often than not, all four moves are made. For particularly inexperienced writers, it might be a good idea to ask them to make the four moves in the sequence above before they attempt other strategies.

3. Discuss each of those four moves in detail, and direct the suggestions below to students.

  • Move One: Introduce
    • Notice that the subject and verb of the sentence with the quotation is often in this part. A concrete, simple subject and verb are often the key to making this complex sentence clear.
    • Choose a clear subject. Good choices for the subject include
      • Who wrote it: the author’s name or authors’ names
      • Who said it: the character’s name (most often used with literary sources)
      • How and where it was published: the type of writing it is along with the title of the piece or the journal in which it appeared (e.g., “an article in Journal of International Business Studies”)
      • In the examples you’ve highlighted, what does the author use for the subject? Why?
    • Choose a precise verb. A variety of verbs can be used to describe the purpose of a piece of academic writing.
      • The University of Adelaide Writing Centre provides a good list here. Some common verbs used include the following:
          1. Acknowledge
          2. Address
          3. Argue
          4. Assert
          5. Challenge
          6. Compare
          7. Conclude
          8. Describe
          9. Discover
          10. Explain
          11. Indicate
          12. Note
          13. Observe
          14. Remark
          15. Suggest
    • Should the verb be in present or past tense? Partly this is a function of the discipline in which the research is being done. When analyzing a literary work, the action in the text is conventionally recounted in present tense. However, if the research emphasizes the historicity of the source material, past tense will be the best choice.
    • In the examples you’ve highlighted, what verbs does the author use? Why?
  • Move Two: Quote, Paraphrase, or Summarize
    • Quotations
      • Used to emphasize distinctive opinion, tone, style; to analyze rhetorical and literary devices; to provide a basis for disagreement
      • Indicated with quotation marks as well as clear citation
    • Paraphrases
      • Used to emphasize facts rather than opinion, tone, or style
      • Indicated with clear citation
    • Summaries
      • Used to emphasize main ideas rather than supporting details of a source or to provide accepted background information
      • Indicated with clear citation
    • In the examples you’ve highlighted, why does the student choose to quote, paraphrase, or summarize?
  •  Move Three: Cite
    • MLA citation is designed to provide an unobtrusive way to direct readers to complete bibliographic information so they can look up the source for themselves.
    • In general, what appears in an MLA-style parenthetical citation refers the reader to the first element of the appropriate entry in the list of works cited at the end of the essay.
    • In general, the parenthetical citation applies only to the sentence in which it appears. That is why, if the sentence ends with the quotation, the period goes after the citation rather than inside the closing quotation mark.
    • Can you use the citation to find the full bibliographic information from the list of works cited at the end of the paper? What are some of the variations of citations that you notice? (We can infer some of the rules of MLA documentation this way.)
  •  Move Four: Connect
    • How your evidence relates to your main idea might be obvious to you, but it won’t be obvious to your reader. The connection between evidence and conclusion takes some interpretation, and if you don’t provide readers guidance, you risk their interpreting your evidence in a different way and not connecting it to your argument. That’s why at least one sentence incorporating important concepts from both your source and your main idea is critical in connecting the two for your reader.
    • Based on what you’ve highlighted from the sample paper, how does the author connect the evidence from the source to the paper’s main idea?

Alternative Approaches

You can ask students to highlight their own drafts or each other’s drafts to evaluate whether they are effectively incorporating the four moves described above to integrate source material in their research essays. If students are having a hard time grasping the four moves, you can incorporate the Note-Taking Template from the high school lesson plan.

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Andrew Shipe

Andrew Shipe teaches journalism and AP English literature and composition at Pompano Beach High School in Broward County, Florida. He also serves as department chair and adviser of both the student newspaper and the yearbook. He has taught at Ohio State University, University of Miami, Broward College, and Nova Southeastern University. A finalist for district Teacher of the Year, he has earned National Board certification and received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the United States Department of State.