Lesson Plan


Students will practice reading and writing citations as a communicative act and will consider how to retrieve items found in them. Further, although the new style guidelines are not centered on publication format, this exercise is a good way for students to discern that the format is still possible and useful to communicate.

Total Estimated Class Time

45 minutes

Additional Outcome(s)

Students will be exposed to each other’s research and will practice known-item searching.

Course Work or Assignment Underway

Annotated bibliography, preceded by a proposal and leading eventually to a research paper

Work Completed before Class

Students should have a draft of an annotated bibliography for their research papers. The annotations don’t need to be done yet (but could be). Previous class sessions will have introduced students to searching for information, organizing resources, and understanding the  elements of a works-cited-list entry.  Students will know ahead of time that this activity is coming.

Sequence of Classroom Activities

This activity should take place in a computer lab but could be adjusted for working without one.

1. Pass out part 1 of the assignment sheet. Ask students to select a partner and to exchange draft bibliographies. For the first part of the exercise, partners should not sit together.

2. Instruct students to write down what kind of source they believe each entry on their partner’s bibliography is (e.g., a book, a film). They should write down any questions they wish to ask their partner.

3. Walk the class through the process of retrieving a known item (that is, a source for which the student already has bibliographic information). Focus on using library resources rather than an Internet search engine so that students can get a sense of how resources are organized and accessed in the library.

4. Ask students to locate each item on their partner’s bibliography. For items available electronically, ask students to actually retrieve the item. For print items, have students retrieve all the information they would need to access the item physically. Discourage them from using a search engine (when used on campus, it is likely to produce results for resources that would be behind a paywall when searched off campus). Just as you did for step 3, encourage them to focus on the library’s resources. If doing this exercise in a room without computers, students can identify which piece of bibliographic information they would use to begin their search. Students should continue to write down any questions they have for the author of the bibliography.

5. Students should next confer with their partners, answering any questions.

6. Convene the entire class for discussion. Ask students the following questions:

  • Which sources were the most difficult to find?
  • Were the citations your partner couldn’t find the same ones that you had difficulty creating entries for?
  • Did knowing the format make it easier for you to interpret the citations? to find the items?

Reflection on the Lesson’s Success or Alternative Approaches

This exercise could also be done with an article found by the professor instead of with student work; however, student work has three main advantages: it is the most convenient place to see MLA style in action given the newness of the style; it allows students to communicate with each other about their work; it gives students a glimpse of the kinds of sources that their peers are using.

The assignment should be printed on two separate pieces of paper so that students can give the first page to their partner and keep the second for themselves.

The discussion afterward is very important: push students to be specific about the steps they took and to suggest alternative approaches.

Lesson Materials

Assignment sheet

Photo of Nancy Foasberg

Nancy Foasberg

Nancy Foasberg is the humanities librarian at Queens College, City University of New York.