I teach my students how to create a works cited page from scratch — or the old, fashioned way as they like to tell me. I know there are online tools that will do that for them, and I’m thrilled that they can use those tools … in other classes, not mine.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not living in the dark ages — I love technology! So why do I “torture” my students like this?
1. Why is a Works Cited Important in the First Place?
You have to start with this question with your students. If they don’t buy into the need for a Works Cited, they won’t understand what the hoopla, abbreviations, and URLs are all about.
Your students are legitimate writers who want to be taken seriously. Writing is hard work. Students need to know that a Works Cited page gives them credibility and authority. It helps their confidence and makes their argument strong and legitimate.
A Works Cited page helps your students feel confident in backing up their research.
One way to convince your students of this is to show them a few websites that promote something — nutritional supplements or diet formals are a good place to start. Does the writer use research to support the claims?
Middle and high school students are often surprisingly difficult to convince (now, don’t tell me that you’ve never noticed that!); they enjoy the opportunity to critique a scientific claim.
2. The Cool Part about Cross Reference
A Works Cited, of course, needs to match with the parenthetical citations. When your students have completed both their research and the Works Cited, they have created a cross-referenced document. What other mega online monster does this? Wikipedia. While they don’t use parenthetical citations, they do provide resources at the end of each article.
Students can see the value of the referenced materials that can help them learn more about a topic — as in the case of this adorable hedgehog entry!
3. Windows of Opportunity
Have you ever noticed how attached students get to their resources? Once they find a source that provides answers to their questions, they’re finished researching.
When citing an online source, students need to be able to locate the author, publisher, and date of publication. This leads to wonderful discussions about bias, current information, and fact checking. (For more on this, check out my post on teaching digital literacy.)
One of my favorite activities to practice this with is the Save the Tree Octopus website. Most students will see through this hoax right away, but the lesson is — what kind of resource is this? How do you know there really isn’t a tree octopus? Afterall, the Pacific Northwest is home to sasquatch, ummm, right?!!
When a students cannot locate an author and/or publisher, it leads to questions. Is this website legit? Does the writer have an agenda? Is this original or copied material? Maybe, as was the case with one of my students, this is an elementary student’s project. Is this a valid source for serious academic research?
I ask my students to create a “working” works cited as they gather their research. Even if it’s not in the perfect MLA format, they are looking carefully at their source material, and I can too. (Bonus: great formative assessment!)
Could they do that with EasyBib? Sure. But because I ask for a “working” document, they have the raw data that we can use for in-class discussions.
4. Attention to Detail
Yes, following the MLA guidelines is tedious. But how often do we really ask our students to follow standards that require them to check and double check? Probably not often enough!
But paying attention to detail and following exact steps is a life skill. Seriously, just look at directions for putting together Ikea furniture!
If you require your students write their own w.c. for the entire year, you’ll find that what was at first cumbersome, becomes easier and easier. Students will learn the form. Additionally, many will begin creating the Works Cited page as they research. It’s a beautiful thing!
5. About those Standards
Now that the MLA has revised its recommendation for citing resources, we can all relax a little! Did we ever really need to know the city of publication?!
However, like attention to detail, following academic standards is important. We never know where our students will be going on their educational journey. I love to tell my students, “You know the right way to do this, so you won’t be wrong if you follow these steps.”
Help your students understand the value of standards. You can easily teach this by bringing in almost any item from the grocery store. A can of bean will work. When we look at the label, we see how standards help all of us understand what we’re purchasing. Standards like where we look to find nutritional information (hey! that little chart is the same on nearly every packaged food — a standard!), the weight or volume of the package, or the ingredients are standards. Have students consider how something so simple can help the consumer.
When we follow standards, everyone is on the same page…and in the case of works cited, that’s a literal statement.
6. Caring about Those Fussy Details
One thing that often troubles students is that crazy hanging indent. It’s gotta be a mistake — they’ve never been asked to write a paragraph upside down before!
So why do it now?
And what about the excessive punctuation?
No one likes to follow rules that are meaningless. Use the Works Cited page as an opportunity to discuss with your students the value of paying attention to detail and how following conventions help us understand better and faster.
In a Works Cited, the period helps the reader know that the entry is finished. And the hanging indent means the reader can very quickly find the cited source.
Should you teach students how to write a Works Cited from Scratch?
I certainly think so! But, of course, that takes time that you might not have.
If you decide that your students can use EasyBib or another online tool, be sure to at least help students understand the value of a Works Cited page — why it is important for both the reader and the writer.
Or consider having your students create one from scratch at least once, so they feel confident about how it should be set up. (There is a certain value for figuring out how to create a hanging indent!)
If you are in need of a little help, I have several resources on my Teachers Pay Teachers Store that take you through the process – step by step.
Easy as pie…
Everyone should know how to make an apple pie from scratch and be able to change a flat — even though you might not do it more than once in your life, but you feel confident that you could if you needed to!
Giving your class the opportunity to write their own Works Cited pages, from scratch, is another teaching tool that will build confidence in your student writers…and sometimes that the most important writing skill of all.