Enabling students in the language arts classroom to learn the art of academic research can indeed be frustrating. This activity on blending research sources should not be attempted until each type of task—source citation, direct quotation, summary, and paraphrase have been completed individually elsewhere. Tasks of this nature require careful scaffolding to ensure student success.
The format used on the Blending Research Sources handout is particularly effective when it comes to helping struggling students realize the difference between each task. For students who are already proficient, it is a great activity for them to compare work with their peers.
Once you click on the handout link above, you can easily modify it to meet the specific purposes of your English classroom. The order of item completion corresponds to the difficulty of the task.
Step 1: Make a works cited entry.
First, discuss how and why the source meets your information needs. Then engage the class in helping locate each required bit of information. Websites like Son of Citation Machine work great for that purpose, plus many online databases now automatically format such entries for the user. Make sure to cover how to create a hanging indent and reiterate that sources on a works cited page are arranged alphabetically.
Step 2: Read the original passage aloud.
Are the meanings of the words clear? If not, are context clues available? Try to look up at least one word in an online dictionary just to act as a refresher of the parts of a definition.
Step 3: Format a direct quote.
Read the directions aloud. Clarify as needed. Provide time for students to complete the work individually. If time allows, have them compare with a neighbor. Finally, once you have noted that everyone is finished, show a correct example on the board.
Step 4: Make a summary pyramid and write a summary.
As stated earlier, the students should already have practice completing a summation pyramid. Walk around and check their progress as needed. Emphasize they are to pick the most important keywords from the original passage. Once everyone is finished, show an example on the board. I usually show an example of a so/so summary and then compare it to one that is more concisely written and that changes as many keywords as possible to unique wordings.
Step 5: Write a paraphrase.
Remind the class that in addition to choosing synonyms, they will also want to re-structure sentences as they put the ideas from the original passage into their own words. It’s important that the paraphrase is about the same length as the original. Again, if time allows, compare. Then put up a so/so example to contrast with an excellent paraphrase. Another helpful trick is to give students highlighters so they can mark the words in their paraphrase that are the same as the original passage.
The concepts in this activity can be applied to every new piece of source material. In time, students will treat the process of blending sources as second nature and will no longer need the handout, though it can be useful to re-visit it with passages of increasing difficulty.
What effective strategies have you used for teaching research writing to your students?
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