The exercises below are designed for students learning to do research. They can be done in class or assigned as homework. They are in Word format so instructors who wish to use them can easily edit or adapt them. When appropriate, they contain an answer key, so instructors should look at the full handout and remove the answer key before sharing with students.
If you would like a librarian to come to your class to lead these exercises or if you would like an exercise customized for your subject area, contact your Library Liaison!
Create a list of sources with improper citations. Have the students attempt to locate the sources. This should demonstrate to students how citations are used to track down sources and how frustrating it can be for their teachers and fellow researchers when they don’t provide adequate citations. Examples to use here could include books with multiple editions or books with very generic titles.
Breaking citations down: Develop a list of citations. Break these citations down (components: author, date, publisher, title, etc). Type or write them down on larger pieces of construction paper, cardboard, etc. You can utilize a variety of colors, shapes, sizes. Have students work as groups to assemble the parts (you can use pin boards, a wall and tape, magnetic boards, etc). This can easily be turned into a competitive game.
Selecting an Effective Writing Assignment Format
In addition to the standard essay, report or full research paper formats, several other formats exist that might give students a different slant on the course material or allow them to use slightly different writing skills. Here are some suggestions:
Journals. In-class journal entries can spark discussions and reveal gaps in students’ understanding of the material. Having students write an in-class entry summarizing the material covered that day can aid the learning process and also reveal concepts that require more elaboration. Out-of-class entries involve short summaries or analyses of texts, or are a testing ground for ideas for student papers and reports.
Letters. Students can define and defend a position on an issue in a letter written to someone in authority. They can also explain a concept or a process to someone in need of that particular information. They can write a letter to a friend explaining their concerns about an upcoming paper assignment or explaining their ideas for an upcoming paper assignment. If you wish to add a creative element to the writing assignment, you might have students adopt the persona of an important person discussed in your course (e.g., an historical figure) and write a letter explaining his/her actions, process, or theory to an interested person (e.g., “pretend that you are John Wilkes Booth and write a letter to the Congress justifying your assassination of Abraham Lincoln,” or “pretend you are Henry VIII writing to Thomas More explaining your break from the Catholic Church”).
Editorials. Students can define and defend a position on a controversial issue in the format of an editorial for the campus or local newspaper or for a national journal.
Cases. Students might create a case study particular to the course’s subject matter.
Position Papers. These projects ask students to research a topic from a variety of viewpoints, and then use that research to support their own perspective. Students can define and defend a position, perhaps as a preliminary step in the creation of a formal research paper or essay.
Imitation of a Text. Students can create a new document “in the style of” a particular writer (e.g., “Create a government document the way Woody Allen might write it” or “Write your own ‘Modest Proposal’ about a modern issue”).
Instruction Manuals. Students write a step-by-step explanation of a process.
Dialogues. Students create a dialogue between two major figures studied in which they not only reveal those people’s theories or thoughts but also explore areas of possible disagreement (e.g., “Write a dialogue between Claude Monet and Jackson Pollock about the nature and uses of art”).
Collaborative projects. Students work together to create such works as reports, questions, and critiques.
Summary papers These assignments ask students to summarize a key concept from the course, or a reading or set of readings.
Compare/contrast papers Students are asked to compare/contrast theoretical positions from key scholars, reading, methods, or procedures for completing a task, etc.
Reading responses Students are asked to respond to specific questions about course readings. These can take place in reading journals that you occasionally collect, or reading responses on a discussion forum (on Moodle or elsewhere).
Position response papers Students are provided with a position that they must then defend or refute using course concepts and outside research.
Disciplinary problem papers These projects ask students to make an argument for the best solution to a disciplinary problem.
Data analysis papers Students are provided with raw data (or asked to collect raw data themselves) that they must then analyze using a particular methodology from the course.