Teaching Bibliographic Citation


I love to teach bibliographies! No, really, I do! Every year, I am invited into the classrooms of the teachers on the fifth grade team to teach their students how to create the first formal bibliographies of their academic careers. I make a big deal out of it, both to grab their attention and to emphasize that this is a skill that will be useful for the rest of their learning lives.

Now, do I hear some of you clicking your tongues and wondering why I am teaching such an arcane topic to elementary students? With the availability of online citation generators, why bother teaching the “grammar” of bibliographies anyway? Hey, why teach kids how to add and subtract? They can use a calculator! Learn to read? Why bother. Just download a handy text-to-speech converter on your computer and pop on those headphones. Seriously though, I do believe that learning the why’s and wherefore’s of citing one’s sources is as important as the research itself.

The lesson begins with a show of hands. “How many of you have been to the movies and stayed after ‘The End’ was shown on the screen?” All hands are raised. “Tell me what comes next.” Most all students will provide the answer I am looking for-“The credits.” We then discuss the purpose of the credits and some of the examples. I usually let this part of the lesson linger longer than it needs to, as children want to share some of the more unique jobs featured–“Best Boy” and “Gaffer” being two of their favorites. Once this little digression is wrapped up we talk about how a bibliography is similar to the credits at the end of the movie, an analogy easy for them to understand.

The next show of hands is for participation in sports or dance. Again, this usually results in a unanimous response. By this time the students are wondering if all we are going to do is to talk about what we do in our free time. But I quickly bring them back to the world of education by comparing the rules of sports or dance to the rules of citations. We talk about how rules must be followed, even if it seems like there might be an easier way to do something. The examples I use are a sideline throw-in at a soccer game and second position in dance. Following the rules makes things fair and easier to follow. Learning the rules might be hard, but helpful in the long run.

Now it’s time to get to work. We start very simply with a citation for a book by a single author. First we break it down into the five elements. Then, using a title page projected onto the white board, we locate the title, author, publisher and city of publication. I very sincerely ask them to find the last element, the date. “Can you enlarge the image?” they ask. I do. No date. Finally, someone offers that it can usually be found on the other side of the title page. “Yes, the verso!” I cheer and I quickly provide that image so that we can complete stage one of the citation–gathering the information.

The next step is to transform our bibliographic notes into a bibliographic citation. I explain that it is simply a plug-in formula that need not be memorized as long as it is understood. As a class we then convert the “data” into a citation by applying the formula which I chant as a warm-up. “Last name, comma, first name period. Title, underlined, period. City of publication, colon. Publisher, comma. Date of publication, period.” Perhaps the hardest concept to communicate is what I call “reverse” indentation, but they get the hang of it eventually.

Before I set them off on their own, I check each individual’s work, give them a big round of applause and then tell them, “You are now ready to create your own citations!!” Working in pairs for support, they are given books (or copies of title pages and versos) and off they go. At the completion of this task, again, I make a big deal out of the fact that they just independently created their first bibliographic entries.

In follow-up mini-lessons, I teach other formats (Internet primarily), alphabetizing, and how to use “hanging indentation” in Word.

Practicing what I preach, the original inspiration from this lesson came from correspondence with another librarian over a decade ago. Here is the citation:

Hastings, Jeff. Email to the author. September 9, 2000.

Bibliographies are not glamorous, but with a little pizzazz, the lesson is fun and the kids get it. And that’s what my job is all about.

Common Core Correlation: English Language Arts: W.5.8 Recall relevant information from experiences or gather relevant information from print and digital sources; summarize or paraphrase information in notes and finished work, and provide a list of sources.



3 Comments on “Teaching Bibliographic Citation”

  1. ocdtalk says:

    Thank you for the lesson. I never really thought of a bibliography as the “credits,” but more as something that just had to be done. But of course we need to give credit where credit is due. Sounds like a fun class!

  2. […] Most viewed post-Teaching Bibliographic Citation […]

  3. […] the mindset that this was a boring topic and was grudgingly searching for ideas when I came across this blog, in which she relates bibliographies to movie credits. That connection alone made introducing the […]

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