Citing using MLA Format is a challenging task for middle school and high school students. Although there are several MLA style guides online, it can still feel like learning a new language. When I teach MLA Citations, I often treat it as if it were a new language – I want my students to become “fluent” in MLA so that they can read and write citations effortlessly. It does not need to be difficult to teach MLA citations. In this blog post, I’ll show you an easy way to introduce and practice MLA citations in your classroom.
What is the Latest Version of MLA?
The Ninth Edition of the MLA Handbook was released in the spring of 2021. Fortunately, MLA 9 is not much different than MLA 8. The MLA Handbook explores more than just how to write citations. It also discusses plagiarism, formatting guides for research writing, guidelines for grammar and mechanics, and recommendations for the use of inclusive language. Additionally, the Handbook has included several examples of different citations in order to clarify the changes implemented in the 8th Edition.
For MLA citations specifically, the latest version of the Handbook offers more information about container rules. The Ninth Edition clarifies several different ways we can think about containers, especially for online sources. For example, containers can include social media posts like Instagram or Twitter, YouTube channels, forums like Reddit, or online exhibitions.
Another change introduced in the Ninth Edition is the requirements for URLs. Since URLs are impermanent and not always accessible to the general public, they are now optional. Regardless, the Ninth Edition still recommends URLs. Students are advised to truncate URLs to include core elements and remove unnecessary query strings.
Ultimately, the inclusion of the URL is up to the institution. This means that you can decide how students should approach URLs in their writing. The only exception is that URLs must include the Hypertext Transfer Protocol. This is required for some users to access the webpage.
How to Encourage Students to Avoid MLA Format Citation Generators
As mentioned, teaching MLA Citations is almost like teaching a different language. Much like a different language, you can take the easy route and just use an online translator. However, there are drawbacks to relying on translators.
For one, relying on a translator means you are dependent on this technology. If you rely on translators, you will never be able to fluently read or understand citations. Additionally, you’ve probably experienced what using an online translator is actually like – they are not always able to accurately translate and often miss grammatical nuances or unique vocabulary.
When I teach MLA citations to students, I make sure to explain these differences to them. You can encourage students to treat learning MLA citations like learning a new language. This can help them welcome the challenge instead of relying on citation generators. Remind students that reading and writing MLA citations is a necessary skill for standardized exams, post-secondary research, and the real world. Taking time to learn how to understand MLA citations will be highly beneficial for them.
How do you Teach MLA Citations?
The best way to encourage students to write their own citations is to ensure they understand them. To do this, I teach MLA citations like I would teach a new language. I start with the basics, introduce new concepts slowly, and repeatedly assess comprehension. The key to effectively teaching MLA citations is practice.
One way you can do this is to introduce an example of a citation and use inquiry-based learning to prompt students to identify the different elements of a citation. This can serve as a great formative assessment for teaching MLA format. You will be able to identify whether or not students are familiar with the elements of MLA citations, as well as where they may require more clarification.
You can continue to work backward with MLA format by having students read and identify several different types of citations. I like to include the kinds of citations they would most often use for their own research, including virtual databases, web pages, online news articles, and textbooks. For a free sample of this activity, download these FREE MLA Citation Practice Worksheets.
From here, you can begin to implement inquiry-based learning again in order to have students begin to identify the type of source for different citations. They will begin looking for context cues based on the elements of the citation that they are now able to identify.
Focussing on Sources and Containers to Teach MLA Citations
Introducing the concept of sources and containers is an important lesson for teaching MLA citations. When students understand how sources and containers are communicated within citations, they will have more success with writing their own references.
One way to introduce sources and containers is to have students write down similarities and differences between different types of citations. You will likely have some students identify that most citations begin with the author or creator. They may also notice that some elements are written within quotations while others are italicized.
With guidance, you can help students work towards the idea that some elements are classified as sources and others as containers. Explain that most sources exist within containers (with a few exceptions). This is why they will sometimes include both the source and the container in their citation. Other times, they will consult the entire container and will cite it as a whole.
To practice this, you can provide examples of different elements, like “song title” and “album,” and ask them to classify them as either sources or containers. An example of this activity can be found in Mondays Made Easy’s MLA Citations Practice Worksheets. This resource also includes an answer key to consolidate this activity, along with daily quizzes to assess new skills.
When students understand the difference between sources and containers, they will more easily understand the remaining elements of a citation.
What are the Core Elements of an MLA Citation?
Teaching the core elements of an MLA citation can help students to begin writing their own works cited references. The core elements of an MLA citation include author, title of source, container, contributor, version, number, publisher, publication date, and location.
To visualize these elements to your students, there is a great graphic organizer in the MLA Handbook. Mondays Made Easy also offers an MLA Citation Quick Reference Card. This graphic organizer introduces the core elements of an MLA citation by order and offers a description of each element. Your students can use this graphic organizer as a “cheat sheet” to guide them through reading and writing MLA citations.
You may find it helpful to clarify to students that not each citation will need to include every core element. One way to reinforce this concept is to have students revisit the inquiry-based activity mentioned earlier in this blog post. Students will notice that they identified different core elements for each citation, which will help them understand that different types of citations include different types of information.
Now that students have learned how to read citations, they can begin to write their own. To practice, you can provide different types of sources and have them locate the necessary core elements in order to write their citation. Mondays Made Easy also offers practice worksheets for writing MLA citations. These worksheets feature pictures of different sources in their original format.
Teaching MLA Citations the Easy Way
Students often view MLA citations as confusing and see MLA style guides as overwhelming. This is because MLA citations require a lot of practice to learn. MLA citations should be taught and assessed separately from research writing in order to make sure students are comfortable with this skill.
The easy way to teach MLA citations is the way that takes time. Your students will appreciate the ample practice and clarification of each skill. With this approach, students will begin to turn to style guides for clarification and will see these references as a wealth of useful information. When students feel comfortable with MLA citations, they will not feel the need to turn to generators.
To preview the worksheets, lesson plans, and activities mentioned in this blog post, check out Mondays Made Easy’s Teaching MLA Citations Bundle.