As teachers, we strive to make every learning goal as much fun as possible in our classrooms. Teaching in-text citations can be challenging because students find citations to be confusing. To add to our struggles, grammar is one of the least exciting lessons to teach. Fortunately, there are learning strategies that can motivate students to practice this skill. This blog post will provide you with ideas to help with teaching in-text citations.
What are In-Text Citations?
In writing, in-text citations indicate where an idea originally came from. The idea could be word-for-word or paraphrased. As their name suggests, in-text citations exist within the text of an essay or paragraph. They work in cooperation with a bibliography or works cited page. The role of the in-text citation is to direct the reader to a specific citation within the bibliography, which will then direct them to the original source of the quotation or idea.
You’ve probably noticed that endnotes and footnotes are less commonly used in academic writing. APA format uses neither endnotes nor footnotes, and MLA format more frequently features in-text citations than footnotes or endnotes. This means that learning in-text citations is a valuable skill for your students.
Why is Practicing In-Text Citations Important?
As mentioned, both APA and MLA formats recommend in-text citations over endnotes or footnotes. Your students should therefore understand how to use in-text citations so that they can include them in their academic writing.
Most importantly, in-text citations will help students avoid plagiarism. It is important for students to understand the purpose of in-text citations in their academic writing. Whenever they are sharing information, they need to be able to show where it came from in order to assess the credibility of both their argument and the source. Additionally, students need to be able to provide credit to ideas that are not their own. It is not enough to reference sources solely in a bibliography, because this information is not specific enough.
What Requires an In-Text Citation?
Where to include an in-text citation may seem obvious. Even if your students have learned about in-text citations before, it is helpful to start from square one. This will prevent any confusion when it comes time to assess in-text citation skills. It also lays the proper foundation for avoiding plagiarism in your students’ writing.
I provide my students with the following two rules to help them with the placement of in-text citations:
- If your topic sentence introduces the title and author of the source, and at the end of the paragraph includes the page number within parentheses, then everything between the topic sentence and the parentheses is attributed to the source. Everything after the parentheses is not attributed to the source.
- If you include the author and page number within parentheses, then the sentence before the parentheses is attributed to the source. Everything before the sentence or after the parentheses is not attributed to the source.
Of course, students need to understand that they need to cite any idea, or phrasing of an idea, that is not their own. This may seem obvious, but it’s always a good idea to clarify this to students anyway. If your students are struggling to understand plagiarism, check out Mondays Made Easy’s blog post on avoiding plagiarism in your students’ writing.
How to Teach In-Text Citations in Middle School
Many curriculums indicate that students should begin indicating the source of their research as early as Grade 7. The Ontario Curriculum requires students to start examining text features, including references and work cited, in Grade 7. Similarly, the Common Core requires students to “use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and link to and cite sources” (English Language Arts Standards – Writing – Grade 7).
Many students begin referencing in their research writing even earlier than Grade 7. For example, the Common Core requires students to “[provide] basic bibliographic information for sources” in Grade 6 (English Language Arts Standards – Writing – Grade 6). In-text citations are therefore a useful skill for your middle school students to begin learning.
You can begin teaching in-text citations by first differentiating between direct wording and ideas. Students should understand that both require a citation. They should also understand the different ways to reference these in their writing. A great way to scaffold this lesson is to begin with a lesson on paraphrasing. When students understand the difference between paraphrasing and a direct quotation, they can begin to understand the different ways to reference information in their research writing.
Scaffolding In-Text Citations in Middle School
A great way to begin scaffolding in-text citations for both direct quotations and ideas is to model the process. You can pick a topic to write about. Then, call on a student to share a thought or idea about the topic. Write the quotation down on your board or projector (I like to have transcribing software to complete this step for me).
You can write two different paragraphs using the student’s ideas. In one paragraph, include the student’s direct words in quotations. In the other, paraphrase the student’s idea. Ask students what happens if you leave out a reference to the student. Then, ask them how they would attribute the information to the student. You might have some students that already know the answer to these questions; if you don’t, you can show them.
This inquiry-based method is a great way to begin teaching in-text citations because it will prompt students to consider why they need to cite. You can continue this method by asking more questions, including “where should we place the citation?” or “how many sentences within the paragraph are attributed to the author when I place the citation here?”
These types of questions may even get students thinking about how to attribute an entire paragraph or summary to a source. If so, then your students are ready to begin learning about parenthetical and integrated in-text citations. You can scaffold the difference between these two in-text citations by showing students examples of writing using high-interest topics. Mondays Made Easy’s In-Text Citations Worksheets prompt students to organize eight paragraphs, each one featuring a parenthetical or integrated in-text citation.
How to Teach In-Text Citaitons in High School
By the time students are in Grade 9, they should know how to include in-text citations in their research writing. If they haven’t differentiated between parenthetical and integrated in-text citations, they should also practice this differentiation. A parenthetical citation includes all of the information for the in-text citation within parentheses. An integrated citation would introduce some of the information for the in-text citation into the actual body of the paragraph. Integrated citations will often include parentheses – especially if there is a page number mentioned – but they don’t have to.
There are benefits to both types of in-text citations. Parenthetical citations are less wordy; however, they only attribute the sentence that comes before them to the original source. On the other hand, integrated citations can attribute an entire paragraph to an original source by introducing it in the topic sentence. While integrated citations require more manipulation of grammar and mechanics, students should be encouraged to use them whenever they are attributing more than one sentence to an original source.
I like to include anchor chart posters in my classroom to demonstrate the difference between these two types of in-text citations. These anchor charts should include examples to model how to use them in writing. Students can refer to these posters while they practice research writing.
In-Text Citations Activities for High School Students
In addition to practicing writing with in-text citations, another great activity for high school students is to answer multiple-choice sets. Multiple-choice questions are a great activity for students who are preparing for standardized tests, including the SAT, the AP Language and Composition exam, and the OSSLT. Although these standardized exams do not assess in-text citations, students can still prepare for their exams by recognizing sentence stems and practicing narrowing down their answers.
Another great thing about multiple-choice questions is that they are a great way to draw attention to the subtle differences in grammar and punctuation. Here is an example of a multiple-choice question you could use:
- Which of the following options correctly places the in-text citation?
a) The island of Sørburøy only has 35 inhabitants. (National Geographic, 35)
b) The island of Sørburøy only has 35 inhabitants (National Geographic, 35).
c) The island of Sørburøy only has 35 inhabitants (National Geographic 35).
d) The island of Sørburøy only has 35 inhabitants. (National Geographic 35)
As you can see, the options above are all quite similar. The correct answer is b, but the variations demonstrate common mistakes that students make when placing in-text citations in their writing.
Mondays Made Easy’s In-Text Citations Worksheets include a set of 5 multiple-choice questions. These questions quiz students on where to place an in-text citation in a paragraph, what information should be included in an in-text citation, and other important concepts. This resource also includes a Tic-Tac-Toe worksheet to gamify in-text citations practice. Through student choice, students will complete a number of worksheets that have them practice integrating internal and parenthetical in-text citations.
Learning Strategies for Teaching In-Text Citations
Teaching in-text citations may not be the most exciting subject in English, but it can still be engaging. The different learning strategies mentioned in this blog post are also featured in Mondays Made Easy’s In-Text Citations Resource. This resource includes a tic-tac-toe activity, eight scaffolding worksheets, multiple-choice questions, anchor chart posters, and a comprehensive answer key.
To preview this resource, click here.