I have rarely been satisfied with spending a whole class on MLA style. The format is so precise, the textbook chapters so detailed, and the material is so important, but it makes for a very dry lecture. Over the years, I have pushed more and more of my MLA style material out of the classroom and into handouts. Yes, students ought to be able to get the info from the handouts, but there ought to be an engaging way to get students to put those handouts into practice.
Building on some successful editing exercises I’ve developed in my journalism class, today I showed my college writing students a link to some online handouts, told them which chapter to look at in their textbook, created a blank Google Doc, and told students that by the end of the hour, they should all have collaborated on a perfect Works Cited list for the assigned readings in our anthology.
They’ll still have to come up with the separate bibliography entries for their research term paper, but for now this group activity reinforces that it is physically possible for college students to create an accurate Works Cited list by drawing information from a textbook or handout.
While the students were working, I highlighted little mistakes (such as “Ed.” for “Eds.”, or misalphabetized entries. When Stu Dent changed a period to a comma, I was able to say, “Good call, Stu, you were right to change that period to a comma.” When a student changed an item from correct to incorrect, I just highlighted it, and called the general attention of the class to the inaccuracy. I spent most of my time passing judgement on the development of a single bibliography entry, and I watched as the little corrections I noted got propagated throughout the rest of the document.
There are still a few minor typos in the document the students ended up with, so I’ll send out an email reminding them to double-check it. I told them that an item in the next paper rubric will be “Perfect MLA Style Works Cited list,” but for today there was no grade attached to the work — just the opportunity to learn.
I’ll let you know how the works cited lists for the next assignment go.