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Common Core Standards: ELA - Literacy

Grade 11-12

Writing WHST.11-12.8

Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the strengths and limitations of each source in terms of the specific task, purpose, and audience; integrate the information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and overreliance on any one source and following a standard format for citation.

Set the Stage

It’s not your imagination; there are a ton of individual skills crammed into this one standard. Don’t fret yet though; Shmoop has you covered. This standard basically asks students to determine the quality of their sources, integrate source material effectively, and cite sources properly. Let’s break this thing down.

Students need to:

  • Gather relevant info – So you’ll need to discuss what constitutes relevant research for a given topic.
  • Use multiple print and digital sources – So you’ll want to require a variety of source material and discuss both library and Internet research techniques.
  • Use advanced searches effectively – This is an important skill that often gets skipped over. Spend some time teaching students how to use search terms and search fields effectively to find exactly the information they need.
  • Assess the strengths and limitations of sources in terms of task, purpose, and audience – This is where the 11th and 12th grade version of the standard really sets itself apart. At this level, students should not only be finding useful research, they should be able to assess the usefulness of the research in light of their specific rhetorical context. Students should be able to research strategically, keeping in mind which sources will be most convincing to their audience, most appropriate for their task, and most pertinent to their purpose.
  • Integrate source information without disrupting flow – So you’ll want to model some strategies for good source integration, including when to summarize and paraphrase, and how to cut or shorten quotes and shape original sentences around them for seamless syntax.
  • Avoid overreliance on any one source – This is another place where the standard differs for 11th and 12th grades. By this point, students should be savvy enough researchers to find a variety of sources and to balance the use of those sources in their paper.
  • Cite sources properly – So you’ll want to spend time discussing proper citation style for your discipline, especially since it may be different from the citation rules students are learning in English class.

Example

Dress Rehearsal

Today in chemistry class, your teacher has little packets of salt at your lab table. On closer inspection, you realize these packets aren’t salt at all; the word desiccant is clearly labeled on the packet. You know you’ve seen some of these before. Sure. When you bought your Blu-ray player, there were a couple of packets inside the box.

Your teacher explains that the packets control moisture by absorbing water. Good idea, you think, water and electronics aren’t a good match. Remember the time you dropped your cell phone into the…well, never mind. The packets contain ionic compounds known as hydrates, your study for the day. You might recognize them as silica gel.

You complete a lab experiment in which you note how heated cobalt chloride hexahydrate turns from pink to blue, the result of water evaporating from the hydrate. Along with its applications in the chemistry lab, anhydrous compounds have uses in the real world. You’re asked by your instructor to research these uses through other books and on the Internet. You will be writing an essay to explain how these compounds are used and in what industries. Your audience will be your classmates.

Your teacher points out that you must use five sources, your textbook counting as one. Ms. Ancel warns you to be sure that the sources you use are accurate and reliable and that all information is authored by experts in the field of science. Yes, friends, that means to avoid Wikipedia!

As you browse the Internet, you find several sites that describe commercial uses for desiccants. There is a research paper written by a master’s degree candidate explaining the use of desiccant materials in compost latrines in rural Panama. Another is a web site that discusses the use of desiccants in home food storage.

A technology firm is selling desiccants for use in garages, safes, and sleeping bags. A well-designed page explains how to use desiccants to dry mushrooms, and the US government maintains a list of desiccants and their uses on its web site.

Are these trustworthy sources of information to use in your essay? Look at the authors of the information. In the first case, the author is a graduate student at a well-known university. You can be sure that her professor, an expert in environmental studies, would thoroughly study the paper before publication. No surprises there.

The second cite is written by a manufacturer and supplier of desiccant dehumidifiers and desiccant cooling equipment. These authors are knowledgeable in the field, but may also be biased. You’ll be careful of that information since they are clearly trying to sell their products. The third website is similar in that they are selling services and goods as well.

The fourth website explains the steps in safely drying mushrooms and written by the 25-year director of a shitake mushroom farm. Sounds like credible information. The information from the last webpage must be credible, too, since it’s a dot gov.

Not only must you examine the information for its credibility, its usefulness must also be determined. The government site seems to be the best resource since it offers many types of uses, including military, home, commercial, and technological. You decide to use this as your main source, but you will use the other sites to give specific examples of these types of uses. This will prevent your paper from becoming “lop-sided,” or too reliant on one source for information.

Since the authors use their information for different purposes, you must keep in mind YOUR audience and purpose. If explanations by experts become too technical for your audience, you’ll have to explain words and processes in simpler terms.

As always, when using direct quotations, paraphrases, summaries, examples, and ideas from these sources, give them credit. You should do this by using parenthetical citations or attributive tags, such as according to the author of… Review the rules about APA citation style, and check out this website that keeps current with changes to formatting: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/. It is a go-to site for all things writing.

When moving from one source to the next in your writing, be sure to use proper transitions to help your reader to follow along. You might consider using headings, such as “military,” “home,” “commercial,” and “technological” in a bold font. These will serve as road maps, clarifying your structure. The use of transition words and phrases are important as well. These might include: another, in addition to, similarly, just as, etc. Visuals related to your topic, such as diagrams and photographs, would also shed light on your information.

Follow these guidelines in choosing and using resources, both on the Internet and in print… you remember books. Yes, they STILL print them. Check your local library, and cite, cite, cite.

That’s a Wrap

While students might be experts in the use of technology, they must still master the skills required to examine their sources, the information in those sources, and their relevance for a specific task, all while keeping in mind the purpose and audience. Students need to evaluate the credibility of the authors and synthesize multiple sources into one cohesive document. When using information from those sources, students must be sure to give credit for facts, data, and ideas. No plagiarism here!

Source:

Buthelezi, Thandi, et al. “Chapter 10: The Mole.” Chemistry: Matter and Change. New York: McGraw Hill Companies, 2008.

Drill

Short Answer
Answer the following questions about standard eight in approximately 25 words.

1. List the three major skills involved with this standard.
2. How does one assess a source?
3. Explain the term plagiarism.
4. How can one avoid plagiarism?
5. Throughout any writing process, what three elements should continually be kept in mind?

ANSWERS:

1. The three major skills involved in this standard are efficient and effective research; the use of important information that suits the audience, task, and purpose; and creating writing that blends that information seamlessly without plagiarizing.

2. The information given by a source must be accurate. Often the best way to determine accuracy is to verify the information in multiple sources. The author of the information must be an expert in his or her field. If an author is not given, then the website or print publication must be trustworthy. Finally, the information given must be relevant to the point at hand.

3. Plagiarism means to use the work of others without giving them credit. This includes direct quotations, summaries, paraphrases, and ideas.

4. One can avoid plagiarism by putting information in quotation marks when necessary or using parenthetical references for ideas, facts, statistics, data, narratives, etc. If it’s not your original thought, cite it!

5. Throughout any stage of the writing process, always keep the task, purpose, and audience in mind. These three elements should govern all of your choices as a writer.

Aligned Resources

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