© 2012 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.
Using and Citing Online Sources

Using and Citing Online Sources Activity: In Plain Cite: How To Credit Others' Work

Instructions for Your Students

We hear ya: citations aren't the most exciting thing since sliced bread. Or Twitter. Or that thing that Lady Gaga did last week. But love 'em or hate 'em, you gotta learn how to do them. 

Check out how to give others props for using their work and ideas, and once you've got that down, race with your friends to see who can get ex-cite-d the fastest. Stop, really, we'll be here all week.

Step 1: To start things off, read through this Kentucky Virtual Library article, "Why Cite Information Sources?" This will provide an overview of, well, why you should cite sources (obviously). It will also explain what a citation is (in case you were wondering). 

After everyone has read the article, go ahead and discuss the following questions with your classmates. And your teacher. Don't leave out your teacher.

  1. Why is it important to cite your information sources?
  2. Have you ever read some "facts," maybe online, that didn't provide sources? Did you wonder where they got their information from?
  3. When might you want to look into the sources for an article you've read?
  4. Have you ever had to cite your sources in class before, maybe for a research paper?

Step 2: There are three primary ways to cite information sources for humanities (English class and social studies) and social sciences (that's psychology, sociology, business, etc.) materials: MLA (Modern Language Association), CMS (Chicago Manual of Style), and APA (American Psychological Association). Here are a few quick facts about these formats:

  • MLA citation format is generally used for English class.
  • CMS citation format is generally used for history.
  • APA citation format is generally used for psychology, and sometimes for other social sciences, such as sociology, business, economics, and linguistics. (This will likely be the least commonly used format in middle school and high school classrooms.)

Step 3: Once you understand the three styles (more or less), your teacher will give you one or two sources to work with—a novel, history book, newspaper, magazine, web address, etc. You'll be using these to learn how to cite sources.

Step 4: Check the source(s) in front of you. If it's labeled with an "English class" sticky note, you should follow MLA format; if it has a "Social Studies class" sticky note, you should follow CMS format. And if it has a "Social Science" label, you should use APA format.

Open the appropriate Purdue Writing Lab guide (see the links below) to help you create the right style of citation for your source.

These links will take you to the general formatting guidelines. Scan through the left-hand menu and select the type of resource you're using (book, periodical, electronic sources, etc.). Follow the directions and attempt to create an accurate citation. 

Step 5: Once your citation is done, open the Citation Machine website. This is a handy citation wizard that will generate citations in the proper format with a little input from you. Select the type of resource you have and the format you want to use. Type in your resource's title (or URL) and see if your citation matches the one Citation Machine creates.

Step 6: Game time! Divide up the rest of the resources your teacher brought in. (Don't grab! Your teacher will help distribute them.) Then, organize yourselves into small groups. You'll be competing with your group members to see who has the fastest citation times. Here's how it will work:

  • One person in your group should be the time keeper and the citation checker. This student will time the others and then check their work using the Citation Machine website. 
  • The other students in the group will each take a source (one they haven't cited yet) and try (without the help of the wizard, but with the help of the Purdue websites) to create a citation for the source. 
  • The first student to create an accurate citation wins.

You'll have about 30 minutes for this, so you should be able to move through several rounds of the game. During each round, a different group member should be the time keeper/citation checker.

Have fun, and may the Citation Machine be ever in your favor!