This past semester I was invited to teach a session of ENG 100 that was being taught at our Dansville campus center. Students in ENG 100 are learning how to construct a research paper but will not be asked to write one, so I don’t treat the class like a standard research skills session. When I visit these classes I usually present a fun introduction to library resources through the tried and true method of the scavenger/treasure hunt. My class tagline is that the students will learn a little about a lot about the library. The students break up into groups, answer four questions about the library’s collections and services that are unique to each group, create their own Interlibrary Loan account, and then as a group they present both their answers and how they found them to the rest of the class. It’s a very active session, and there’s much peer learning, as well as a smattering of presentation skills, which generally makes for a great class. Several instructors of this course also then require their students to write a paper describing what they learned from the session which further reinforces what we explored.
However, this instructor presented me with a new wish list for the session. He wanted me to cover paraphrasing, accessing library databases, refining a thesis, writing an introduction, and MLA style for both parenthetical citation and the Works Cited page, through the use of a topic which may reflect a student’s major. This list is a mix of items that are both in my wheelhouse and outside of the usual scope of my expertise and I pondered how to bring it all together into a coherent narrative that would keep the active group work I prize from my regular session. So I turned to my favorite source of late, our children’s picture book collection.
The books in our collection are primarily Caldecott winners used with our LIT 203 Children’s Literature class and I have turned to them in the past for use in my plagiarism workshops. This time it occurred to me that I could use one of the books, Goodnight Moon, as a springboard for several aspects of the class. For class handouts, I gave out our MLA Stylesheet and Plagiarism worksheet (which I adapted for this class by skipping The Hobbit portion).
At the start of class I began by reviewing what students could find through the library and on the web for help writing thesis statements. I showed them the Research Toolkit located inside Opposing Viewpoints in Context, which has several other useful tools besides their “How to Write a Thesis Statement” worksheet. Then I demoed a Google search for “how to write a thesis statement” and we took a look at the guide put together by Harvard (aim high!). This portion of the class was certainly skewed more towards lecture, but I did engage in some question and answer with the students as to problems they’ve faced coming up with a thesis or writing introductory paragraphs in the past. We also briefly discussed topic choice and using the aspects of their major that appeal to them to direct their brainstorming. I informed them that as a a former English major I liked literature, so my demo topic choice was related to children’s books.
Next I had everyone gather around the front of the classroom and I then proceeded to read Goodnight Moon to the class. Many students, but not all, were familiar with the book and this was a pretty enjoyable and lively part of the session. After I finished reading, I had the students brainstorm for themes or ideas they saw in the story. The students mentioned the repetition of key phrases, and the muted colors and simple illustrations and as a group they created the following thesis, “The book, Goodnight Moon, uses repetition and soothing imagery to help children get ready for bed.” We discussed how it was only possible to create such a statement after having read the book, much the same way they would not have been able to create a thesis for a paper on the Silk Road without knowing many things about the Silk Road, or without brainstorming for aspects of the Silk Road that stood out for them. We also discussed the flexibility needed with a thesis if it’s harder than you originally thought to find supporting information.
At this point, I broke the class up into several smaller groups. I asked each group to come up with a single sentence summary of Goodnight Moon. We compared how different and similar the three sentences were, and we talked about incorporating citation into each sentence, either directly into the sentence or parenthetically, with the creation of correct MLA in-text citation for the book. While we did this, I displayed all three sentences they had created with correct citation on the screen at the front of the room. Then I asked them to paraphrase the story, which was a bit more difficult as it allowed for more details from the book, but we also incorporated correct citation there as well and discussed when summarizing was called for compared to paraphrasing. Then, as a group I had them walk me through the creation of a Works Cited entry for Goodnight Moon.
For the last portion of the class, I demonstrated the EDS search tool to find an article about Goodnight Moon. We were short on time at this point in the class (an hour and twenty minute class can go by in a flash sometimes!), so we briefly reviewed an article from the Daily Beast, “We’ve Been Saying Goodnight to that Moon for 70 Years,” and found a great sentence from it, “Toward the end of the story, the bunny is content to look out the window and say, ‘Goodnight stars / Goodnight air,’ but after these goodnights, he acknowledges his own willingness to sleep by saying, ‘Goodnight noises everywhere,’” which we added to our mock paper with correct citation, and finally we added the article to our Works Cited page.
From start to finish, this class was engaged and lively. The positive feedback I received from both the students and the instructor further convinced me that for understanding how to avoid plagiarism, children’s books are the perfect source material. They’re extremely accessible to even the weakest reader, and they can hold their own as a stand-in for the peer reviewed journal articles I know are waiting down the road for these students. Alternately working as an entire class and as smaller groups kept this class flowing, despite several momentary distractions of random activity occurring on a gazebo outside the classroom window, for who among us has not had to compete for the attention of college students with any number of potentially unexpected things during the course of an instruction session? 🙂