The audience and topic for a research paper needs to be considered when deciding whether information is common knowledge or needs a citation. Students can practice this important judgement call by analyzing sentences which are typical information for the school community.
English language arts
English language arts teacher
Students will be able to consider the audience when deciding whether information is common knowledge.
Students will be able to consider the topic of the paper as a factor in whether information needs a citation.
Method of projection
List of 5-10 questions about topics which are common for the school community; this includes the people, situations, and the information students have studied; sample questions are found below and can be changed to reflect your community situation and priorities
10-15 minutes as a warmup or classwork
II.C.1. Engaging in informed conversation and active debate.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.8.8. Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.
During the process of teaching micro-paraphrasing, use this short discussion to help students learn to discern common knowledge. Project the prepared questions from a computer onto a screen for students. Differences of opinion and discussion are encouraged for this exercise. Students should answer if the sentence is common knowledge or if it needs a citation. The instructor should change the audience context during the discussion.
These sample questions—and subsequent discussions—could be typical of a private high school.
DISCUSSION: Within the school community, this is common knowledge which does not need a citation. Rubeor would not need to be identified as a lacrosse coach. It is already known. If this information is used in a publication about regional or national lacrosse in secondary schools, it would likely be stated as Loyola Blakefield Lacrosse Head Coach Ben Rubeor which identifies him so a citation is unnecessary.
DISCUSSION: This falls under the category of subject area common knowledge for history. This information is found in many different Internet and print sources about World War II. It does not need a citation for a history research paper about World War II. However, if this sentence is used in another subject area, it may need a citation. For example, for a literature paper which tracks changes in the works of writers through historical events, it should be considered for a citation.
Note to instructors: You may find that students are uncomfortable not citing this sentence because it includes a date. Explain that this type of information which is stated in multiple places with a basic Internet search does not need a citation.
DISCUSSION: This sentence needs a citation in all situations. It is a paraphrased opinion of the author, Tom Brokaw.
DISCUSSION: This is an opinion shared throughout history about Shakespeare. It is known by people with a high school education. If this sentence was copied exactly from a source by an author who is a Shakespeare expert, it should have quotation marks around it with a citation.
DISCUSSION: While people who are associated with private schools may have some knowledge of this, the exact percentage means that this sentence needs a citation in all situations. The exact percentage of tuition increase across all schools is not common knowledge.
DISCUSSION: This is an opinion which should be cited by a direct quote for all audiences.
DISCUSSION: This is well-known information. It is common knowledge for all audiences.
DISCUSSION: For students studying the Beat poets, this is common knowledge. However, for a paper which discusses overall social changes in the United States, this should be considered for a citation because it mentions San Francisco.
DISCUSSION: This is not common knowledge about Rosa Parks. However, it is readily available through Internet searches and reference books about Rosa Parks' life. For a history paper on Rosa Parks' contribution to the Civil Rights Movement, this would probably not be important enough to mention. However, it should be cited in a paper about the role of industrial schools in American history.
DISCUSSION: If this sentence is used for a research paper at a Jesuit school, no citation is necessary. This is common knowledge within this educational community. For all other uses of this information, a citation will be necessary.
Students can initially discuss the questions in pairs or small groups before coming back together as a whole class.
As an extension, ask students to create lists for each other of "common knowledge" statements for a particular community they are a part of and then lead a discussion about when citations would be needed for them.
Ask students to complete an exit slip responding briefly in writing to a common knowledge statement and when it would and would not need a citation.
Darr, Terry. Combating Plagiarism: A Hands-On Guide for Librarians, Teachers, and Students. Libraries Unlimited, 2019.