Conducting research and citing sources. Two topics near and dear to librarians' hearts that most students find boring. Can you hear them now? That big collective sigh when you mention those topics as the lesson for the day. It is a requirement and task most students dread even though they somewhat understand copyright and plagiarism. What if you could change students' attitudes about research and gathering citation information? What if you could offer a creative challenge? Would you try?
Research and citations can be an abstract concept at the elementary level because elementary projects don't typically require in-depth research or perfectly formatted bibliographies, but students do go through the process and submit work accordingly. And there it is, they do go through the process. Scaffolded learning is the name of the game. What students learn at the elementary level forms their base for the future, so they need foundational concepts and practices. Hopefully, those practices will become so ingrained, your students won't think twice about engaging in them in the future.
So, how can these mundane tasks be fun? Good question. The answer is an eBook trivia challenge.
Trivia Challenge? Yes, trivia challenge. Remember this is elementary school (but it could be adapted for secondary). Performing simple, repetitive tasks that reinforce a skill is called practice. As the old adage goes, practice makes perfect. At least we like to think so. A regularly scheduled trivia challenge provides an opportunity to practice research and gather the information needed for a citation. Learning wrapped in the guise of a contest and of course, a winner, even one selected randomly from all the correct answers, makes this a powerful teaching tool.
A trivia challenge offers a way to teach research skills through fun, short challenges. Research is not always about reading an entire work; it is often about finding a specific, detailed fact. For this exercise, the questions posed require searching out just that, a specific fact. Answering the trivia question requires students to complete a keyword search, utilize their knowledge of text features, and gather citation information. The complexity of the question dictates the depth of knowledge and skills students need to locate the answer.
How does one create a trivia challenge? First, think logistics.
- Promotion: How do I promote it? Where will students find the question?
- Format: Digital or paper? How do students submit answers?
- Questions: How do I create the questions?
- Winners: How do I identify winners? How do I give recognition to the winners? Prizes?
Trivia challenges can be done at the individual class or whole-school level. When my project began, students were told to utilize one specific eBook database that's primarily nonfiction. The reason: limit their options to keep them focused and simplify verification of the answers. Remember, we want to work smarter, not harder.
Or, posting and announcing the question. As librarian, I control the school media center website so I can make changes whenever needed. When my trivia questions were school-wide they were posted in the top, center of my home page. Students could see the question at any time. When a question applied to a certain grade level or an individual lesson, it was posted on the grade-level lesson page within the site. The greatest response and interest happens when the question is read on the school's morning show. Many librarians also supervise the school morning show. Even if you don't, ask for an announcement to be made when the new question is posted. You need to decide on a timeframe for submitting answers. Do students have one week, one day, or only one class period? Make sure to share this deadline along with the question.
Go all digital if possible. If your school has one-to-one devices, this is the most obvious choice and extremely easy if you are a Google school. If device access is more limited, it is still possible to go digital with carts and library desktop access, it will just require an extra analysis of device accessibility to determine deadline timeframes. Google Forms are extremely user-friendly. Start a Google Form for the question and just reuse the same form each week by updating the question and all the answers will automatically go to the linked spreadsheet. The date and timestamp along with the answer will easily distinguish entries as questions change. Old-school paper submissions are not ideal for a school-wide experience, but certainly manageable during individual classes. Regardless of format, request the following information in the responses:
- Student first and last name
- Author of the book
- Title of the book
- Year of publication/copyright
- Page number of the answer
Creating the questions generates the most work. Know the database well, including the search capabilities and results options. When possible, create questions that align to curriculum so the students, and teachers, will see connections. You can also create questions for fun using holidays, animals, musicians, or any topics popular in your physical book collection. Remember to create a spreadsheet of all the questions you create along with the correct answers. You may even want to track the winners. Here are some tips to creating questions:
- Read the entire book
- Write a question from information near the end of the book
- Create questions using keywords found in the glossary or index
- Create questions from text features
- Copy down the author, title, publisher, copyright, and page number
- Snip the section with the answer for a slide (this is an option for when you reveal the answer)
The simplest part of the entire process is identifying and selecting winners. Determine if physical prizes such as pencils or erasers are financially feasible or if this will be about bragging rights only. When using spreadsheets, it is easy to highlight the area or responses for each question and print out that selection only. After the challenge has ended, announce the correct answer and then add some suspense and drama to the event by cutting out all the names of students with correct answers and let someone draw the winner from a bucket. With a school-wide challenge, announce the winner on the morning show. Students love to hear their name.
Now that planning logistics are covered, let's discuss the implementation in a classroom lesson. Remember to control the environment by focusing on one database, preferably an eBook database. For most of my lessons I use Big Universe, an eBook vendor with simultaneous access for all users. This limits the results for the students and prevents them from feeling overwhelmed by several possible sources that could answer each question. Each of the following lesson topics could be an individual mini-lesson covered over a few days or one longer lesson.
First Topic: Keyword Searching
Post a practice question. Give students time to table talk about the main topic of the question then ask for keywords to search. Write their responses on the board and ask them to explain why they chose each keyword. Try those searches with the students. Assign each table group a different keyword to search to see the results or walk through each keyword search on the board. From the search results, ask students to vote on what they think is the best title to investigate to find the answer. Ask them to justify their selection. Why did they select that title first? Follow their lead. Maybe their option will have the answer, maybe not.
Second Topic: Searching within a Source Using Text Features
Now that a source (eBook) has been selected, does the keyword need to be changed? What fact needs to be found or verified? Working smarter not harder means students don't need to read the entire source. Ask for suggestions or review the options such as index, table of contents, headings, and bolded words. As you scaffold your questions, start with questions where the fact is easily found in the index or table of contents. Once students understand the concept, put a synonym in the question so rigor is increased through vocabulary and problem solving. Ultimately, the most challenging questions will require more in-depth analysis of a source through investigation of headings and graphics.
Third Topic: Citing your Source
Students need be aware of where to find the information needed for citations. If the database is simply eBooks, they need to know where in the book to find the full author name, title, publisher, and date. Display a sample page from another book. The look, format, and page with publisher information changes with each publisher so identifying the components is important. First, do they recognize author format when it is last name comma first name? You might be surprised how few don't. Teach them to look for the copyright symbol. Display ways to identify the publisher with special words such as LLC, Co., Ltd., etc., when the word publisher does not appear. Then set them loose on the book. Google Form responses have great pie chart displays so you could take it a step further and have them submit answers, then quickly review and display them.
You may be lenient with spelling in the trivia challenge, but that attention to detail is important for a graded report, so recognize those who submit complete and proper information in their short answer. Another teachable moment in this exercise is pagination. The page number on the source might not be the same page number displayed on the database software screen so instruct students to use the page number on the source. Page numbers are not required for bibliographies, but they are for footnotes and in-text citations. Remember, our goal is setting a foundation. If students get used to looking for and recording the information needed for all types of citations as they locate information, creating citations in any format will be easier.
For the purpose of the trivia challenge, students are not writing a bibliography or works cited list, but this could easily be an extension activity if the answer to a question exists in multiple sources. Saving the citation information from multiple weeks of trivia lessons and asking students to create a properly formatted MLA bibliography from all the sources is another way to extend learning. It is never too early to stress the importance of giving credit.
Another way to add rigor to a trivia challenge lesson is to create more complex questions using synonyms or pose questions that require interpretation of fact rather than regurgitation of a word or number. Once students get comfortable answering questions in one database, move to a new eBook database or a database with newspapers and magazine articles. Step up the challenge even further by opening up the number of database options and requiring students to evaluate them first before they embark on information gathering.
Helping students understand the breadth and depth of sources available through database research and the importance of citations is critical to future success. Using eBook trivia just happens to be a fun way to teach these concepts.
Big Universe: https://www.biguniverse.com/
A list of sample questions is available here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1rVyAjs0twVwpZPwcH1Y-b2eOGw1eE7_XtbQX76bvC7g/edit?usp=sharing
My presentation on keyword searching using trivia questions: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1c5h1NlRMvarwBvGcCOghy66FttpRVsl31hTyXdOfd9k/edit?usp=sharing