5 ways I help students to work with quotation

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When I teach expository writing I tend to spend a lot of time helping students use quotations effectively to support their arguments. Too often, students just sprinkle quotations throughout their text without providing any sense of how those pieces of text relate to their larger argument. I have a few strategies I use to get them to engage the text closely in ways that support what they want to say: 1. The Super Secret FormulaThis activity is designed to help students build a paragraph that works with two authors in support of the paper’s argument. This exercise has to be one of the most successful activities I’ve ever created. Not only is it the one that seems to help students the most but it’s also the one that other teachers seem to bring into their classrooms the most often. The Super Secret Formula is: Cl > I > Q1 > E > T > Q2 > Ce Students start their paragraphs with “Cl,” a sentence that states the claim of the paragraph. Then, with “I,” they introduced a quotation from the first author, adding a sentenced that explains it (“E”). The next sentence makes a transition (“T”) to a quotation from a different author, “Q2.” Finally, students take a sentence or two to explain the connection between the two quotations (“Ce”) and how it supports the argument they’re making in the paper. The concrete structure of a “formula” provides a good scaffolding for students to build a solid paragraph that works with quotation but the risk is, of course, that all their paragraphs will becomes (literally) formulaic. When I use this exercise in the classroom, I start by having groups use the formula to make a sample paragraph. Then I challenge groups to come up with other formulas for working with quotation. 2. Close ReadingSometimes students have difficulty analyzing a quotation; pieces of text will be sprinkled through a paper seemingly with the assumption that their relationship to the argument is self-evident. Here’s an exercise that can help students with this problem. Ask students to write or type a quotation they want to work with. Then ask them to underline the key sentences or phrases of the quotation, the parts that they feel are most important for the point they’re trying to make. Then have them construct sentences that use these pieces of the quotation and that explain how they relate to their arguments. 3. Facts and IdeasQuotations that only contain statements of fact provide little opportunity for analysis; quotations with ideas do. Bring in examples of each kind to class for discussion and then during peer review ask students to identify each quotation in the papers they’re reading as either fact or idea. This exercise will give them practice distinguishing between the two and will provide useful feedback for paper authors on what type of quotation they’re favoring. 4. Short and LongAnother problem students seem to have in working with quotation is choosing quotations of appropriate length: they might choose quotations that are too short and thus don’t provide enough support or they might choose very long quotations and then say little about them. Have students look through their drafts and determine the length of each quotation by noting how many typed lines it takes. They can use the resulting report to reflect on their tendencies with quotation: do they always use very short ones? Always use very long ones? After the exercise challenge students to use a variety of lengths in their papers. 5. Peer Review BoostDuring peer review, ask students to suggest at least three quotations that could be added to support the paper. This exercise will encourage paper authors to use more quotation while helping peer editors to dig deeper into the text to locate quotations that can help the paper authors.
About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.