This lesson is part of a series of lessons on persuasive writing and argumentation. In this lesson students learn how to collect sources of information and record them using APA citation format.
On his invaluable website about using technology in the classroom Richard Byrne offers this little gem of advice: "insist that before students touch the keyboard they make a list of the things they already know about the topic the plan to research."
This is useful for several reasons: students can avoid dead ended searching because they are aware of what they are looking for and having a list of what they already know helps them plan to find what they do not know.
I have my students create a list of what they know followed by a list of questions they could potentially ask.
Before students start searching for information and gathering resources I have them look at a couple of websites.
This is a New York Times news article "Obama Enters the Debate on Redskins Name" which reports on the Washington football team nickname and the growing call by Native American tribes to get the name changed.
I then Google "washington redskins name change" and pull up "Change the Mascot"
I put the two web pages side by side and ask my students to start making comparisons. They quickly identify key differences in tone, audience, purpose, and major bias. It's easy for students to identify which source is objective (mostly) and fact-driven, and which source is biased and agenda driven.
We then look at this ESPN piece. "Fact or opinion?" I ask my students. This is a little tougher. One the one hand it's posted at ESPN which is a news agency, on the other it's written in a first-person voice with personal viewpoints. But he also uses a thesis and support his ideas with quotes and evidence.
We waffle ideas back and forth and eventually conclude that the ESPN article falls somewhere in between, leaning much more towards opinion than fact.
"There is a definite agenda here," one student comments. "But I kinda agree with it, so I would be more likely to use it in my paper."
This gives me a cue to discuss all three sources. "Are any of these sources useless, like, should you discard them from your paper?" I ask. Silence. A few blank stares.
"If you know that you are using a source that is more agenda-driven, more opinionated you do need to be more careful, and you need to balance the opinions with facts. Similar to what the ESPN writer does in his piece. He builds a case using evidence from a variety of sources.
"He addresses both sides and he uses quotes from people with a different opinion than him to build his case."
I explain to my students that it's not wrong to have opinions in a persuasive paper, that's the whole point of the paper. Nor is it wrong to quote the opinions of others, "you just need to be aware that you are doing it, and acknowledge as much to your reader."
I explain to students that when we cover logical fallacies we will cover this much more in-depth.
I remind students to use the Web Evaluation checklist, reiterating that a website doesn't have to meet 100% of the items on the checklist, but that they need to be aware of their sources weaknesses.
I take some time now to cover APA style formatting and to show students around the Purdue O.W.L. website.
I remind students that this is a valuable site that can help them organize and correctly cite their papers.