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How to Teach Kids How to Cite References


Children begin learning how to find and use information resources in elementary school. Teaching them how and why to cite their references is an important part of helping them learn how to conduct research and present their work.

Avoiding Plagiarism

Plagiarism is when a writer uses someone else's words as his own. Teachers and school administrators view plagiarism as cheating or stealing and it can result in serious consequences for students. Documenting resources is the only way to give proper credit to the original source and avoid accusations of plagiarism. Discuss plagiarism with your students, including its definition and the effects it might have on their academic performance.

When to Cite

Explain to your students when citations are necessary. A source should be credited when a student uses words or ideas found in books, online, in movies, on television, in a letter or on the radio. Any information gained through an interview also requires a citation. Anytime a student uses an image, such as a photograph, a diagram, an illustration or chart, she must document the reference. Whether she is using a direct quote, summarizing or paraphrasing, a citation is needed.

A Necessary Research Skill

Students need to understand that citing sources is not extra or optional, but is a valuable research skill. It should be taught alongside complementary skills such as evaluating resources. Beginning early with basic references helps students make a habit of giving credit where it's due in all their school projects and papers. Ensure that students are exposed to what The Big 6 website calls a "culture of crediting" by teaching and modeling this skill across all content areas.

Practice Practice Practice

Give students ample information and opportunities to practice citing sources. Besides knowing when to cite and what information is required, students need to know where to find the pertinent information in different types of resources. For instance, students who are citing a periodical may need to know where to locate volume and issue numbers. Students who use resources that do not have a clear author or publication date need to learn how to search for this information. Show them examples of acceptable paraphrasing, summarizing and quoting. Most importantly, model the behavior expected of students by citing resources for lesson plans, handouts, images, videos and other materials.

About the Author

Stephanie Parker holds a bachelor's degree in elementary education, and a Master's of Education in library science. She currently works as a school librarian and spent six years teaching Prekindergarten and Head Start.

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