Citations for Elementary Students

My 4th and 5th grade teachers have been collaborating with me over the last two months to plan research projects for their students, and to my great surprise our biggest sticking point has been what citation format to use!

I was prepared to share my handy list of online citation creation sites with teachers (see below), and explain how using a “citation machine” would help beginning researchers learn the proper format by seeing it in action.  What I wasn’t prepared for was the teachers not knowing which “proper format” they wanted their students to use.  None of the student textbooks or teacher guides they are using provide any instructions for creating entries for a Works Cited page!

We finally decided to go with a modified (aka, simplified) format that would provide title, author (or for encyclopedias, Vol #), date, and URL for web resources.  I’m still not sure whether starting them off slowly with just the basic information is a good idea or not.  I know that when they hit middle school they’ll need to provide the full citation for every resource they use in a research project, so should we be teaching that now?  Or is it okay to ease them into it?

I’d love to hear how other elementary schools are teaching citations, and why you’re doing it the way you’re doing it.  Please leave a comment if you are willing to share!

My Top 3 Free Citation Websites for Students:

  1. Bibme
    This is the easiest way to build a works cited page.  Search for a book, article, or website, or type in the information yourself. Once you add it to your bibliography, you can continue adding more resources to build your works cited list. Then download your bibliography in either the MLA, APA, Chicago or Turabian formats. Unfortunately the site includes ads.
  2. Son of Citation Machine
    This site not only enables students to properly give credit for the information that they use, it helps them understand why it’s important to do so. It also provides great step-by-step instructions for users.
  3. Easy Bib
    Free MLA formatting. (Other styles cost.)  Just type in a title or website URL and click on the correct source from the list of results. This tool also allows users to type in their own info in each field, which takes helps students move toward citing sources independently.


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Visual Thesaurus vs VisuWords

Our district was recently offered a free trial of Visual Thesaurus.   This is an online tool that creates word webs for users.  It’s designed to generate a web of synonyms and antonyms for any word you type in, and provides the definitions and parts of speech for all words in the web.  You can click the speaker icon to hear the searched word, and you can click any word in the web to generate a new web for that word.

It reminds me of a similar tool I have used before called VisuWords, which is a free online resource that also generates synonym and antonym webs, although it calls itself an online graphical dictionary rather than a thesaurus, presumably since hovering over a word in the web pops its definition.  Color-coded dots and connectors denote the part of speech for each word, as well as the relationships of the words in the webs, such as “is a kind of,” “pertains to,” and “causes.”

If this is a type of tool you are interested in, you may want to take a look at my Comparison of these two Online Webbing Thesauri.   I’m sorry to say I do not know what the cost of a subscription to Visual Thesaurus is; interested parties must request a quote.  VisuWords, as I mentioned earlier, is free.


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Stop Bullying – Speak Up Comic Challenge

October is National Anti-Bullying Awareness Month, and I’ve found a fun media literacy resource (provided by the Cartoon Network of all places!) to use with my students.  Their campaign is called Stop Bullying Speak Up, and it uses videos and games to raise awareness of the issue of bullying.

My 5th Grade classes will be taking the Stop Bullying Speak Up Comic Challenge this month by creating their own comic strips using BitStrips for Schools.

I introduced the topic to the students last week and we had a class discussion about bullying.  It turns out that some of our kids have already started their own anti-bullying after-school club, so this project was an instant hit with them.

At the end of class, I gave them a homework assignment for this week:  brainstorm some ideas for an anti-bullying message that you could use in a comic strip; figure out what characters you’ll need, what the characters will say, and what the setting will be; and put all of this information on paper to bring to your next Library class.  This week they’ll create an avatar to use, and by next week I hope they will complete their comics.

I’ll continue to share the ups and downs of the project here.  Anyone else using this resource with your students, or doing some other anti-bullying activity?

Update 10/20:  The kids have been having a blast with the Bitstrips tools this week, especially creating the characters for their comics.  Maybe I should start using my Comic avatar here!

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OmmWriter – When You Just Want to Think and Write

A few weeks ago I was catching up on some older Clever Sheep podcasts, and Rodd Lucier mentioned a free download called OmmWriter.  Its purpose is to turn your computer into a Zen zone that allows you to focus your mind entirely on your writing, and after trying it I think it does a pretty good job.


OmmWriter takes over your desktop with a watercolor-ish background that blocks out everything else.  (The black control buttons disappear unless you hover over them with your mouse.)  You have a choice of four different fonts and font sizes, and you can drag the text box to make it larger or smaller.  The program offers you three soothing soundtracks to play while you write, or no music at all if you prefer.  There is a save option, or you can simply cut-and-paste your writing into a Word document, email, blog post, etc. 

Now, I am not New Agey at all, but I do love me some good relaxation music, so this feature is what convinced me to try OmmWriter.  (Track 3 is my favorite.)  It has not been as helpful in writing blog posts as I anticipated, mainly because I’m constantly referring to other writings and linking to various sites while I compose, and all the switching in and out of OmmWriter really harshes my mellow.  But for reflective writing – things like newsletter articles or letters to congressmen – it does help me keep my train of thought.

You’ve gotta love a site that lists their FMQs (Frequently Meditated Questions)!  If you decide to try it, let me know what you think.


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