The Mystery of Annotated Bibliographies

I’ve been assisting with our eighth grade National History Day project, and it was clear that the concept of annotated bibliographies was a big cause of confusion. The students were not only unsure of what to include, but also how the annotation was supposed to help them with their project.

I’ve been thinking about how to teach the difference between annotations on a source and notes. The students seemed to have very few problem with the idea of “notes.” The issue was that they were using the annotation section in Noodletools for notes instead of considering why they were going to use the particular source. The class had trouble differentiating between the usage of notes and annotations.

I really like how California State University sums up annotations one of their LibGuides: Annotations are about 4 to 6 sentences long (roughly 150 words), and address:

  •     Main focus or purpose of the work
  •     Usefulness or relevance to your research topic 
  •     Special features of the work that were unique or helpful
  •     Background and credibility of the author
  •     Conclusions or observations reached by the author
  •     Conclusions or observations reached by you

So, how to teach these ideas for the next research project? I think this ties back to their inherent understanding of research. I feel confident that they have the hang of evaluating sources, but I’m not sure they comprehend evaluating research. They are at the point of still focusing on the number of sources they need (“how to get the best grade”) versus how to write a well-research balanced paper. 

I’m also not reassured that they are actually reading the sources, but rather skimming for facts rather than reading for information. In researching this topic, I came across a teacher who asked students to read before being “allowed” to take notes. Hear me out, what if students were required to read a source for 3 minutes before deciding whether they should start taking notes? I think this would make them slow down, evaluate the information, and perhaps even take the pressure off of just “getting a source done.” In turn, students would be pushed to consider the factors for an annotation which would help direct their research.

Guess I’ll be using my stopwatch for my next research lesson.

3 thoughts on “The Mystery of Annotated Bibliographies

  1. Pingback: If I were in charge – Venn Librarian

  2. Hi Reba,

    Thanks for this great post! I’m so glad we’re not the only ones finding it challenging!

    We use stopwatch note taking with our middle schoolers! We have them read for 3 minutes and CLOSE THE BOOK or MINIMIZE THE SOURCE, then take notes on what they remembered. This seems to help them take notes in their own words.

    We don’t introduce annotated works cited lists until high school and when we do we introduce the OPVL annotation framework. I think it is used in many IB schools.

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