Skip navigation
All Places > The English Community > Blog > 2017 > August

Teacher, scholar, and author Nancy Sommers pairs her voice with student voices in a brief video that reminds us, just as we begin the academic year, that disagreement is at the foundation of intellectual inquiry and academic growth. You might ask students to view and respond to Nancy Sommers on Argument early in the semester.


How do you encourage students to argue in ways that promote inquiry, empathy, and respect?

When I teach annotated bibliography, I have the class do a "talk show" activity. I ask students to imagine that they are producers of a morning talk show, and I give each small group their topic for the day. To one group, I say your show is going to be on whether to continue music instruction as part of the public school curriculum, to another group I say, your show is going to tackle how to protect the American drinking water supply, and so forth.


The job of the producers is to think about who they're going to invite to be a guest on their show. What experts do they need? What angles should they explore? What statistics would be helpful? We talk about how dull it would be to have 7 different guests who all say that music ed is a waste of taxpayer money or how people would turn the show off if they heard only a bunch of data about water quality. We also talk about the value of having leading thinkers on our talk show. While an occasional regular consumer or parent is fine, audiences generally respond better to scientists, researchers, doctors, and psychologists. The class activity is for each group of producers to compose and present a proposal to the class (acting as the talk show executives). They have to present a guest list and rationale for each guest.


The activity gets students to think actively about gathering sources and thinking through the roles that they need their sources to play in a project. Too often students hunt for sources that are all in "the same lane," as I say in class; they all sort of line up with the student's own thesis. The activity also goes along nicely with our reading, sections R1 and R3 in A Writer's Referenceespecially the subsections on search strategy and thinking about the variety of ways in which sources contribute to a project (as support, as counterargument, as data, as definition, and so on). 


Are there activities that you find useful as you prepare to teach annotated bibliography?

Here at Macmillan, we've been blessed with several excellent summer interns in our Boston office, and it's been a pleasure to get to know them and their habits as writers and as young professionals. Paola Garcia-Muniz, a recent Fairfield University grad, recalls that when she was in high school, she wrote in MLA style using "the basic formula: an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion." She discovered that the rules are looser in college, the expectations less formulaic. She learned how to be agile with style systems, too. According to Paola: "[My] handbook helped me adjust to the new expectations that came with the freedom of college writing. My freshman year, I didn’t just have to learn about APA style for my first psychology course, I also had to learn how to use Chicago style for my History 10 course while writing my English composition papers in MLA style format. The handbook helped make sure that I wouldn’t mix and match style rules." 


This summer Paola is strengthening her writing and editorial chops by helping us to understand the changes in the Chicago Manual of Style, 17th Edition. We'll use her analysis to help us adapt our humanities handbooks and textbooks with the new guidelines. Lucky us! 


  < I'm Paola. Ask me about Chicago style.