The Free Three: Tips on How to Teach APA to Any Student

By Kyle Harley, KUWC Tutor

Over the past few weeks, students have been coming into our services at a rising rate seeking help with APA citation and formatting. One particular student expressed how an instructor explained the importance of citation by showing particular examples of correct citation—only in-text, mind you—and then continuing to express how the Writing Center provides services to address issues with APA citation and formatting. Considering the coincidence here, I then placed myself into the instructor’s shoes and instantly remembered that teaching APA, in general, can be likened to watching paint dry. Therefore, in an attempt to get teachers to enjoy teaching APA again, or, in some extreme cases, teaching the practice in the first place, I came up with a list of three relatively simple ways to introduce APA to students that can easily be used in any composition course.

1.)  Introduce Yourself, Introduce APA!

From my experience, students enjoy being informed. I know this sounds very basic and bland, but the simplicity here remains key: Inform your students that they will be utilizing APA format and citation in your writing course from day one. This way, with some planning, you can introduce APA to your students at a steadier pace than one seminar session. The benefit here is pacing, planning, and practicing—you know, what we teach our students in regards to writing their papers. Most, if not all, writing instructors agree that writing is a practice, so why would we stop at citation? Try breaking citation up over the course of three or four weeks, covering the information in smaller portions rather than exposing all at once and expecting perfect citations. In fact, here is a great, free resource that covers in-text citations in a fantastic medium: http://www.screencast.com/t/rSRUZtYa

2.)  Your Best Resource: Student Papers.

I will always remember the way that I was taught citation. During my freshman writing course, we began our exposure to citation by a short lecture, some questions, and then a rather playful sink-or-swim approach that challenged the students to produce citations. Each student received a particular resource and they were turned to their own devices to find the correct means of citation. We all know what some first-time citations look like, particularly on the reference page—and ours were complete chaos. Most of the class returned with some of the most awkward citations, but this was also a fantastic—and more importantly fun—way to correct some of these horrendous citations. By identifying the issues present within the citation, students worked backward in an attempt to polish the citations to the best of their abilities. With guided help from the instructor, students then presented their proper citation to the class. At the end of the period, if we could not figure out the citation, we then knew our homework—the instructor always included a few tougher citations per week for the class to sit and wonder over. This process would repeat until we all felt comfortable enough with MLA citation that the game became a bore—but we learned! The students responded extremely well and, truth be told, I learned more about citation in that activity than my entire Bachelor’s career.

3.)  When In Doubt, Teach It Out!

At the end of the day, we can discuss multiple—albeit more enjoyable—ways to teach APA citation and format, but there comes a time when a solid lecture on the topic is needed. Regardless of what level of composition you teach, the importance in, at the very least, an overview could make an enormous difference in the quality of the student papers we see at the university. With a bit of help and cooperation, we can easily increase the amount of APA exposure in the classroom and within the Writing Center!

Writing Teacher

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One response to “The Free Three: Tips on How to Teach APA to Any Student

  1. Great tips here, Kyle! I especially appreciate the exercise you mention in the second point. I actually just tutored a student in the Writing Center who wanted to make a reference page citation, and we did this exercise together during our tutoring session. It was a good refresher for the student, who already has a good grounding in APA.

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