Teaching Modules

Following are samples of lesson plans for teaching modules that may be appropriate library lessons for your classes. Additional basic modules are offered at the first-year seminar level, and may also be appropriate, with minor modification, for 100-level classes.

You and your librarian can use the following lesson plans to decide how much information literacy instruction may be required for your class, depending on the nature of your class and the projects you choose to assign.

Assignments Described Below

  • Using Scholarly Databases
  • Choosing/Narrowing a Topic
  • Analyzing Search Strategy
  • Book Reviews
  • Evaluating Websites
  • Primary vs. Secondary Sources
  • Writing Citations
  • Interlibrary Loan
  • RefWorks (includes prerequisites)

Using Scholarly Databases

Goals: Students will understand the purpose/function of a database, begin choosing databases appropriate to a different topics, and use different databases to find research articles.

Objectives: Students will identify several databases appropriate to a certain field of study and then use those databases to retrieve four research articles (two from each database). Students will present the articles in the [Chicago] format and answer specific questions about each source, similar to the notation they would write when creating an annotated bibliography.

Materials: Instruction room with computers. Examples of print indexes.

Time Required: 15 minutes


  • What is a database? Why are databases needed?
  • What is the difference between scholarly databases and Google/Google Scholar (scope, cost of information, targeted searching based on database subject coverage, etc.)
  • How does using databases compare to “old” research methods using print indexes (which still may be necessary depending on the time period of the research needed).
  • How to access databases at Dickinson (Database List).
  • How to use the search features to find an appropriate database (also stress the need to ask for help as the search functions may not be 100% accurate – librarians can always suggest good alternatives).
  • Choose one general purpose database and one subject specific database for brief demonstration.
  • How to search in a database and interpret/read the results screen and get more details about each item (i.e. click on title).

Choosing & Narrowing a Topic

Goals: One of the most challenging and overwhelming aspects of the research process is selecting and refining a topic. Students will begin the research process my choosing a subject and going through the process of topic development in order to find the necessary information that is needed to write a theses statement.

Objectives: Students will go through a series of logical steps in order to find a topic that is relevant to their assignment and meaningful to them. They will choose a topic, find background information on the topic, narrow the focus of the topic and then write a working thesis statement that will guide the development of their research.

Materials: Instruction room in the library, cart with selected encyclopedias, CQ Researcher, current popular and scholarly journals and newspapers.

Time Required: One class session (can be reduced by cutting in-class activity).


  • Introduce the concept of topic development. What are the steps necessary to begin the process? The progression of going from the broad to the specific. Librarian will use an example to demonstrate the process of choosing and narrowing a topic. This example will depend on the class and parameters of the assignment.
  • Too much or too little information? Challenges of too broad or too narrow a topic.
  • Review the steps: Brainstorming ideas? Finding background information on your topic? Narrow your topic? Working theses statement .
  • Use the Encyclopedia Britannica online to teach how to find background information and refine the focus of your topic. (May want to mention the pitfalls of Wikipedia.)
  • Encyclopedias and other general reference sources are a good jumping off point for research. BUT, they will need a variety of sources for the final assignment.
  • Elicit ideas and suggestions from the class as you browse through the encyclopedia. Write down all suggestions and use them to narrow or broaden the topic.
  • Hand out worksheet and spend the rest of the class period working one on one with students.
  • Worksheet is due at the end of class. Librarian will review worksheet and provide the necessary feedback comments. Return to students by the next class session.

Analyzing the Search Strategy

Goal: To help students understand how to respond critically and analytically to the initial results of their searches for information so they can select the best sources available.

Objective: Students will formulate a set of questions to ask in response to the initial results of a search, and will learn several techniques to answer these and proceed with their research.

Setting: Classroom with a data projector to display search results

Time: 15 minutes


Prepare beforehand a sample search in the catalog or in a database that will provide convenient yet topically relevant examples for the lesson.

Sample search: keyword search in the catalog for the topic “music and film”

Sample questions:

  • Is it reasonable to look at all the results? (No, there are more than 1,800)
  • Are the results on the first screen helpful? (No, they appear to be random DVDs)
  • Why did we get these results? (the word music appears in the credits note of many videos)
  • How can we find books about music and film? (Limit the same search by format “books”)
  • Are these new search results of a manageable size? (Yes, just over 100)
  • Is there a pattern to the results on the first screen? (Yes, newest books appear first)
  • Does currency (date of publication) matter for this topic? (That depends. For now, yes.)
  • Do some of the books appear irrelevant? (Yes, at least two)
  • Why? (The keywords music and film appear in their contents notes, but as separate topics)
  • Are some of the books on highly specialized aspects of our topic? (Yes, most of them)
  • Of the newest books, does one title stand out as introductory? (The Spectre of Sound)
  • Reading the summary and contents, is it introductory? (Not really, perhaps in part)
  • Might this author have written another book on this topic? (Click on his name. Yes.)
  • Is his other book a better introduction? (Perhaps so. It is a broader collection of essays)
  • Is this a scholarly book? (Yes, published by Edinburgh University Press)
  • If Donnelly edited this collection of scholarly essays, is he an expert on the topic? (Yes)
  • Might he have written articles in journals? (Yes. Worth searching his name in a database)
  • How many authors are represented in the book he edited? (About a dozen)
  • Could each of them have written other books or articles? (Yes. Worth searching)
  • Does this book have bibliographies of additional sources? (Yes. Worth looking at them)
  • If this book is our best example so far, how can we find others like it? (Click on subject)
  • Are these results more precise than our initial keyword search? (Yes, 15 results on topic)

Book Review

Goal: Students will understand the importance of book reviews in scholarly research and learn how to locate and evaluate reviews.

Objectives: By using a database appropriate to the seminar’s research, students will locate a number of reviews on the book their reading for the class, select two conflicting reviews from the one’s they have located, and write a paper summarizing the reviews and their response to the book.

Materials: Instruction room with computers.

Time Required: 15 minutes


  • Briefly discuss the assignment.
  • Explain the review process and its place in the scholarly research process
  • Discuss the reasons for choosing the database that is most appropriate for the assignment.
  • Demonstrate the search strategy on locating a review from an appropriate database.
  • Delineate the differences between scholarly and unscholarly reviews and explain which of the two are appropriate for this seminar.

Evaluating Websites

Goals: Evaluating information and its sources is an essential part of the research process. This becomes even more necessary when searching for information that is found on the web. Students will be given a set of 4 criteria that they will use to critically evaluate several websites, determining whether that information is appropriate for a research paper. Students will work individually on a hands-on activity that explores several websites and documents the evaluation process.

Objectives: Students will answer 9 questions about a website’s accuracy, authority, objectivity, currency, and coverage in order to decide whether the website is an appropriate source for a research project.

Materials: Instruction room in the library with computers, handout with website evaluation criteria.

Time Required: 35 minutes with in-class activity (or presentation can be shortened to 15 minutes with the activity given as a homework assignment).


  • Hook: Display New Yorker cartoon image, “On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog.” Librarian will emphasize the point that anyone can publish information on the web. It is easy, cheap or free, and unregulated. The burden is on the reader to evaluate the information that is on the web.
  • Lesson: Distribute handout and introduce the 4 criteria that students will use when exploring the information that is found on a website. (Accuracy, Authority, Objectivity, Currency).
  • Action: Librarian will display 2 websites and use criteria to evaluate the information. Elicit evaluative comments from students for each site about the author, the author’s qualifications, the publisher, the purpose of the site, and its currency. Write answers on board.
  • Action: Librarian will hand out the worksheets along with a specific website to evaluate. Allow 15 min. to complete this activity. Librarian will circulate and provide guidance as needed.
  • Discussion: Librarian will review main points, answer any additional questions and collect worksheet for assessment purposes. Worksheets will be returned to students by the next class session.

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Goal: Students will learn the difference between primary and secondary sources and will be able to identify materials as being either one or the other, depending on how they are used.

Objectives: Students will be able to identify whether a source is a primary or secondary source and will be able to find and retrieve examples of each.

Materials: Several examples of both types of sources and a handout for the assignment.

Time Required: 25 min.


  • The distinction between a primary source and a secondary source is simply a chronological one, first-hand versus second-hand information.
  • A primary source is an original document or a product of original thinking. A secondary source analyzes or interprets a primary source.
  • With the help of the students, create a list of the different materials that can be primary sources. Then, do the same for secondary sources.
  • Questions the students can ask themselves to determine whether a source is a primary or secondary one:
    1. How does the author know the details of the information presented?
    2. Where does the author’s information come from?
    3. Are the author’s conclusions based on a single source of information?
  • Hold up examples of various sources and have the students identify them as primary or secondary.
  • Primary sources are usually given preference over secondary ones, but secondary sources are useful in helping one to understand a primary source or to reinforce an argument or interpretation.
  • Reiterate where students can find these sources: catalogs, indexes, databases, and bibliographies.

Writing Citations

Goals: Introduce students to the basics of writing stylistically correct citations for a variety of sources and have them produce a short, correctly formatted bibliography.

Outcomes: Students will correctly format the essential elements of a citation to create five bibliographic entries, including entries for at least one book, one book essay, one journal article, one newspaper article, and one website.


  • Instruction room with computers and projector.
  • Examples of the critical elements of a book and a journal article with the elements out of order to format in class.
  • Sample sheet of each type of citation in correct format to hand out to the students.
  • Lists of sources for each individual student with critical and non-critical components of the citation for them to put together as an assignment. Each student should be provided with, at minimum, an example of a book, book essay, journal article, newspaper article, and a website. As relevant, other items such as reviews, interviews or letters may be added.

Time Required: 25 minutes maximum/15 minutes minimum


  • Prior to class, the librarian should know what style the professor prefers for the class and the students should be made aware of this. Typically Chicago for history/social science, APA for sciences and MLA for English/humanities.
  • Define what a bibliography is—a list of citations made up of all the sources you consult in preparation for a research project. Even if you do not directly quote an item, you should still cite it in the bibliography if used to gain knowledge you did not previously have.
  • Identify the essential elements of a citation. This includes, but is not limited to, the title, author, publisher, and date of publication of each work.
  • Stress that several citation styles exist and that they are similar but have different critical approaches to presentation, based on punctuation, indentation, capitalization, text effects (italics, underline), date format, and type of item.
  • Encourage students always to check with the professor to see what style he/she prefers in a bibliography.
  • Emphasize the importance of consistency, as scholars use bibliographies to communicate with one another, and they expect, for instance, that quotation marks in Chicago style indicate an article title. [5 - 7 minutes]
  • Action: The librarian will show on the screen a correct example of a citation for a book (should be long enough to run on to a second line). With the sample on the screen, the librarian will provide a list of elements (out of order) for another book. The class will work together to create a correct citation for the book and the librarian will type the students’ instruction on-screen. Librarian should take care to let the students drive each element of the citation, including exact punctuation and capitalization. Librarian can correct the item at the end (ask “Are you sure this is correct?”).
  • Action: Repeat for at least one other type of source. Other sources can be covered if additional time is added to the session.
  • Inform students that librarians can help the students create and proofread bibliographies any time. Appointments encouraged.
  • Hand out sample sheets and show students the citation website.
  • A good idea if time permits: Show students how to indent easily in Word using the ruler bar.


  • Students will be provided with the elements of five items each, including but not limited to a book, an essay in a book, a journal article, a newspaper article, and a page on a scholarly website. For each item, they must create a stylistically correct citation. Students will each be given different sources.
  • Students will write down at least one thing about this lesson that was difficult, or that was not understood; and one that was new/previously unknown.
  • Optional: Answer the following question: Choose two of the bibliographic entries you have created. Write a short paragraph about how they are different and why?

Interlibrary Loan

Goal: Students will learn how to obtain materials through inter-library loan.

Objectives: Students will learn when they should make an ILL request, where they should make the request and how.

Materials: Instruction room in the library with computers and projector. The librarian should have several outstanding requests in his or her account Palci and ILLIAD accounts for demonstration purposes.

Time Required: 15 minutes


  • Ask about the students’ experience with ILL (if they have done so already).
  • Explain where they should look first before making an ILL request: Check the library catalog for books (show an example of a books on reserve that looks like it is checked out but isn’t; journal locator for journals and specific issues), the Dickinson label in First Search databases (not always accurate and needs to be double-checked in the Journal Locator if the full-text is not available), and the Get It feature on databases.
  • If students want specifically to look for books we do not own after exhausting our catalog, they should try WorldCat.
  • Explain how ILL works (particularly the difference between PALCI and ILLiad).
  • Remind students to leave enough time to obtain materials. Average turn-around time is 6 days for articles and 10 days for books.
  • Demonstrate PALCI (for books): where it is located, how it works (including the different groups), where to pick up and how to monitor your account.
  • Demonstrate ILLiad (for articles): using Get It the article linker, or the ILLiad page via Borrow from Other Libraries link.


Goal: This lesson will show students how to use RefWorks bibliographic software in order to organize their research documents and generate a bibliography.


  • Students will learn to create and manage RefWorks folders in order to organize their sources.
  • Students will learn 4 methods for importing citations into RefWorks in order to generate a bibliography.

Prerequisites: Using Scholarly Databases, Writing Citations

Materials: Instruction room with computers and projector, a PDF of a book’s title page to use as an example.

Time Required: 40 minutes

Introduction (2 min.):

  • Refworks software takes a lot of the time and effort out of creating a bibliography.
  • Advantages:
  1. It is available online.
  2. You can enter information on books and articles as you research.
  3. Citations can be imported from most databases – no typing!
  4. It will automatically generate a bibliography or “works cited” page.
  5. It practically eliminates paging through style manuals.

Creating an Account and Folder (5 min.):

  • The first thing we need to do is set up an account and a folder where you can store your references.
  • N.B. On these public terminals, use the Firefox browser—our current IE security settings are often incompatible with RefWorks.
  • Navigate to the RefWorks site from the library’s home page.  Point out the online tutorials that are available.
  • Click “Sign up for an individual account” (unless you have an account already).
  • Enter your name, create a user/login name, create a password, and enter an email address.
  • For “Type of User”, select “Student”, and select a “Focus Area” from the drop down menu.
  • Click “Register”.
  • Mouse over the “Folders” tab, and click “Create New Folder”.
  • In the “New Folder Name” box, add the name you’ve chosen, and click “OK”.

Manually Entering References (10 min.):

  • One way to add a reference, and one option that will always work is to enter it by hand. This is also a good way to review, and it is the only way to handle a reference to a web page.
  • From the “References” tab, select “Add New Reference”.
  • In the box next to “View fields used by”, select a preferred citation style.
  • Note that check marks appear beside the fields that are used by the citation format you have chosen and that there are notes about that format at the bottom of the page. You can change the style at any time, and Refworks will automatically adjust this information.
  • Open a window containing a scanned image of a book’s title page.
  • From this point, you can type in the appropriate information, and when you are finished, specify a target folder and click the “Save Reference” button.
  • Questions?

Directly Importing a Reference from a Database (5 min.):

  • If a database will let you directly import a reference into RefWorks, it is best (i.e. faster) to do it that way.  I’ll show you what I mean while we do some “pretend” research.
  • Open another window, and navigate to the Proquest database.
  • Conduct a search on a topic.
  • Click on the box next to one of the results.
  • Click on the “Export” link.
  • Click the “Export Citations” link.
  • Click the “Export directly to RefWorks” link.
  • If necessary, log into Refworks again.
  • Click “View Last Imported Folder”.
  • Place the citation in a folder. If you forget to do this, RefWorks will automatically save it in the “References not in a folder” folder.
  • Even if you import a reference directly, you can still edit the reference by hand, if necessary.
  • Questions?

Importing References by Saving Them as Text Files (10 min.):

  • With many databases, you will have to export your references to the desktop and then import them to RefWorks.  Because direct importing involves a transaction between two different kinds of software, it can sometimes be glitchy, but it’s still faster than typing everything in by hand.
  • Navigate to the MLA database.
  • ***Notice that this is an “OCLC FirstSearch” database.***
  • Conduct a search on a topic.
  • Click on the box next to one of the results.
  • Click on the “Export” button.
  • Select “Marked records from this search: 1” and “Text file”, and click the “Export” button.
  • Save the exported text file to the desktop.
  • Navigate to the RefWorks site.
  • From the “References” drop down menu, select “Import”.
  • In the box beside “Import Filter/Data Source”, select “OCLC FirstSearch”.
  • In the box beside “Database”, select “MLA”.
  • In the box beside “Import References into”, select a folder.
  • “Browse” for the text file on the desktop, and import it.
  • Click “View Last Imported Folder”.
  • Place the citation in a folder.
  • From the “Folders” tab, view the folder containing your references.
  • Questions?

Importing References from the Catalog (3 min.):

  • You can also search the library’s catalog in RefWorks and import references from it.
  • From the “Search” tab, select “Online Catalog or Database”.
  • In the box below “Online Catalog or Database to Search”, select “Dickinson College Library”.
  • Conduct a search and then select one of the results.
  • Put the reference into your folder.

Generating a Bibliography and Emailing It to the Instructor (5 min.):

  • Once you have imported all of your references, RefWorks can automatically generate a bibliography.
  • Click the “Bibliography” tab (note that RefWorks can also format in-text citations or footnotes).
  • In the box beside “Output Style”, select the preferred citation style.
  • Select “Format a Bibliography from a List of References”.
  • In the box beside “File Type to Create”, select “Word for Windows (2000 or later)”.
  • Choose to include only references from your folder, and click “Create Bibliography”.
  • Be sure to save the document to your desktop. 
  • Be sure to proofread your bibliography for inappropriate abbreviations, urls, etc.  Keep in mind that Refworks is a software program, and it is not perfect.  It is still important to know the citation style of your major.
  • Questions?
  • Please change the name of the bibliography that you just created to your last name, and email it as an attachment to library@dickinson.edu.