Sample Assignment Ideas
Instructors, your librarian can help you design or refine assignments that meet your specific learning goals while helping students strengthen their information literacy, metacognition, and critical thinking skills. We hope the assignment ideas below and these recommended resources will encourage you to reach out to discuss assignment ideas further!
Table of Contents
- Library Orientation
- Understanding Source Types
- Searching a Database
- Evaluating Sources
- Additional Assignments
Annotated bibliographies can be particularly useful information literacy assignments: they require students to not only find and cite sources but also evaluate and synthesize source information. Annotated bibliographies provide a lot of flexibility, too. They can be completed individually or in groups, be brief or extensive, and serve as stand-alone assignments or part of a larger research project.
Research logs help develop students’ metacognition, or ability to optimize one’s own thinking and learning processes. Students use research logs to document steps in their research and reflect on the process, and then submit them at specific research checkpoints or with their final research project.
Have students explore the CSB/SJU Libraries’ website and report back on different Services (e.g., “Borrow, Renew, Request,” “Information Literacy,” or “Interlibrary Loan”) or demonstrate selected resources (e.g., the library catalog, particular databases, our research guides, or the Citation Help page) in class. Your librarian can be present to clarify points or answer questions.
Ask your librarian to guide your class through a tour of the library at CSB (Clemens Library) or SJU (Alcuin Library and Reinhart Learning Commons). This is especially recommended for Learning Foundations or other courses for first-year students. Building maps are available here.
Note: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, librarians are not currently offering library tours.
- Variation 1: Arrange for a tour of the BAC Music Library or the CSB or SJU Archives.
- Variation 2: Assign students to email your librarian questions they have about using the library before the tour.
- Variation 3: If you do not organize in-class library tours, have your students do individual or small-group self-tours instead. Your librarian can help you move beyond a boilerplate “scavenger hunt” assignment by developing a self-tour worksheet that helps orient students to the materials and services they need to know about for your course assignments and learning goals.
Understanding Source Types
Source Type Comparison
Pick a topic related to your course themes. Have students search online and across two or three library databases to identify different types of sources (e.g., posts on social media, newspapers or news sites, popular magazines, and scholarly journals) on the topic. Ask them to reflect on how each type of source treats the topic and to compare the advantages and disadvantages of each source type.
Popular vs. Scholarly Sources
Either supply student teams with sample sources to compare or ask them to search for a “good” popular source and a “good” scholarly article on a topic of interest. Have the teams compare the two and explain the benefits and drawbacks of each source type.
Primary and Secondary Sources
Research a topic using primary and secondary sources. Contrast the sources, their content, and treatment of the topic. (Adapted from Florida Atlantic University’s “ Creating Quality Library Research Assignments”)
Compare the treatment of a topic in a Wikipedia article, a general encyclopedia article, and a specialized encyclopedia article. What distinctions can be made between these articles regarding their content, review and publication process, and the article authors?
- Variation 1: Ask students to analyze differences in coverage between local, national, and/or international news sources.
- Variation 2: Ask students to research local coverage of an important national or global event in The Record or other CSB/SJU student publications.
- Variation 3: Ask students to research a topic using sources published in different decades and then report on any changes that have occurred in how the topic is covered or addressed.
Searching a Database
Search Strategy Worksheet
Ask your librarian to modify a Search Strategy Worksheet for your class. This worksheet guides students through selecting an appropriate library database, combining search terms, using database limiters or advanced search features, and planning next steps to build more successful searches.
Have students do a library catalog search for a book that’s listed in the bibliography of an assigned reading. Have them report back if the CSB/SJU Libraries have a copy, and if so, if it’s at CSB Clemens, SJU Alcuin, or available as an ebook, or if it would need to be requested through interlibrary loan. Next, have students use the catalog or a library database to find a review of their chosen book.
Updating a Bibliography
Ask students to find newer sources with which to update a good, but older, bibliography or literature review.
The CRAAP Test Worksheet
Ask students or student teams to evaluate a source using criteria from the CRAAP test: currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose.
- Variation 1: Student teams could each be assigned a specific type of website (e.g., personal, commercial, organizational, governmental, and academic/educational) to report back on, leading to a larger class discussion about strategies for finding reliable information online.
Scholarship as Conversation
Use a scholarly article with extensive footnotes or endnotes as an assigned class reading. After this reading has been discussed, ask each student or student pairs to track down and read one of the other sources referenced in the article’s notes. How does the assigned-reading article use, challenge, or build upon the ideas or evidence from the earlier referenced source?
Evidence for Controversial Topics
Compare two sources that approach a controversial topic from different points of view. What evidence does each use to back up their claims, and based on the evidence, which do they find more compelling? (Adapted from Florida Atlantic University’s “Creating Quality Library Research Assignments”)
Explore how two different academic disciplines approach research or a particular topic by finding and comparing articles from the journal literature of each discipline. For example, students could find and review education articles on learning and memory in our ERIC database and psychology articles on learning and memory in the PsycINFO database. (Adapted from Florida Atlantic University’s “Creating Quality Library Research Assignments”)
Mini Research Presentation
Each student researches and presents on a topic that relates to the course theme or a specific reading. Ask them to cover the following in their presentation:
- The current state of the field: who were the foundational thinkers or researchers, who is considered a current expert, and what organizations or institutions support research in this area?
- The major sources of information (e.g., the leading journals, books, or websites) they used to learn more about their subject
- Two or three current issues, questions, or avenues for further investigation that experts on their topic are currently exploring
(Adapted from University of Puget Sound’s “ Ideas for Library-Related Assignments”)
Divide students into teams and assign them a stance on an assigned topic. Require them to find supporting evidence, statistics, and background information using a range of scholarly articles, online reports, and newspapers and to effectively integrate evidence into their arguments during the debate.
Tracking Down Evidence from a Newspaper Article
Ask students to note what evidence is included in a newspaper article or online news source, and to see if they can track down the full text of the original sources that are referenced, quoted, or summarized within the newspaper article.
- Variation 1: Assign students to read through the original sources and analyze how accurately or completely the original sources’ evidence, findings, or statements were conveyed in the newspaper article.
Communicating Scholarly Article Findings to a General Audience
Ask students to select a scholarly article that might be “a reach” for them given their current disciplinary knowledge. Ask them to read it closely (advising them, perhaps, to pay closest attention to the introduction, literature review, and conclusions sections) and keep a list of unfamiliar terms and their meanings. Then assign them to either summarize the article in class or submit an overview of the article that uses jargon-free, easy-to-understood language.
Researching a Career
Ask each student to research a career path they are interested in or that connects to your course content or skills. Ask them to note what online information sources seem the most current and reliable and which ones seem more questionable (and why).
“Times Cited” Activity
How influential has a particular study been? Use library databases to find out if a particular publication is being widely referenced in later literature and discuss the attributes of studies that are most likely to be widely cited. What factors could explain why a study might not be cited widely?