Annotated Bibliography Activities

As teachers, we know the benefits of assigning an annotated bibliography to students: they help students with the key skills of summary, evaluation, and citation that they will need for the research paper. However, students may not always see these benefits or may not always connect the work they do on the annotated bibliography to the research paper. The following suggested activities using the annotated bibliography can help students make that leap from annotation to synthesis, the key skill of a research paper.

Annotations of course include a brief summary of the source. In assigning the summaries, have students think not only about the source’s main argument and evidence, but also where the source gets that evidence. If the source reports a study, explain its methodology. If it reports on original research, explain how the researchers came to their conclusions. In addition, annotations should include a brief analysis of the credibility and usefulness of the source. In discussing credibility, try to move students beyond thinking about “bias” and instead about why this author is credible on this particular topic.

The following activities can help students evaluate the usefulness of their sources to their research paper:

  • Have students use the BEAM method to explain whether they will use the source as Background, Exhibits, Arguments, or Methods. They may of course find more than one use for a single source. This exercise can be useful in having the student see what kinds of additional sources they may seek, such as if all of their sources are background.
  • Have the student attempt to respond to each of the sources in a “They Say, I Say” method. Doing so can get the student started on arguments and engagements with the source for the paper.
  • Have the students connect each source on the annotated bibliography to the one before it (the first source to the last). Doing so can help them start to see the connections between different ideas and how to start to synthesize sources.
  • Ask students to start analyzing how the source changes their topic: what does it add to their understanding of the topic and the debate on the topic? What new questions does it bring up?
  • Ask students to relate each source to their research question. Also ask them to include how their research question may change because of the source.   
  • Ask students to think about how the source is responding to a larger conversation.
  • Assign students an “analysis of the conversation” assignment along with the annotated bibliography. In 1-2 pages, have them write a “mini literature review” on the topic that answers the questions: Why is this topic important at this particular point in time? What is at stake in the topic? Who is writing about the topic and why? What different perspectives are offered? Why are these people involved in the debate? What is at stake for them? Think about the agreements and disagreements: What do those arguing in the debate agree on? What do they disagree on? What is the source of their disagreement? Where do we go from here? What has to happen for there to be agreement on this topic? Done well, this two-page exercise can end up as the first two pages of the research paper.


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Research Toolkit by Wendy Hayden and Stephanie Margolin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.