MLA doesn't have to be the Ogre under the Bed



Commas, periods, block quotes, parentheticals, oh my. MLA can be so annoying sometimes. Especially for students who really need to be focusing their attention on good writing, not on a million different possible placements for their commas and quotation marks. And teachers who have an awful lot of other things to teach, but could probably spend six months straight on MLA to get it all clear.

But I've come to the conclusion that MLA doesn't have to be the ogre under the bed anymore. Not now that MLA has made a general format for citations (it finally became impossible to keep up with every kind of content format in the modern era, thank goodness). Not with the incredible MLA Format & Style Guide at the Purdue Online Writing Lab.

What we need our students to know, now, is how to construct a basic citation, how to quote without stealing ideas, and how to cite a few of their favorite sources. That's all they really need. As they dive further into research and start coming up with more complex sources, they'll be fine as long as they can maneuver through the Purdue lab (or whatever online source you prefer to show them).

So here's what I suggest.



Learning how to Construct Citations

Show them the new basic principles of MLA. It's a short list of what students need to include in any citation and it applies to any work. They just fill in whatever categories apply to their citation, using the same punctuation and order every time.

Want this poster for your classroom? I'm happy to send it to you! Just sign up for my Friday emails full of teaching ideas, and this poster will be the first thing you get from me. 


Make it their Own

Next, get them going on a mini-project to create their own MLA citation guide for a few of their favorite sources. It can be an infographic, hyperdoc, or even one-pager. Whatever form works for you and them, so they can consult it FOREVER.

Yes, you could give them a booklet showing how to quote and cite a hundred or so possible sources, but really, they're probably going to use only a few for now. Novels, poems, videos, podcasts, etc. They know best what they lean on when it comes to research.



Ask them to choose their favorites and explore the online guide for how to to cite them in their writing and their sources cited. Then have them add an example citation using the basic citation format. Now they know how to cite their key sources, and also where to go online and in your classroom when they need help.


General Paper Format

Now comes the issue of general paper format. This is just a matter of practice. There are a few key components, and I suggest you just copy and past the following text into every paper assignment for a while until everyone gets the hang of it.

Here’s what you need to know about general format for papers: 
  • Your paper should be typed and printed on standard paper with a standard font at 12 point size. Double space everything. Use one inch margins. 
  • On the top left side of your first page, include your  name, your teacher’s name, the course, and the date (all double-spaced and on their own lines). Double space and then center your title. Double space and begin your paper.
  • Create a header in the top right  of every page ½ inch down with your last name and the page number. 
  • Include a final works cited page, with “Works Cited” centered at the top and your sources in alphabetic order. Indent each full citation ½ inch after the first line. Double space this page. 

Quotation Format

OK, now they know how to cite their favorite sources and format their papers. Wouldn't it be nice if that was all? But you're still a mini-lesson or two from the finish line. You can do it though, it's just a matter of one clear resource to let them know how to format a few different types of quotes - long, short, verse, prose.

I suggest making a poster or handout that covers this that students can just check every time they get confused. You can find mine, along with all my MLA resources in one helpful set, right here. 

Introduce these ideas briefly, and then students can refer to your handout or poster when they're writing papers until they get these rules down.

And that's it!

OK, I know it still feels a little intimidating, but hopefully not like an ogre anymore.

Just follow these four steps...
1. Teach them the new format for constructing a citation, and hang your free poster in your room for easy reference.
2. Have them create their own guide to their favorite types of sources, using a free online tool like Purdue Writing Lab.
3. Add MLA format guidelines to their paper assignments.
4. Teach them how to format long quotations and quotations from poems, since they're a bit different. A few mini-lessons and one clear handout will do the trick.

Voila! MLA format, taught!


Find all the resources pictured in this post and more in 


Sources Consulted:

The Purdue OWL. Purdue U Writing Lab, 2019. January of 2020. 

1 comment

  1. Roosevelt Saying, The goal of MLA is more fun, for you and your students. With colourful posters for your walls, handy bookmark references for your students, and two options for projects to urge your students going making their own mini-guides. Let's face it, MLA format can desire the ogre under the tutorial bed. Intimidating. Complicated. To not mention annoying.

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