Once you’ve adjusted to the new MLA format changes in the 8th edition, how do you introduce those changes to your college students? It can be hard enough to guide your students through their research papers without having to worry about re-teaching MLA citations.

For students who haven’t previously used the MLA format, however, teaching this new style should actually prove easier than the old guidelines: there’s a greater consistency that should be helpful. Convincing more familiar students of the need to change may be a greater challenge, but luckily, the MLA Style Center has released a number of resources to help teachers and professors introduce the new rules.

A heuristic approach

The MLA isn’t the first style guide that has shifted its perspective from the format of a source. The new method is more heuristic, in that it offers a practical, consistent set of rules that may not always be optimal, but accomplish the stated goals of communicating the source to the reader. This can be extremely useful when introducing students to the new structure, according to Jacki Fiscus of the University of Washington in the April 27, 2016, post “MLA Handbook 8th Edition: A Change in Focus of Teaching Citation.”

Fiscus viewed the shift as an opportunity to reach students who cordially hate creating a works cited page. “Many students see citation, particularly in the rigid forms we have traditionally mandated, as an arbitrary convention that must be done,” Fiscus explained. “Given the nature of the 8th edition, and just to unpack this genre convention of citation, we can use this opportunity to ask students: Why do we cite our work? For what purpose? This can lead to a discussion about intellectual property, credibility of sources, and the audience of a text having access to its references.”

Fiscus also felt that the new structure would lead students to be more thoughtful about why they were citing sources, addressing questions including:

• Who is the audience?
• What does the audience need to know?
• What genre does the paper fit into?
• What are the genre’s expectations for information within a citation?

Any discussion that can help a student be more mindful of the paper they are writing will further their own critical thinking abilities in the long term. In her Inside Higher Ed article “Streamlining Citation,” Colleen Flaherty suggested that the new structure would “mean less feverish flipping to locate a style and more critical thinking about scholarly attribution.” Taking time to discuss the reasons behind the MLA format changes could lead to better research papers in the future.

Useful tools from MLA Style Center

The MLA Style Center has made available a number of classroom “Teaching Resources,” including a lesson plan handout on plagiarism, sample papers that adhere to the style guidelines, and a practice worksheet so that students can fill out the template. The “Works Cited: A Quick Guide” click through could be very useful to project from a laptop onto a larger screen, as it highlights the different elements of the new MLA citations, showing where to find them in a source and how to place them properly within a citation. The article “Formatting a Research Paper” gives common formatting tips, and is designed to be printed out for the classroom.

Have you started teaching the new MLA format? What tips have been the most useful for you?