Researching Is Fun!


Kendra Perkins is the Coordinator for the Shanghai Librarian Network, the International Librarian Network Ambassador for China and Head Librarian at YK Pao Secondary School in China. For more inspiration, check out her blog.


RefME can be used as a handy tool to put together last minute, or well-prepared, lesson plans that educate students in the importance of avoiding plagiarism by referencing correctly.

Referencing, like most things in life, requires lots of practice to gain confidence. Students will improve over time by regularly referencing their written work and taking on board feedback from their educators. With this in mind, it’s easy to integrate RefME into everyday lessons in order to help students excel at referencing sources. Teaching this along with digital literacy skills will only become more and more important as technology continues to evolve. These are valuable, lifelong skills that are by no means restricted to higher education. Accurate referencing practice will continue to be useful throughout a student’s professional life; accidental citing errors can wreck havoc on anyone’s career.

Primatologist Jane Goodall’s recent plagiarism scandal is a great example to use in lessons. She has had a very successful career and is well-known for her passionate work in raising awareness to protect primates and the environment. However, she took messy notes while writing her book Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder From the World of Plants, which led to her leaving out references and taking others’ words as her own. This caused a lot of headache for her as, despite having a successful career spanning a decade before this, her reputation as an academic was put on the line.

Journalist Steven Levingston (2013) of The Washington Post, who reported on Jane Goodall’s plagiarism scandal, discussed how there is the potential for technology to be dangerous in contributing to plagiarism.

“Abetted by technology that allows a writer to swiftly transfer passages from one place to another – and just as swiftly to forget it was done”.

Levingston does make a good point, but I think that technology can also be used to do just the opposite. It doesn’t have to contribute towards plagiarism, instead it can be used as a tool to protect against it. Technologies, like RefME, that support the research process can ensure that this type of accidental plagiarism never happens. Using a citation management tool makes it very easy to keep track of where collated information and ideas came from, so that you and your students can avoid mixing up sources and losing essential source information.

I’ve collected some ideas that will teach students how to have fun referencing and to be more confident with using source material in their work.

Lesson Plan: The First Encounter

As an educator, I use RefME to give students their first introduction to the world of referencing. I like to start by showing students some examples of different ways that plagiarism can happen. Students are often surprised at the variety of ways that this can occur and at how seriously educational institutions take these cases.

A visual tool that I recommend trying out in introductory lessons is a diagram like this one created by Katie Day and Kurt Wittig (2016), which engages audio-visual learners and is often more memorable than other learning styles.

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Many of these common mistakes are easily avoided by using RefME to store and organise your sources. As an educator, I just want to make sure that students are aware of how easy it can be to cite incorrectly.

These ten points can be discussed in a lesson by dividing up the class. Groups of students can discuss 1-3 points together by sharing their ideas or by creating a poster. The class can then collaborate and share all of these ideas with each other. At this point, you can highlight how using technology like RefME can completely eliminate some of these problems.


Alphabetization – RefME automatically arranges the list of references in alphabetical order for you. Students don’t need to give it a second thought.

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Wrong style – Teaching students how to create a project and select their referencing style at the beginning of an assignment ensures they won’t accidentally mix up the citation styles. There are so many styles and variants of styles these days that it is easy to get confused.

RefME enables students to generate accurate, fully-formatted citations in over 7,500 styles – including popular styles such as the Chicago citation style and Harvard. RefME also provides open generators and helpful style guides for citation styles such as ASA, AMA and IEEE.

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Students will quickly see the pattern here and realise just how easy referencing can be. Referencing used to be something that many dreaded. It was complicated and it required a manual to look up exactly where every punctuation mark was supposed to go, but now, using modern technologies, it’s quite painless.

Lesson Plan: Keeping up Referencing Skills

RefMe can be used in last minute lesson plans. As a librarian knows, sometimes classes full of students can appear in the library. Fellow educators may have had unexpected difficulties that meant their original lesson plan fell through. This is never a worry for me because I can have the students up and moving in a fun activity around the whole library space.

Students can practice referencing all different kinds of resources. Here are some examples of no-prep time questions:

  • Find 10 different types of resources to cite in APA 6th edition. If you can’t think of 10 different types of formats, check RefME for ideas.
  • Create a reference for an ebook using APA citation 6th edition and MLA format 8th edition. What are the differences?
  • How would you cite an interview?

Lesson Plan: On Topic Referencing

Referencing questions can be tailored towards the topic that the students are learning about. The above sample questions can easily be modified so that students are on track with finding sources for their assignment.

Students can also learn to recognize mistakes by becoming familiar with how references should look. This will help them when they are proofreading their work to ensure they haven’t accidentally made an error. I can do this quickly by generating references with RefME and then deleting or replacing some of the information. In doing this I also quickly create an answer key for myself.

After creating these incorrect citations, students can be asked to identify where the mistakes are and how to correct them. This could be done with in-text citations or individual references, as well as with a complete sample essay that is riddled with mistakes. In-text citations may be missing their corresponding references, quotation marks could be missing, etc. The number of mistakes you can make while referencing is endless, so it won’t take you long to garble up an essay into a great activity.

Lesson Plan: Use Prepared Lessons

RefME has already created a number of short tutorial videos that are a perfect addition to a lesson. These videos are less than five minutes, but are packed with information. It’s a great way to start off a discussion about plagiarism or start teaching how to reference resources. Asking students questions about what they’ve just watched and then following up with an activity is a fun way to change students’ perception of referencing. It is not a painful experience that is to be dreaded – it can actually be fun!

Games can also be incorporated into lesson plans to give students a chance to practice referencing skills while keeping them engaged. Stathakis (2013) has found that “while playing games, students develop a variety of connections with the content and can form positive memories of learning”. Kahoot! is an excellent free tool that let’s you do just this by creating interactive quizzes. These can be played on any device with groups of people or individual teams. Try out this ready-made quiz in your next class:

Research and Citations, MLA style! powered by RefME   

Changing Perceptions

Referencing doesn’t have to be a frustrating experience that students worry about. This perception can be changed for both educators and students. For instance, RefME can take a lot of the stress away from educators because it is no longer necessary to memorize every detail of all the citation styles that are in use today. Instead, let this tool do the hard work for you.

Thanks to RefME, lessons can be created without knowing every answer; students can be taught how to use this digital tool to correctly cite a diverse range of formats; and students will enjoy lessons that include videos and activities. Researching can be fun!

Use RefME’s web tool and iOS & Android apps to cite like a pro. Simply select your local site to start creating accurate citations now: UK | US | Worldwide.


Day, K. (2016) Pointing out the errors of their ways — when it comes to referencing and bibliographies. Available at: (Accessed: 8 August 2016).

Levingston, S. (2013) Jane Goodall’s ’seeds of hope’ contains borrowed passages without attribution. Available at: (Accessed: 8 August 2016).

Stathakis, R. (2016) Five Reasons to use games in the classroom. Available at: (Accessed: 8 August 2016).

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