Information Literacy Toolkit

Resources to help with planning or implementing information literacy concepts and assignments in classes.

Creating Effective Research Assignments

Below are questions to ask yourself when designing an assignment that promotes information literacy and critical thinking skills.

  • Is it clear what the goals of the assignment are?
    • What will students learn as a result of completing this assignment?
    • What are the information literacy student learning outcomes?
    • What are the writing or presentation outcomes?
    • What are the discipline-specific outcomes?
    • Are these goals clear to students?
  • What resources will students need to be able to successfully complete this assignment?
    • Does our library have these resources? Are they freely and easily available elsewhere?
    • Is there a link to the library (or other needed resources) in the assignment and/or syllabus?
    • Is there a link to any related student services (peer tutoring, technology help desk, etc.) in the assignment and/or syllabus?
  • Does this assignment provide space for metacognition?
    • Does this model a process students can repeat in the future? Is that clear to students?
    • Is there space for students to reflect on what they are doing, which strategies are working and which aren’t?
  • When is the assignment due?
    • Does this provide enough time for students to be successful?
    • Does it provide time for you to give feedback to students, and for students to revise and/or integrate that feedback into their next piece of work?
  • Is it clear what the criteria for success are?
    • Do you have grading criteria or a rubric to help you score student work? Is this available to students?
  • Are you able to provide a model of successful student work for this assignment?
    • Might you ask past students if you can use their work as a sample, or can you create your own?
    • How will students access the sample(s)? Hand out in class, provide in Moodle, etc.?

Greenfield Community College Library. “Information Literacy Toolkit for Faculty.”, Greenfield Community College, Accessed 1 Jan. 2021.

Scaffolding and reinforcing information literacy skills and concepts throughout your courses and program, will allow students to develop and master their skill set. Below are a number of questions to think about while creating course and program materials. 

  • How does information literacy connect with the rest of course content?
    • Is it clear to students how these skills connect to continued study and/or real life?
  • What will students need to learn to successfully complete this assignment?
    • What do they already know? Can you assume, or do you need to find out?
    • Which information literacy skills do you need to teach, in addition to your course content?
    • What can a librarian help teach?
  • How will you teach information literacy skills?
    • What needs to be done during class time (for face-to-face classes)?
    • What can be done outside of class, as homework?
    • What supports does the library already have available (i.e. Moodle plug-ins, videos, handouts, etc.)?
    • If you want a librarian to teach, where does that fit in the course schedule?
  • Is there room in your curriculum to do this well?
    • If not, what needs to change? Course content, the research assignment, or both?

Greenfield Community College Library. “Information Literacy Toolkit for Faculty.”, Greenfield Community College, Accessed 1 Jan. 2021.

Assignments below are linked to Google Drive documents. Please feel to download and edit for your classroom or context and to remix assignments. A CSU librarian would be happy to tailor a version of an assignment or scaffold research skills into your class.

There are any number of library related assignments that can be incorporated into a course. Here are a few examples that can be adapted to most subjects.

  • Locate a popular magazine article, then find a scholarly article on the same subject. Compare the two articles for content, style, bias, audience, etc.
  • Prepare an annotated bibliography of books, journal articles, and other sources on a topic. Include evaluative annotations.
  • Select a topic and compare how that topic is treated in two to five different sources.
  • Analyze the content, style, and audience of three journals in a given discipline.
  • Update an existing bibliography or review of the literature.
  • Locate primary sources about on the date of your birth. You may use one type type of material only once, i.e., one newspaper headline of a major event, one quotation, one biography, one census figure, one top musical number, one campus event, etc. Use a minimum of six different sources. Write a short annotation of each source and include the complete bibliographic citation.
  • Read an editorial and find facts to support it.
  • Choose an autobiography of someone related to the course content. Find secondary sources which deal with an idea or event described in the autobiography. Compare and contrast the sources.
  • Create a Web page on a narrow topic relevant to the course. Include meta sites, e-journals, discussion lists, and organizations.
  • Select a scholar/researcher in a field of study and explore that person's career and ideas. Besides locating biographical information, students prepare a bibliography of writings and analyze the reaction of the scholarly community to the researcher's work.
  • Evaluate a website based on specific criteria.
  • Each student in the class is given responsibility for dealing with a part of the subject of the course. He or she is then asked to 1) find out what the major reference sources on the subject are; 2) find out "who's doing what where" in the field; 3) list three major unresolved questions about the subject; 4) prepare a 15 minute oral presentation to introduce this aspect of the subject to the class.
  • Assemble background information on a company or organization in preparation for a hypothetical interview. For those continuing in academica, research prospective colleagues' and professors' backgrounds, publications, current research, etc.
  • Compile an anthology of readings by one person or on one topic. Include an introduction with biographical information about the authors, and the rationale for including the works [justify with reviews or critical materials].
  • Conduct the research for a paper except for writing the final draft. At various times students are required to turn in 1) their choice of topic; 2) an annotated bibliography; 3) an outline; 4) a thesis statement; 5) an introduction and a conclusion.
  • Pick a topic and research it in literature from the 60s and 70s. Then research the same topic in the literature of the 80s and 90s. Compare and contrast the topic in a bibliographic essay.
  • Determine the adequacy of a psychological test based on the literature about the test. Then develop a test battery designed for a particular clinical (or other) situation, by using published tests and the literature about them.
  • To develop the ability to evaluate sources, students prepare a written criticism of the literature on a particular issue by finding book reviews, by searching citiation indexes to see who is quoting the context of the scholarship in a particular field.
  • Students use bibliographies, guides to the literature and the Internet to find primary sources on an issue or historical period. They can contrast the treatment in the primary sources with the treatment in secondary sources including their textbook.
  • In biology or health classes, assign each student a 'diagnosis' (can range from jock itch to Parkinson's Disease). Have them act as responsible patients by investigating both the diagnosis and the prescribed treatment. Results presented in a two-page paper should cover: a description of the condition and its symptoms; its etiology; its prognosis; the effectiveness of the prescribed treatment, its side effects and contradictions, along with the evidence; and, finally, a comparison of the relative effectiveness of alternate treatments. This can also be accompanied by oral or visual presentations, slideshow, poster session,etc.
  • Students follow a piece of legislation through Congress. This exercise is designed primarily to help them understand the process of government. However it could also be used in something like a 'critical issues' course to follow the politics of a particular issue. (What groups are lobbying for or against a piece of legislation? How does campaign financing affect the final decision? etc.).
  • Similar to the above, have students follow a particular foreign policy situation as it develops. Who are the organizations involved? What is the history of the issue? What are the ideological conflicts?
  • Ask each student to describe a career they envision themselves in and then research the career choice. What are the leading companies in that area? Why? (If they choose something generic like secretarial or sales, what is the best company in their county of residence to work for? Why?) Choose a company and find out what its employment policies are-flex time, family leave, stock options. If the company is traded publicly, what is its net worth? What is the outlook for this occupation? Expected starting salary? How do the outlook and salaries vary by geography?
  • Write a biographical sketch of a famous person. Use biographical dictionaries, popular press and scholarlys sources, and books to find information about the person.
  • Nominate someone or a group for the Nobel Peace Prize. Learn about the prize, the jury, etc. Justify the nominations.
  • Choose a topic of interest and search it on the Internet. Cross reference all search engines and find all websites which discuss the topic. Like a research paper, students will have to narrow and broaden accordingly. The student will then produce an annotated bibliography on the topic, based solely on internet references.
  • Everyone becomes an historical figure for a day. Students research the person, time-period, culture, etc. They give an oral presentation in class and answer questions.
  • Similar to the above, students adopt a persona and write letters or journal entries that person might have written. The level of research required to complete the assignment can range from minimal to a depth appropriate for advanced classes.
  • Write a newspaper story describing an event--political, social, cultural, whatever suits the objectives-based on their research. The assignment can be limited to one or two articles, or it can be more extensive. This is a good exercise in critical reading and in summarizing. The assignment gains interest if several people research the same event in different sources and compare the newspaper stories that result.
  • News conferences offer good opportunities to add depth to research and thus might work particularly well with advanced students. A verbatim transcript of an anlytical description of a news conference can serve as a format for simulated interviews with well known people of any period. What questions would contemporaries have asked? What questions would we now, with hindsight, want to ask? How would contemporary answers have differed from those that might be given today? Here students have an opportunity to take a rigorous, analytical approach, both in terms of the questions to be asked and the information contained in the answers.
  • Create an anthology. The model for this format is the annotated book of readings with which most students are familiar. In this case, however, rather than being given the anthology, they are asked to compile it themselves. The assignment can limit the acceptable content to scholarly articles written within the last ten years, or it can be broadened to include chapters or excerpts from monographs and significant older materials. Students should be asked to write an introduction to the anthology that would display an overall understanding of the subject. In addition, each item should be described, and an explanation given as to why it is included. The assignment could also require a bibliography of items considered for inclusion as well as copies of the items selected. In any subject course in which students would benefit from finding and reading a variety of scholarly, such an assignment would guarantee that they use their library skills to locate the articles, their critical reading skills to make the selections, and a variety of writing skills to produce the introduction, the summaries, and the explanations.
  • Contrast journal articles or editorials from recent publications reflecting conservative and liberal tendencies.
  • Write a review of a musical performance. Include reference not only to the performance attended, but to reviews of the composition's premiere, if possible. Place the composition in a historical context using timetables, general histories and memoirs when available, using this information to gain insight into its current presentation.
  • Write an exam on one area; answer some or all of the questions (depending on professor's preference). Turn in an annotated bibliography of source material, and rationale for questions.
  • Write a grant proposal addressed to a specific funding agency; include supporting literature review, budget, etc. Have class peer groups review. (Best proposal could be submitted for funding of summer research).

Collins Memorial Library. “Ideas for Library-Related Assignments.”, University of Puget Sound, Accessed 1 Jan. 2021.

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