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How To Get Students To Integrate Quotations

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When teachers of college writing get together to grouse about the kids these days, one of the perennial topics is this: why can’t they learn how to integrate quotations?? We covered it in class 139 times and they still don’t do it right!

It works like this: we want students to learn to integrate quoted material into their own prose. We’d like them to write something like this:

According to Auerbach, “Readers of the Odyssey will remember the well-prepared and touching scene in book 19. . .” (3).

It’s not so difficult. It’s really just a matter of using a signal phrase at the beginning of the quote. But that’s the ideal, and I am a paid professional writing instructor under controlled conditions. In the real world, what we get is something like this:

Eric Auerbach wrote Mimesis. “Readers of the Odyssey will remember the well-prepared and touching scene in book 19. . .” (3). This book is really important because of the things it says.

See that? That quotation up there? The one that’s all by itself? The one that’s standing as a complete sentence? That is the bane of many Composition instructors’ existences. We try and we try and we try to figure out ways to get students to stop doing it, but no matter how many new approaches we try, when the essays roll in, there they are: unintegrated quotations all over the place. (NB: I have lately come to see that Becky Howard’s notion of patchwriting is probably responsible for this).

But listen close, dear readers. I have figured out how to get them to integrate quotations. And it is so, so incredibly simple.

Here’s how:

Early in the semester, when I begin asking my students to use quotations in their writing, I ask them to integrate them. I show them how. I provide them some examples. I show them some models in the text we use. And then—this is the important part—I pull up a video of a cute and fuzzy kitten.

They all coo over it and giggle.

And then, once they’ve gotten their fill of the kitten, I explain to them that when they fail to integrate their quotations, GOD KILLS A KITTEN.

From that point on, I ask them to refer to an unintegrated quotation as a “dead kitten.” We do this publicly. When we’re peer editing, someone will yell out “I’ve got a dead kitten over here!” When I comment on their drafts, I write “DEAD KITTEN!”

To recap: I take a few minutes one day to explain how to integrate quotations. Then I take 30 seconds and explain the dead kitten thing.

How successful has this been? I started doing this in a section last year. I have had two dead kittens in that time.


Written by srogers

February 7, 2011 at 11:42 am

Posted in Teaching

8 Responses

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  1. You are a genius. But you should have told them you would kill the kitten yourself instead of outsourcing.


    February 7, 2011 at 12:17 pm

  2. Hilarious! I’m sharing!

    Sylvia Newman

    February 7, 2011 at 2:13 pm

  3. I love this. I may have to adapt this for some IT training issues.


    February 7, 2011 at 10:39 pm

  4. On the surface, this is genius, and then, underneath, it connects to a really complicated discussion of motives and taboos. I have had similar results in class when I say that trees begin to scream when essays are wordy and use up too much paper unnecessarily. My argument is gone now that I’ve gone to paper-less teaching.

    Can I borrow the dead-cat argument, but apply it instead to starting sentences with “it,” “there,” or that”? Please?


    February 8, 2011 at 1:51 pm

  5. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Brian Croxall, Brian Croxall, Andrew Logemann, Michael J. Faris, Lindsay M. Stärke and others. Lindsay M. Stärke said: RT @briancroxall: Best. Tip. Ever. RT @EmoryWritingCtr: How to teach students to integrate quotations using dead kittens. http://ow.ly/3SHas […]

  6. I’m teaching persuasive writing and the tendency of the class is to start wandering off into the argument, rather than discuss the rhetorical moves the author is making. The first time it happened, I said to them “look, this is a topic we could talk about for hours and hours at Senor Tequila’s [a local restaurant] and leave still talking about it, but what are they doing here?”

    Now when we wander off, someone yells “Senor tequila argument!” and we get back on track pretty quickly. It’s been great.

    Academic 2

    February 9, 2011 at 1:47 pm

  7. Pete, you should target puppies or maybe little birdies for “It is/ there is.” Leave the kittens for the unintegrated quotes.

    Dennis G. jerz

    February 14, 2011 at 10:10 am

  8. Hmm…religion? Death? Animal cruelty? Perhaps “treat-less kitten” might be a more socially sensitive approach to unattributed quotations. The kitten still gets fed, but now gets a treat.


    February 16, 2011 at 12:01 pm

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