Sample English 101 Library Assignments
What do you want your students to learn? No matter what you choose to do, library assignments only work well when they are assigned in conjunction with an actual assignment--freshman especially are very resentful of "busywork." Be directive, but not inflexible. If the best source for a student is an online government document, don't insist that they find a print one just so they see how to cite it or to force them into Government Documents--encourage them to use the best one for their needs.
1. The multiple-source working bibliography
Ask your students to find 1-3 sources of each of the following types: articles, books, reference works, to be compiled in a working bibliography, perhaps for their final paper. Depending on the topic, you may want to include government documents and web sites and differentiate between newspaper, magazine and journal articles; however, the more specific types of information formats you ask for, the more likely it is that there will not be appropriate information in one format or another on a given topic. This often leads to student stress and frustration. Allow some leeway in what you ask for. Also, the more types of resources you ask your students to explore, the more directive you will need to be. On the other hand, if you build it in as an ongoing project due over a several week period, chances are your students will actually learn a little bit about the research process.
2. The semi-topic driven:
One English instructor had great success by setting up debates on assigned topics. Teams of 3-5 found information on their topics and combined it. Each had a type of information to search for: newspaper and magazine articles, scholarly articles, background information, detailed information...etc.
3. The Birthday Headline:
Students find the headline from a newspaper from their birthday, and/or from their birth date 50-100 years previous, then must find a book, magazine article, scholarly article, and encyclopedia article, on the same topic(s).
This can quickly degenerate into a treasure hunt; however it can be useful for cultural studies themes and at the same time give students an awareness of types of sources available to them. It can also be part of a lesson on primary and secondary resources.
4. The non-library assignment
If your goal in an assignment is not developing research skills, but rather developing analytical skills, consider putting a small collection of articles on a topic from a variety of sources on reserve for the students to use. The results will probably be repetitive, but you'll know what sources the students used and be better able to judge how accurately they used them.