Zotero and You!: A History Teacher’s Guide to Citations and Accessibility in a Modern Classroom

For decades, teachers have tortured students’ with lesson plans on citations, annotated bibliographies, and the dreaded “Works Cited” page. In primary and secondary schooling, every English and History student learns about the proper citation methods. Where to put footnotes, the difference between footnotes and bibliography citations, and the appropriate places for punctuation and quotations; it’s a living nightmare for most adolescents in schools. While important, the teaching of citations and bibliographies remains a confusing puzzle that most take years to master. With the program Zotero, these challenges to meeting standards have suddenly become a simple memory. The beauty of Zotero lies in its easily accessible account system. Whether student or instructor, this program allows students to enter information about their source material into the database quickly and to have the proper citation immediately. From Chicago to APA to MLA, Zotero can accommodate most forms of academic cataloging.

To create a new bibliographic entry, users need to sign into their account, click the + symbol on the main menu screen, and fill in the blanks on the corresponding right-hand screen! All users need to do is complete the required information on the author, publisher, year of release, etc. When finishing these required fields, Zotero instantly adds this information into the chosen folder within your digital library. For research purposes or simply trying to help students learn the proper data collection methods and citations, Zotero is the perfect program for both novice researchers and acclaimed scholars.

Site interface and menus. The left shows personal folders and information on different projects, classes, and assignments. The middle informs the audience of the various monographs, articles, websites, periodicals, etc., that users have entered into their database. The righthand side of the screen shows the information table, where users put information on the author or publication. This portion of the website is where the bibliography is made!

Zotero provides a tremendous resource for the modern history teacher in teaching students about digital media literacy. By combining a sleek user interface with simple citation mechanics, no longer does research feel like an unattainable goal. Zotero also allows instructors to explain their processes better to students who need accommodations. By creating a more accessible way of proper citation methods, teachers can now spend less time teaching how to craft source notes and spend more time engaging with content.

One of the most valuable features of Zotero comes from its collaborative features. For educators, this means that for Project-Based Learning, students can now more fully cooperate in group work. Students can create a citation and use the “Abstract” portion of the source to explain its relevance and importance in the research with its citation sharing. This addition to the classroom undoubtedly helps history educators create more unique; interactive lesson plans that challenge students to inquire about their source material and teach the importance of diversifying their research methodologies.

Zotero makes group work, project work, and collaboration organized and straightforward. For example, an instructor wanted to teach a class about Revolutionary movements in the 1950s through the 1970s. They could assign one group to research the Gay Liberation Movement, another the Second Wave Feminist Movement, another the Civil Rights Movement, etc. While each group begins gathering source material and uploading it to Zotero, the “Classroom” feature expertly allows students and staff to see all the information collected. The combination of organized folders, collaborative databases, and an easily navigatable, unintimidating citation process makes bibliographies a daunting challenge of the past!