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Scaffolding Instruction Toolkit: First-Year Students

Background information, tools, resources, and ideas for learning more about and implementing scaffolded instruction

Pedagogy for Teaching First-Year Students

First-Year Students: Highlighted Strategies
The following list includes strategies for working with and teaching first-year students.

  • Collaborate with writing instructors and writing centers.
  • Establish a tone of "success" at the beginning of class.
  • Teach with real-world examples, scenario-based learning.
  • Model, both visibly and audibly, critical thinking and metacognitive processes.
  • Focus on teaching evaluation and citation strategies specific to multimodal sources/varied mediums.  
  • Consider teaching Google search strategies.
  • Teach with analogies. 

First-Year Students: Instructional Activities 

The following activities and tools are provided as ideas for first-year instruction sessions.
All activities, including lesson plans, are detailed in the 2019 book Teaching first-year college students: A practical guide for librarians, full citation...

Murphy, M., & Button, A. (2019). Teaching first-year college students: A practical guide for librarians. (pp. 90-120). Rowman & Littlefield. 

Activity Details
The Great Source Debate

Students work in a group to evaluate either a scholarly source or a long-form popular source. Groups answer questions, such as "What kinds of information does the article contain? What does it contribute to the overall conversation on the topic? Does the article point toward other sources of information?" Groups then debate which source works well for the topic being discussed.

An evaluation tool, such as SIFT: Four Moves & a Habit, the CRAAP test, or the ACT Up Method, could be used to guide student discussions.

Class-Wide Keyword Brainstorm

Students work in a shared document, on paper, or through a polling system to brainstorm as many keywords as possible for one term, concept, or research question. Students consult Google, Wikipedia, and dictionaries as needed.

A timer of 5 minutes could be used for this brainstorming, and a discussion about Boolean operators could follow.

Draw Your Research Process

Students map their information-seeking process for their personal interests. Then, students map their process for academic information-seeking.

A class discussion could follow as students are directed to compare/contrast their informal and academic processes.

Role-playing the Peer-Review Publication Process

Students work in groups of four or five. Each student role plays the part given to them: one or two authors, an editor, and two reviewers. Each group gets a publication scenario and specific questions to ask the others.

Each student could be given a card with details about the role they fulfill. This may take some prep time and might best follow a (flipped) lecture, notes, or video about the peer-review process.

Peer Review of Source Integration Students share their preliminary work, such as an annotated bibliograpy, with a partner. They engage in the process of peer review using the BEAM/BEAT framework.
Collaborative Post-Test Students take a short quiz about concepts covered in the instruction session. After students take the quiz individually, students work in small groups to take the quiz again.
Authority Scenarios

Students work in groups of two-three to discuss two related information needs (one is real-world, one is academic). Each group finds at least one relevant source of information for each scenario.

Each scenario may take 8-10 minutes. Examples are provided on pages 114-115.





First-Year Students: Featured Literature

Bohannon, J. L., & Walker, J. R. (2019). No more first-year writing: Suggestions from the LILAC project. In G. Veach (Ed), Teaching Information Literacy and Writing Studies. (Vol. 2, pp. 193-204). Purdue University Press.

Highlights: LILAC Project research and pedagogical practices, specific to the first-year and information literacy (IL), include the intentional introduction of “peer review” (including how to read scholarly articles), and “quote mining” (p. 199). The authors also suggest using more “multimodal sources” in first-year courses. Likewise, we should consider teaching evaluation and citation strategies specific to these diverse mediums (p. 200). Finally, this chapter encourages more use of Google, Google Scholar, and AI technology (p. 201).

Douglas, Veronica Arellano, et al. Valuing the Everyday: Using Experiential Scenarios to Evaluate Information | Douglas | College & Research Libraries News. Oct. 2021.,

Highlights: The authors decided to revamp their institution’s first-year writing (FYW) library instruction program by moving away from a checklist evaluation format toward a method that used “real-life scenarios” to show students how they unconsciously model information evaluation processes in their own lives. “We were less concerned with answers or solutions and more focused on uncovering the thought-processes by which students make evaluative judgments of information.” Students were given open-ended scenarios based on real-life events and asked scenario-specific and metacognitive questions about their information-seeking behaviors. They were then given related academic scenarios to build on their previous work.

Goodsett, M., & Schmillen, H. (2022). Fostering critical thinking in first-year students through information literacy instruction. College & Research Libraries, 83(1).

Highlights:  Goodsett and Schmillen share strategies such as discussion, inquiry-based learning, real-world scenarios, graphic organizers, problem-based learning, and reflection. Their study reveals the need to move beyond checklists with first-year students and focus more on the art of asking questions. Other topics include more teaching of news literacy, collaborative assignment planning with faculty, flipped classroom approaches, and metacognitive opportunities.

Insua, G. M., Lantz, C., & Armstrong, A. (2018). In Their Own Words: Using First-Year Student Research Journals to Guide Information Literacy Instruction. Portal: Libraries & the Academy, 18(1), 141–161.

Highlights: These researchers examined first year students' research journals and found four themes: guidelines remembered from high school (hard and fast rules such as don’t use Wikipedia!), challenges with sources (synthesis, incorporation and use), challenges with writing (organization, incorporating ideas from sources, and creating an argument), and whether students sought help and with whom (usually instructor and peers).

They encourage librarians to continue to develop collaborations with writing instructors and writing centers. We can use their framework (The Framework for Success In Postsecondary Writing) in order to speak a common language.

Kocevar-Weidinger, E., Cox, E., Lenker, M., Pashkova-Balkenhol, T., & Kinman, V. (2019). On their own terms: First-year student interviews about everyday life research can help librarians flip the deficit script. Reference Services Review, 47(2), 169–192.

Highlights:  In this study, researchers did interviews with students about their everyday research experiences and found the following:

  • Students looked to people for answers to their questions, including their family and friends, as well as experts.
  • Students evaluated their sources as they found them, rather than finding and then evaluating.
  • Students were skeptical about the validity of their sources and treated them accordingly.
  • Students looked for answers to real life research questions regularly.

Murphy, M., & Button, A. (2019). Teaching first-year college students: A practical guide for librarians. (pp. 90-120). Rowman & Littlefield. 

Highlights: Murphy and Button provide activities for engaging first-year students in the classroom, designing instructional materials, teaching first-year students online, and seeing assessment as a learning process. Details for instructional activities and lesson plans are included. Research about the novice researcher and the perspectives about the first-year landscape tie the practical applications together.

Vanderbilt University. (2022). Teaching first-year students. Center for Teaching,

Highlights: Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching provides principles and strategies for teaching first-year students, such as providing real-life scenarios, teaching critical thinking, clarifying expectations for learning, preparing for emotional reactions, modeling metacognitive processes, checking students' notes, and teaching to a variety of learning styles. Furthermore, the site highlights cognitive challenges and enlightenment myths of first-year students.

First-Year Students: Bibliography