Verify Quotations – Activity Directions

Set the Stage

Ask students if they are familiar with the phrase, “Elementary, my dear Watson?” If so, who said it? If not, can they guess who might have said it? Chances are, they will guess that Sherlock Holmes said this, but that is incorrect. According to the website, The Phrase Finder, the phrase was coined by author P.G. Wodehouse and never appeared in a Sherlock Holmes story. The point of discussing the origin of this quote is that people often are fooled by what they think they know or by a statement erroneously attributed to an expert. Thanks to mass media, misinformation abounds. Media savvy consumers do not accept the authenticity of quotations at face value because quotations are to language what data are to statistics. They are used to lend authenticity to an argument or position which is why it’s important that they are accurately worded and attributed.


Explain that students will work in pairs or trios to brainstorm at least five ideas for strategies that can be used to verify the origin of quotations. Review team suggestions in a class discussion. As a group, identify 4 – 5 strategies they will use to document their research as they determine the authenticity of the quotes on the handout. If you find that students need help coming up with strategies, it may be helpful to review resources such as How to Research a Quotation orMisquotes: Searching for Authenticity Online with the class. Have students list the strategies in the space provided on the handout.

Possible Modification: If necessary, walk through identifying strategies as a whole class activity.

Guided and Independent Practice

Ask student teams to review the first quotation on the handout. Walk them through using the strategies they identified to determine if this quotation is correctly attributed. Explain they must document their research based on the strategies the class agreed to use.Check to see that student work is sufficiently documented on their worksheets.

Possible Modification: Model what acceptable documentation looks like, if needed.

Allow students to research the remaining seven quotations on the worksheet. Depending on their skill levels and the amount of time required to provide instruction, teams may need a second period to complete the assignment.

Verify Quotations