Saturday, February 8, 2014

"Hey! That's not fair!"

plagiarism cartoon

Sitting in my desk in Mrs. Martin's 11th grade AP English class, I got my first, and last, real lesson in plagiarism. She was the most feared teacher in high school, and she did a great job of explaining what plagiarism was and what the penalties were. In the days ahead, I proceeded, cautiously, writing my first term paper. I was filled with the fear of plagiarizing, or maybe it was the fear of Mrs. Martin! 

I think very few students actually set out with the intention to plagiarize. Most are either misinformed or just uninformed. As educators, it is our responsibility to teach them what plagiarism is and how to avoid it. It should be a lesson that is taught early and often. 

First and most importantly, students should be taught why we don't want them to plagiarize, and we should instill them with the confidence to use their own words. As an elementary teacher, I think a lot of students aren't confident in their voices and ideas. It was so hard to make 5th graders understand that I truly wanted to hear their thoughts and not someone else's. The majority felt their reports should sound and look exactly like the reference materials they had used. A few students finally did accept that I wasn't expecting them to rewrite the encyclopedia, and I got some really good writing out of those students. 

As for the "why," I think students could very simply be taught why we don't want them to plagiarize through a creative and meaningful lesson. I have heard students say on many occasions, "Hey! That's not fair!" They may not understand the concept of plagiarism fully and completely, but they certainly understand the concept of fairness. An effective way to teach this lesson is by having the students create something, but ask them not to put their names on it. Next, add the name of another classmate to their work and have it on display upon their return to class. I'm sure that will get immediate feedback and start a great discussion about plagiarism! 


  1. Hello Chea,
    What a well written post! I also believe that most students do not intend on committing plagiarism. I am new to teaching;however, I think it is a good idea to start teaching students about plagiarism at an early age (while they are still in elementary school). I loved your plagiarism activity and I am strongly considering using it when I begin to teach next year! Another way you could help students identify plagiarism is through the use of "bell-ringers". You could write an "original sentence" and underneath it write a "student sentence" and have the class identify if the student plagiarized.

  2. I love your "bell-ringer" idea! What a great way to continue the learning process after getting their little minds engaged with the name swapping activity that I suggested! We should collaboratively teach that lesson someday! :)

  3. Well written. Thoughtful. Did you read the material I provided. There is no indication that you did.

    1. Yes, I did read the material you provided, and I found it interesting and disappointing at the same time. It boggles me that students can get all the way to the college level and not have a concrete understanding of plagiarism in its simplest terms. No offense to the high school teachers... But what are they teaching in high school these days? I'm not placing blame on them because the knowledge of plagiarism and how to avoid it should be introduced in the primary grades and built upon in the subsequent years. It's just hard for me to understand how a person gets all the way to the college level without this basic understanding of plagiarism. Who dropped the ball?