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!