How to Deal With Plagiarism in Your English Classroom

How to Deal With Plagiarism in Your English Classroom

Most English teachers have dealt with plagiarism in the classroom, often many times. Perhaps a student copies a paper directly from the Internet, uses portions of another student’s paper, or turns in an essay peppered with vocabulary words they can’t define when asked.

Whatever form it takes, plagiarism is a tricky and frustrating issue to handle. It’s unethical and illegal—and students who plagiarize aren’t learning.

If you take a proactive approach to plagiarism by setting and consistently enforcing a firm policy, you should see less plagiarism and more learning. Get started by following the steps below!

Teaching Students About Plagiarism

Plagiarism isn’t always intentional. As teachers, we assume that students understand plagiarism but they often haven’t been taught what the word actually means.

Explain to your students that plagiarism is stealing someone else’s words or ideas and pretending they’re your own. Show them examples of plagiarism. Tell them even if they paraphrase someone else’s work, they should still cite it. Would they have known the information or thought of the idea before reading that specific book or website? If not, they need to give credit to the source.

Also, talk to your students about why plagiarism is wrong and explain that it’s a serious offense. Add that you can’t help students improve their writing if they turn in someone else’s work. You want to read their words and hear their ideas.

Set a Firm Plagiarism Policy

Now that all students understand what plagiarism is and why it’s wrong, set a firm policy. Most experts recommend a zero-tolerance policy for plagiarism. If students plagiarize, they receive a zero on the assignment and won’t get a chance to redo it.

This may sound extreme, but a firm policy is the best way to indicate to students that plagiarism is serious and unacceptable.

It’s a good idea to have documentation from both students and parents that they understand and acknowledge your policy. One way to do this is to include a section about plagiarism in the syllabus that students and parents sign at the beginning of the year.

Keep this documentation on file. If a student does plagiarize a paper and receive a zero later, this is a good defense against excuses like, “I didn’t know!” or, “That’s not fair!” You can also show parents who question your policy that both the parent and student have already acknowledged it.

Teach Necessary Writing and Thinking Skills

Another reason some students plagiarize is that they don’t know how to properly summarize, paraphrase, or cite information.

Practice these skills with your students and point them to resources that can help them correctly cite sources. Continue to talk to your students about why and when citation is necessary. Discuss the difference between quoting and paraphrasing, and make sure students understand when quotation marks are required.

Model paraphrasing, summarizing, and citing for your students. Give them a variety of individual, partner, and group practice opportunities to ensure full mastery.

If you know that you’ve spent time on these skills with your students there won’t be any excuses if plagiarism does occur.

Provide Time and Resources

Plagiarism is often the result of laziness, but sometimes students plagiarize because they don’t understand the assignment, didn’t receive enough time to work on it, or put the assignment off until the last minute. There are a few ways you can address these potential issues.

First, give students at least one-week notice on any major essay or writing assignment. As much as possible, provide time for students to work on the assignment in class. Circulate so you can observe what students are doing and answer any questions that arise.

Another option is to utilize staggered deadlines. Have a deadline for students to submit a topic and/or thesis, a deadline for research and sources, a deadline for an outline, then for a rough draft, and so on. This helps ensure that students aren’t procrastinating the assignment, reducing the likelihood of desperate last-minute plagiarism.

Additionally, give students helpful resources. Discuss the assignment in-depth, leaving students with time to ask questions. Provide examples and models, and check in with students throughout the research and/or writing process. You can also give students a rubric that clearly outlines your expectations.

When students have plentiful time and resources, they’re less likely to turn to plagiarism.

Enforce Your Policy

Once you’ve taken these proactive steps, all that’s left to do is enforce the plagiarism policy you’ve implemented.

If students still plagiarize despite the steps you’ve taken, you must show that you’re serious about plagiarism by consistently giving plagiarized papers a zero. Don’t give students a chance to redo the assignment or problems with plagiarism will continue.

Have Follow-Up Discussions

When you give a student a zero, arrange a time to talk to the student one-on-one. Keep in mind that students are likely to deny plagiarism at first, so come prepared with a print-out of any duplicate content you’ve found.

Ask the student why he or she plagiarized the paper. Remind them of your previous discussion about plagiarism and your policy. If the student tries to argue or protest, you can show the document he or she previously signed acknowledging your policy. Explain that in the future, you hope to see the students’ original work.

If you teach K-12, you’ll also need to contact the students’ parent or guardian. Talk to the parent or guardian about what you’ve done in an effort to prevent plagiarism, including giving students a week to work on the paper, providing examples, etc. Remind the parent of your policy, and explain that you’re concerned their child won’t learn to write well if this behavior is permitted.

In most cases, parents will support consequences for their child and will understand why their child has received a zero. If not, you can send them a copy of your signed policy. It’s also a good idea to discuss your zero-tolerance policy with an administrator beforehand so that you have support in the event that a parent challenges your decision.

Standing firm on your policy is crucial if you want students to take it seriously and stop plagiarizing.

Plagiarism Recap

To address plagiarism begin by taking proactive steps. Teach students about plagiarism and skills such as paraphrasing, summarizing, and citing. Set a firm, zero-tolerance policy and provide students with plentiful time and resources when you assign essays or research projects.

Taking these steps will cut down on plagiarism and negate the excuses that students typically use for plagiarizing.

However, if students still plagiarize, be prepared to consistently enforce your zero-tolerance policy. It’s helpful if you have documentation that students and parents have agreed to your policy, evidence of plagiarism, and the support of an administrator.

Students will learn that plagiarism is a serious offense that won’t be tolerated in your classroom. As a result, students will submit original work, getting the practice and feedback they need to develop as writers.


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