Why Students Plagiarize and What We Should Do: Part II

This is Part II in a two-part series. For Part I click here.

Teaching Strategies to Help Students Resist Plagiarism

You can do several simple things to engage students and create a classroom environment that will encourage your students to value intellectual honesty. Here’s a list of strategies that have worked for me: perhaps they will also work for you. Not all of these will be appropriate for every teacher or every classroom, but I do hope that they inspire you to think about your own teaching practices and to try out new approaches.

  1. Reinforce the basic skills of using evidence.

    • No matter what rhetoric or handbook you choose for your classroom, that text will most likely address summary, paraphrase, quotation, and documentation. Students who understand these skills well will be less likely to plagiarize.

  2. Demonstrate the critical reading process.

    • Those of us at the college level often assume that students reach us already knowing how to read and take notes, but that is often not the case. Taking a few moments at the beginning of the first few days of class to read through an essay or speech (something short, such as Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, works well) to teach a good note-taking procedure (or several different but good procedures) will pay dividends in the long run. I’ve found that it doesn’t make sense to restrict students to only one way of note-taking (or outlining or brainstorming, for that matter): students are all wired differently.

  3. Write along with your students.

    • I've heard many objections to this concept before. But just consider this: if you run a writing workshop in which your students are writing for at least one-third of each class meeting, then you too have 15 or 20 or 30 minutes to write. Certainly, you could spend that time walking around looking over students’ shoulders, but I promise you that if you write with them in at least one class out of three and then talk with them about your process, you’ll discover how effective a teaching tool this is. One of my colleagues has been using this technique for over 30 years; I’ve observed her class many times and of all the "tricks" in her teaching bag, this one seems to work best. And, if you’re writing with students, you’ll understand more immediately what the problems with your assignment happen to be. You may then be able to make some in-progress revisions.

  4. Keep students' formal writing to the classroom.

    • Though this approach is obviously not for all teachers, I did this in my classroom several years ago, and it forced me into a full-fledged writing workshop. My students work on their formal writing assignments only in the classroom: they read, conduct research, and journal outside of class. They even play with various elements of a given assignment outside of class—multiple types of introductions or conclusions, a variety of paragraph structures, sentence exercises—but the actual writing takes place only in the classroom. This has allowed me to find out very early in the semester who needs what type of help. Before, I seldom discovered students’ systemic writing problems until the midterm (when they wrote in response to a timed prompt) because they were receiving so much outside assistance from friends in dorms, parents, etc. Now I find that students tend to develop a better sense of themselves as writers, and I’m more confident that the writing I see from them is their own.

  5. Establish a supportive relationship with your students.

    • This can be one of the most difficult tasks to accomplish. You’re automatically up against the “us versus them” phenomenon. Still, I’ve found it best to demonstrate early on that I am interested in them as individuals and use the first two or three class periods for icebreaker activities that include getting to know where they’re from, what they like to read, what they do for fun—and sharing the same information about myself. Then what we learn about each other becomes part of the classroom environment over the course of the semester: we become a community. Writing along with them also helps demonstrate that I am interested in them and their ultimate success.

  6. Be tough but fair.

    • Grading
      Since a student’s work is written on a computer, I’ve found that blind grading—using only student identification numbers, for instance—allows teachers to grade more fairly. We grade each paper on its own merit without attaching a personality to it, and we don’t match student numbers with names until after grading the papers we’ve received. This process lessens the possibility of giving a student an undeserved (either good or bad) grade.

      Whatever standards you set for your classroom should be standards you’re willing to enforce no matter how you feel about a particular student. If, for instance, your policy is that papers submitted late receive one letter grade cut, and Mr. Wonderful and Mr. Annoying both turn in their papers late, then be sure that you apply that cut fairly.

  7. Give assignments that have meaning for students.

    • If you don’t know what’s meaningful to your students, ask. Or at least give them options that fit your own comfort zone. Here’s an idea that I’ve used the past several years that works well: during the summer, I collect articles on subjects that interest me and that I wouldn’t mind reading a series of essays on. Then, during the first days of the semester, I tell students that each of them will be writing a series of essays on one of the subjects in my article collection. By the time classes begin I have at least twice as many subjects as I have students, so that students will be able to choose freely and find what interests them. They use the articles I provide as a starting point for their semester-long studies that begin with narrative essays and end with proposal arguments or editorials based on what they’ve learned along the way. I offer an “opt-out” at midterm each year; last year, of 36 students, only two chose to switch subjects, and one of them was sorry he changed.

  8. Respond promptly and substantively to student writing.

    • This is hard to do. However, we all know that students don’t improve if they don't get feedback early enough to influence their process for the next assignment. If time is short, read papers through only once and give students holistic reads; tell them what worked well, what worked less well, and add a brief note on what they can do to improve before handing in the next paper. If time is abundant, read papers carefully, mark and comment on the good and the not-so-good; be more specific about what they need to do to improve; even demonstrate the sort of writing you have in mind. (Here’s another place where your own writing may come into play: rather than revise the student’s work and take away ownership, demonstrate the techniques you suggest on your own text.) No matter what, return papers to students in time for them to read, respond to, and act on your comments.

  9. Give students an opportunity to respond to your evaluation.

    • Sometimes I simply force the issue by withholding grades:

      "In order to get your grade, you need to respond to both my oral and written comments in a paragraph addressing the work you’ve done here and setting up a plan for improvement in the next essay."

      Sometimes I give them options:

      "You've written three essays so far this semester. Which was the most fun/least fun to write? Why?"

      Whatever you do to get students to look at and to take your comments seriously will help them.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Military Academy, the Department of the Army, or the Department of Defense or U.S. Government.

Authored by

Janice Edgerson Hudley
U.S. Army