Monday, November 11, 2013

Three Steps to Avoid Plagiarism in Your Homeschool

It is SO easy these days to purposefully and accidentally plagiarize others' words.  Back when I was a kid {wow, never thought I'd actually use that phrase!}, I didn't have access to so many resources and certainly did not have the temptation of cut-and-paste from a website to my paper.

Here's my tips for discussing this topic with your students.  I suggest you begin this discussion with your students as soon as they begin to use source material in writing assignments (Luke, a 5th grader, will be having this talk as he is summarizing references for an assignment in his Classical Conversations' IEW writing assignments for the next few weeks).

correctly spelled plagiarism

1.  Define.

Don't assume your student knows what plagiarism is.  Define it, talk about it, find examples of it.

The Purdue University OWL {Online Writing Lab} has a great article by contributors Karl Stolley, Allen Brizee, Joshua M. Paiz about an apparent bind we put students in when we ask them to write -- be unique but quote others to support your point.  Interesting to consider in light of King Solomon's words, "there is nothing new under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 1:9)  Indeed, sometimes (such as when a deadline is looming) it does appear that nothing different can be said than what has already been said a gazillion times by other high schoolers and scholars about typical read list books. This leads to a temptation to adopt someone else words as your own.

In their article, the authors define plagarism as: ".... the uncredited use (both intentional and unintentional) of somebody else's words or ideas." But it's not really that simple. defines ten (yes, TEN) ways people plagiarize in our high tech world.  Honestly, I never realized there were so many different kinds of ways people plagiarize Worth looking at and discussing.

Here's another site:'s Plagarism 101

2.  Practice.

Practice taking notes.  Practice outlining.  Practice paraphrasing.  Practice quoting sources.

Basicially, practice not plagiarizing.

According to Susan Wise Bauer's suggestions, teaching outlining begins in the dialectic stage -- around 5th grade (from her book The Well Trained Mind).  Outlining is a one way of taking notes in a text.  I'm not one to use a LOT of rigid outlining when I am reading and taking notes, but it is a good way to begin with a student.  A simple google search can lead you to a variety of outlining strategies from law schools, colleges and other resources aimed at high school students.

To practice paraphrasing, read a paragraph with your student.  Close the text and ask him/her to retell the main point(s).  I've done this before with my sons as narration exercises (easy to do with young elementary students) where I do the transcribing.  I've done this with older students where we read a section of text paragraph-by-paragraph and take notes on a white board.  Remember, even in paraphrasing you are going to need to cite your source, so always write down where you are taking your paraphrase as well as the page number.

Just like a paraphrase, when you quote a source, you will need to know exactly where you are taking the text from. This is called citing a source. Check either the MLA (Modern Language Association) or APA (American Psychological Association) for the correct format for longer quotations -- this often requires extra indentation to follow the correct style.  By the way, MLA style conventions are usually used in humanties subjects, whereas APA is usually used in the sciences.  Here are some website:

MLA:  Purdue's OWL and Modern Language Association
APA:  American Psychological Association

There are some great sites out there that help you aggregate your online and print material sources to compile bibliographies (for APA style) or Works Cited pages (for MLA) - is one of them, but only MLA style is free. Another is  Once these citation generators gather all the title/ author/ publisher data and place it in order, you can cut and paste into your document.  Oh, to have had this when writing my Masters thesis!

3.  Check.

Google is an amazing tool.  You can type in your students sentences and check to see if they copied their text word-for-word from an online source.  I also plan on showing Ben (and eventually his brothers) that this is a helpful step to keep them honest -- and out of academic trouble. This will not work so well with books and other printed material, but it should work for most online sources. \

Several of the sites I mentioned offer fee-based services to check for plagarism (both intentional and accidental).  Some were subscriptions others were per-paper fees -- perhaps a good idea for a  major project.  But at this point, I'm sticking with free services.


Let me leave you with this story.  When Ben was in late elementary school/ middle school, we were using a writing program (Institute for Excellence in Writing) that required him to read passages and write no more than 3 word notes per sentence.  Next, the outline was used to re-write the story in his own words.  This technique is similar to what Benjamin Franklin describes as a way in which he taught himself to write. Ben has a problem though:  he has a really really good memory for what he reads.  I had to learn to give him time between his note-taking outlines and drafting so that he could forget the exact sentences.  I used this as an opportunity to introduce the concept of plagarism, but I have to admit that I need to carry this on as an ongoing discussion about academic -- and personal -- integrity.


The Zookeeper said...

Very true, we have to stay on our toes this day and age because its so easy to misuse!

a49erfangirl said...

This is very true. I use to not really like the APA Style of giving credit. The MLA is much easier. There use to be a website that you could run your whole paper through to check for plagerism.

Annette said...

good post.
Watching out for plagarism is important.

annette @ a net in time

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