6 Steps to Avoiding Plagiarism in High School

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Grading essays takes work. Nothing is more irritating than finding plagiarism in final drafts. You taught the material. You were thorough and clear. You stated your expectations. How could your students be so lazy...or were they? Over the years, I've learned that avoiding plagiarism is a difficult concept for teenagers to grasp. What seems like a black and white idea to adults can be more of a gray fuzzy area for students. Often times, their errors are not intentional.

The way I approach plagiarism instruction varies depending on students' writing knowledge. Differentiating your instruction can help to alleviate the stress and time involved with grading plagiarized essays. Plagiarism should have a penalty, but before teachers enforce consequences, we need to know we've made every effort to lead students to success.


1. Begin your research unit with direct instruction.

Make sure students can define and identify plagiarism, know that it's more than copy and paste, and understand that it has consequences in real life - not just in school. I begin every research unit with a plagiarism mini unit. During this week, I share real-world plagiarism examples, introduce students to the basic ways they can avoid plagiarism, and help them grasp the concept via different exercises and learning opportunities. Students need to hear the information verbally, to see examples, to practice with exercises and games, and to correct common mistakes.

2. Lead students through practice exercises.

The practice exercises should cover paraphrasing, summarizing, and directly quoting sources. For example, I give my students practice scenarios like these:

You are writing an informative research paper about dolphins. While researching, you come across the following interesting fact. It is worded very well, and it also includes technical jargon. You are not sure how to put it in your own words, and it is not very long, so you choose to directly quote it.

  • Passage – Echolocation is a term for the precise system wherein dolphins use sonar, or sound waves, to detect objects in the darkness of their underwater world.
  • Source – ScholasticScope magazine
  • Title of Article – “Hunted for Fun, Left to Die”
  • Author – Lauren Tarshis
  • Page # – 7
  • Date – February 11, 2013

We work through several examples together, and then I have them pair up to practice with a partner. We always discuss the answers as a class because errors provide valuable teachable moments for all. 

3. Use model essays.

Each time I assign an essay, I give students examples of that type of paper. One of the samples is always missing important citations, quotation marks, or a Works Cited page. It's always an eye opener for them after they read a well-written essay and I ask, "What grade do you think this paper is worth?" Almost always, they reply that it should be an A. When I tell them the individual would actually earn an F for omitting citations or a Works Cited page, they start to realize the implications for inattention. After that, I have many more students being diligent about trying to cite their sources correctly.

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4. Give students many opportunities to receive feedback.

When my students are in the middle of writing an essay, I'm constantly circulating the room, looking over shoulders, conferencing with them, or stalking their documents on Google Drive. While it's time-consuming in the moment, it saves me time in the long run by reducing the number of errors and issues I have to address on the final draft.

5. Complete Works Cited pages during the prewriting stage. 

Require your students to complete their Works Cited page as they find their sources. This way, they don't forget where they found the information they plug into their essay. I always tell students it's easier to delete a source they didn't cite than to find one they forgot to record.

6. Allow students to revise and edit specifically for plagiarism.

Before collecting a rough or final draft of an essay that you plan to grade, allow students to complete stoplight plagiarism stations. The benefit is that you are not parroting what you've already taught them. Station activities put students in the driver's seat. If they care, they will ask questions, revise, and edit their work so that it is better as a result of the activities. In turn, you'll spend less time marking errors unnecessarily.

These tips will help with any student...but struggling writers? They need more. Hop over to Reading and Writing Haven to read about how you can support struggling writers so that they, too, understand the concept of plagiarism.

In our digital world, it can be difficult to convince students that plagiarism is a problem. It's necessary that teachers do what we can to battle complacency and teach high school students about ethical writing practices. No one likes to have their hard work and ideas stolen. Students can understand that and begin to master the process of citing research correctly if we scaffold our instruction to meet them where they are.

Download a free direct quote practice activity to use with your students today!



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Melissa is the creator of The Reading and Writing Haven and a collaborative blogger on Teachwriting.org

An English teacher for over a decade, Melissa is an avid reader and writer, and she loves sharing ideas and collaborating with fellow educators. Melissa use her degrees in English, Curriculum & Instruction, and Reading as well as her Reading Specialist certification to ponder today’s educational issues while developing resources to help teachers, students, and parents make learning more relevant, meaningful, and engaging.

When she's not teaching, Melissa lives for drinking a good cup of coffee, loving on her family, working out, and contemplating the structure of a sentence as well as how she can lead her students to deeper reading comprehension (Melissa's true nerdy passions). 

Visit Melissa on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter for English teacher camaraderie and practical, engaging teaching ideas.


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