What's the saying? Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. That may well be, but for students, copying without giving credit to the author is plagiarism.
Why do students plagiarize? With today’s technology, anything can be found on the internet with a few key strokes. No more using a card catalog,
pulling dozens of books to find a sentence here, or a sentence there. Now, a student can find entire articles, even complete term papers, posted online. What took hours of research in the past now takes a mere few minutes. Some students don’t even bother to reword the article, choosing instead to cut and paste and be done. Of course, knowing our students, we recognize work that is not theirs. Asking a student to define a word in the article and he cannot is a sure clue.
There are many programs that are used in high schools such as “turn it in,” ”plagtracker,” and “plagiarism detect” and yet the student still turns in work as his own. We can attribute this trend in native English speakers as laziness, wanting to appear smarter than actuality, and/or the pursuit of a good grade, but what about the non-native-English speaker?
Why do ESOL students so frequently plagiarize? Often, they have no idea that they have done anything wrong. Unless it is thoroughly explained, students do not equate this action with cheating. In some cultures, copying someone else’s work is considered a sign of honoring the individual. Recognize this practice and then explain that within this culture where they currently live, doing so with writing is not acceptable. The first step to preventing plagiarism is to explain and demonstrate what constitutes the action.
Most of the time, the ESOL student does not possess the vocabulary to express his thoughts, so he copies a passage that expresses his idea better than the student can. Providing necessary vocabulary and using frames will greatly help the student. Put examples of how a response can be worded and reworded to help the ESOL student. Having discussions about the subject is also very helpful. Write the thoughts on the board that the students have expressed. Seeing their words helps with vocabulary and spelling.
Working in small groups is a safe alternative for students to express thoughts without feeling inadequate.
As students discuss possible wording, hand each group a small paragraph and ask them to list the important words in each paragraph. Practicing taking a paragraph apart and inserting their own words gives students the tools needed to paraphrase. Helping students build their own sentences and then paragraphs gives students a sense of accomplishment which will instill confidence to keep trying these methods. This will help them avoid plagiarism in the future.
Have you had issues with plagiarism in your classroom? How do you deal with it?
Lindell Long teaches ESOL at Clover Middle and High Schools in Clover, South Carolina, a position she’s held for the last 18 years. She’s married with 4 children and so many pets her family fears she’ll bring home a stray yak one day.