It’s usually quite easy to recognise plagiarised work. Scansion, vocabulary, grammar; they all point to a more mature person, even if you’re not familiar with the pupil in question’s work. And then of course, they have to rewrite and there’s a whole lot of time wasted.

So how do we encourage pupils to avoid plagiarism in the first place?

Make sure they actually do the work?
The pupil took a long time to select a topic and failed to find any information once he had. Instead he was happily being distracted by, and distracting, those sitting around him. So we moved his seat, made sure he had a suitable book and confirmed that he knew exactly what to do. Sadly by now he was far behind.

When his first two paragraphs were handed in, they were obviously plagiarised. In fact they were identical with the book, with the sole nod to originality swapping two paragraphs around (which did make me laugh actually – cheek!)

In one sense, plagiarism was an obvious choice. The pupil had not used the time given and when asked to type up a first draft, he quickly bunged together the only stuff he had. He admitted later that he had risked it in the hope that it wouldn’t be spotted rather then not handing in anything.

So how do we encourage pupils like him to avoid plagiarism?

Make sure they understand EXACTLY what plagiarism is?
Different class, and we explain in minute detail what plagiarism is and demonstrate how to avoid it. We have warned the pupils to within an inch of their retractable pencils that plagiarism will not be tolerated, and will in fact mean redoing their project from scratch. And still, three pupils hand in final work that is clearly not their own.

Before the teacher talks to the pupils, I identify the sources of the originals, and provide copies. One pupil has taken a table of information from one website and added in an additional column of information from a second website. She claims that this makes it ‘all her own work’ (although later admits it was actually all her dad’s own work. Maybe we spoke to the wrong class).

We have since adapted the plagiarism talk to include the mix-and-match method. Obviously our ‘minute detail’ wasn’t quite precise enough.

So how do we encourage pupils like them to avoid plagiarism?

Also make sure the staff get the story right first?
A 3rd year pupil was typing up her final draft. Reading over her shoulder, specific phrases jumped out at me, totally out of place. In fact the whole piece felt halting and hesitant. When the issue was raised, she got irritated; she had actually used the thesaurus to choose ‘better words’ and was mightily offended that I had believed her work plagiarised after she had ‘worked so hard’.

I saw the original later, and it was clearly superior. The language wasn’t as highfalutin, but it was hers and it flowed better. Unfortunately, not everyone accepts that plain language is preferable to multisyllabic nonsense. Sadly she wasn’t for listening any further and handed her work in as it was; partly because I had insulted her work, and partly because she had genuinely worked hard to improve it in the way she knew best, and here was someone else telling her it still wasn’t good enough.

So how do we encourage pupils to avoid plagiarism?

Teaching pupils how to take notes is difficult but not impossible, with practice.

Teaching pupils how to read something and rephrase it so that only the sense remains is more difficult, but not impossible, with practice.

Teaching pupils how to do this repeatedly until they have enough to arrange all of their notes into a whole new creation, within a strictly limited time frame, with little chance for practice, is frankly, impossible. They need to practice, and get it wrong, and make mistakes and learn from them. Just like any other skill.