Plagiarism is one of the toughest things to teach to a middle school student during a research paper or article. The words are there, right on the internet, and I can’t just copy them? No. You may not.
Here is my attempt to help students understand what they need to do in order to create their own work:
First, I want to blatantly give an example of plagiarism, so I copy and paste from Wikipedia.
High rates of gun mortality and injury are often cited as a primary impetus for gun control policies.[page needed] The question of whether gun control policies increase, decrease or have no effect on rates of gun violence turns out to be a difficult question.
Yes, this is plagiarism. You can see the citation still on there. I would never use some of those words!
Ok, good. We’re off to a good start. I then copy the first sentence and Google it to show that the exact website shows up, and that this cheating is easy to find. That, and it isn’t even creative!
So what if I change words?
High rates of gun mortality and injury are often cited as a primary impetus for gun control policies.
We’ll change that to:
High rates of gun deaths and injury are often seen as a main causes for gun control policies.
Is that OK?
Well, this is where things get a little tricky. Some students think that since we changed the words, we have avoided plagiarism. Some say that we didn’t change the format, and we’re basically saying the same thing, so yes, it would be plagiarism.
To help in this decision, it is time to turn to one of the great plagiaristic icons of our time, Vanilla Ice. We listen to the beginning of “Ice Ice Baby” to hear his version of the beloved beat.
And here is Queen’s version of the same beat in “Under Pressure”:
Was Mr. Ice plagiarizing? Another tough question for the students, but this real-world example gets them to really consider the issue. They want to know who was right and who was wrong in this lawsuit.
The best part about Vanilla is that he doesn’t sound too believable. And as it turns out, the courts say he wasn’t either. We discuss the penalties that he faced because of plagiarism as well as the penalties that students face in different situations.
So how do we avoid plagiarism?
I use the same two sentences that I copied and pasted. I read them in the document I found, and I write my version of what was said in front of the students as a model. My goal is to show the students how to take something and make it my own and say it in my own way. As writers, we need to sound consistently like ourselves.
The next step? A bibliography!