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Evaluate: Is It Plagiarism?


Through this activity students will learn how to evaluate a piece of writing to determine whether or not it is plagiarized. This important skill will help them to avoid the ethical violations and disciplinary repercussions associated with turning in plagiarized writing, and will help them to determine whether text that they read is authentic and original.


Catherine Ullman-Shade

Learning Strategies 

  • Connecting
  • Inferring
  • Metacognition
  • Questioning
Close Reading, Writing Informational Text

Lesson Plan Stages 

  • Investigation

Content Areas 

  • ELA
  • Math
  • Science
  • Social Studies

Learning Strands 

  • Writing

Common Core Instructional Shifts 

  • Balancing Informative and Literary Texts
  • Writing from Sources


Identify a recent rough draft of nonfiction writing that each student has produced Consider creating a handout or other display that includes the criteria of plagiarism

Activity Steps 
  1. Teacher leads class in a discussion of what plagiarism is.

    Consider discussing questions such as: · How can you tell whom an idea belongs to? Why does it matter? · When might it be unclear whether or not something is plagiarized? · What does it mean to paraphrase? How different from the original text does a paraphrase need to be? · What type of information needs to be cited? What doesn’t need to be cited? How can you tell if something is common knowledge? · Does it count as plagiarism if someone doesn’t mean to plagiarize? Does intent matter? · How much responsibility does a writer have to learn about what constitutes plagiarism?

  2. Teacher asks students what sorts of information needs to be cited. Teacher makes and displays a common list.

    This list should include, at least: · Words or ideas from any text (books, articles, magazines, websites, letters, advertisements, TV shows, or movies) · Words or information obtained from an interview or other communication with a person · Pictures, diagrams, or graphs that you did not create yourself · Any information or resources available online

  3. Teacher asks students to summarize in one sentence what information needs to be cited. Teacher writes this sentence over the list generated in the last step.

    This summary should be something like: “We need to cite words, ideas, images, or creative products that come from somewhere outside of us.”

  4. Teacher asks students what information does not need to be cited. Teacher makes and displays a common list.

    · This list should include items such as: · A writer’s own thoughts or ideas · A description of the writer’s own experiences · A description of results that the writer obtained through independent research · Common knowledge or generally accepted facts

  5. Teacher asks students to generate a sentence summarizing what information does not need to be cited. Teacher writes and displays this summary above the list of things not cited.

    · This summary should be something like: “We do not need to cite ideas and information that come only from ourselves or is considered common knowledge.”You could also consider consolidating the information generated from this activity so far in a T-chart, which you could then distribute to students as a resource.

  6. Students take out a first draft of a piece of informational text and select a two-page excerpt. Using three colors of highlighters, students code every word and image in the text into three categories: 1. My own ideas, experiences, or findings 2. Someon

    · Circulate as students are working and talk with them about their categorization choices. Ask them to justify their decisions with evidence.

  7. Students find an appropriate citation for each piece of information in category 2. They record these citations in the appropriate place for the genre (endnotes or footnotes, plus in-text citations).

    · Since students will have already written a draft of their informational writing, they should have completed the research stage of the writing process, and should have a selection of vetted sources (books, articles, primary sources, or websites). They need to identify the source of each piece of information from this set. · · Many students find it helpful to organize citations using one of many online programs. However, they need to understand that footnotes do not suffice: they need to indicate which pieces of information come from which source.

  8. Students verify that each piece of common knowledge is genuinely common knowledge by checking if it passes the “five source test.” They find and record five reputable sources that mention each piece of knowledge without citation. Any piece of informati

    · Depending on background knowledge, students may need prior instruction in what counts as a “reputable source” for determining if something is common knowledge. You should model this step for any students who are confused. Students should use their previously identified sources, and may also need to do additional research in books or online to complete this step. They are likely to find that many pieces of supposedly common knowledge actually should be cited.

  9. Students reflect on their learning in today’s activity either in writing or in discussion.

    · Students should respond to questions such as: · How can you use today’s activity to avoid plagiarism in the future? · How can you use today’s activity to evaluate the validity of another document? · How is the experience of writing a non-plagiarized document different from the experience of writing a document that is partially plagiarized?

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