Plagiarism = The Toxic Mold of High School

About eight years ago, I stopped giving out-of-class writing assignments and, instead, decided to have all major papers written in class. I told my students this was because I wanted to prepare them for the high-stakes timed essays of the AP, EAP, and SAT exams. This, however, was only a half-truth. My larger motivation was that I’d grown weary of the stress and lost prep periods dealing with case-after-case of plagiarism.

Anyone who’s been teaching longer than a minute knows the gut churn of I know this kid didn’t write this line/paragraph/paper. Suddenly, my role as educator would shift to investigator, scouring the web to find the true author of a questionable passage. Usually, the evidence was ridiculously obvious; other times, it was harder to find, leaving me to conclude that an overly involved parent or writing tutor must’ve crossed the line between “helping” and “doing.”  Either way, the damage from these plagiarism cases was severe – not only to the student’s grade, but also to our relationship.

Fighting those plagiarism battles was exhausting, so one year I just stopped. I altered most essay assignments to fit within an hour and, when a task would take more than one class period, I built homemade essay packets that I collected at the end of each period and returned at the beginning of the next day’s class. (Actually, my T.A.s built the essay booklets, four pages of binder paper with a special stamp in the corner of each sheet to prevent students from slipping pre-written pages into the essay stack. Yeah, my kids can be relentless. More evidence of this? I once found a sticky note tucked inside a novel with an entire intro. paragraph printed on it in 2 pt. font; the kid had forgotten that I keep a record of book checkout numbers. Oopsies.)


Those little essay booklets worked and it’s been years since I’ve had to make a crunchy phone call home to an embarrassed (or, worse, defensive) parent. Over time, I’ve even added back the occasional take-home assignment as I folded more research-based argument writing into my curriculum, but I’m always careful to prep my kids with a highly visual demo of, a well-known plagiarism scrubber. (Our librarian pays the site’s pricey annual subscription; this tech has become a necessity for both our English and history departments.) Students’ eyes bulge when I show them the red-yellow-green plagiarism alerts, and this behind-the-scenes peek at my technology has proven to be good preventative medicine.

PlagiarismGameAlso, I turned my standard plagiarism lecture into a game in the hopes that I can trick students into thinking we’re having fun when I’m really just hammering home all of the ways they can get themselves into academic trouble. The game-based plagiarism materials are available here, if you want to grab those slides.

Strategic assignments, stamped essay packets, and lots of examples of what not to do have helped mitigate the scourge of plagiarism in my classroom. Are there other tricks you’ve used to help keep kids honest? Share your ideas in the comments section below.

Teach on, everyone!


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Christopher Miller
Christopher Miller
7 years ago

I can spot plagiarism pretty easily (who can’t?). If it’s the parent who is writing, there is not much I can do other than let the parent know how happy I am that the student’s writing has shot up from 5th-grade to college level under my instruction. And that I’ll be using their child’s writing as a model for the struggling students in the class. (The “help” usually stops after that.)

Mostly, it’s from the Internet. I use Grammarly to get a URL of lifted material. Then I comment in Docs that the material is from, and that it wasn’t cited properly. Then I give the assignment an “Incomplete,” which gives the student the chance to actually write it.

Of course, this is after many lessons on plagiarism and citation and works cited. So they know how to do it right.

Laura Randazzo
7 years ago

Oh yeah, Chris. One of my favorite (?) phone calls was with a mom who needed to let me know that she’s a writing instructor at one of our nearby colleges and she was adamant that the essay she…oops…her daughter wrote was worth more than the “D” it earned. Nevermind that the paper was completely missing all of the formatting rules I’d spent the last three weeks teaching.

I really like your flattery approach. If I ever have one of these again, perhaps I’ll suggest that the amazingly improved student might want to volunteer as a writing tutor for kids in the next younger grade. Great thinking!

7 years ago

Laura, I love this simple idea. Making it hand-written sure helps in being able to spot parents’ work, too. I’ll definitely be using it going forward! Keep your ideas coming!

My favorite thing about this, though, is keeping those spiral notebook ratty ends out of my homework inbox! Haha! Thanks!

Laura Randazzo
7 years ago

Yes, KellnerEducation, I hate the ruffle-fringe, too. I just clean-slice those suckers off with a pair of scissors. Done. 🙂

6 years ago

Hi, Laura!

I’d like to ask, how do you prevent plagiarism when you have to have students print out their papers?

When (or for what kinds of papers) do you have students print out papers?

Do you have your students follow the MLA heading, header and citation formats for handwritten in-class essays?

And are you able to read students’ messy handwriting? I try to avoid in-class essays because I find it daunting to read messy handwriting.

Thank you!

Laura Randazzo
6 years ago
Reply to  eng10santos

Hey, Eng10Santos! The only papers my kids print are for research-based writing, such as our argument essays. Everything else is done in class on those binder paper packets. For the argument essays, my kids turn in a paper copy to me AND submit them electronically to, a subscription-based plagiarism scrubber. gives me detailed reports showing exactly what portions are suspect and where the source material is located. For the handwritten essays, those are either narrative (no source citations needed) or lit. analysis, which are limited to no more than two sources which are just books from my class cabinet.

For formatting, yes, I do have students follow the MLA rules, even on their handwritten papers. And, yes, sometimes students’ handwriting in beyond awful. In those cases, I make students rewrite their papers more legibly during our next SSR session or type their essay on my teacher computer. I also require final drafts in dark ink and remind students to skip every other line, two moves that help give my old eyes a break.

Happy to help! 🙂

Robert Burnham
6 years ago

Hi, Laura! I was just reading your conversation here with Eng10Santos. For essays that are research-based (the ones you have students print out), do you still have them handwrite their rough drafts? Do you think it is more effective for students to handwrite their rough drafts than to type them or not?

Laura Randazzo
6 years ago
Reply to  Robert Burnham

Hey, Robert! No, for papers that’ll be submitted to, the entire process is usually done on the computer. Most of my students prefer to type than write long-hand, so we just work in the computer lab for the argument essay writing time. I wouldn’t stop a student from handwriting a rough draft, but none of my kids have ever asked to do that.

5 years ago

Preach! Plagiarism is such a pain. I currently manage a class of 80 kids at a time (doing PBL) and as such it is incredibly hard to properly check every single essay and such. Usually what I do is a quick scan of the essay for words that I KNOW my kids don’t know, and ask them to explain it to me. If they can, I go back to checking and grading, if not I hand it back as an incomplete with a warning. After that, they usually do it themselves to make sure they can defend their work. Thanks for the ideas!

Laura Randazzo
5 years ago

Oh yes, guayabaslessons. I was just reading a project where a freshman used the word, “promulgated.” Okay…

4 years ago

Laura, how do you handle plagiarism on other types of assignments? I purchased your ELA 9-10 curriculum and, for example, we watched the Poe biography yesterday. I heard from another teacher that students were copying some of their friends’ responses in another class. Do you enter grades for such assignments? How might you handle that?

Laura Randazzo
4 years ago
Reply to  Julie

I hear you, Julie. “Sharing” of answers is a real problem in my world, too. To side-step this as best as I can, almost all of those short answer question-type assignments are done in class, a tech-free zone. If there’s something I need to send home, I often turn it into an optional reinforcement activity, meaning it will help students on a future assessment but it won’t be collected for points. Hope this helps. We’re all in this same boat, I’m afraid.

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