Stop Low-Level Plagiarism!


Welcome to the fourth in the weekly series of top-IT-tips, officially the world’s most sarcastic effort to get everyone using technology to enhance teaching and learning.

This week I’m tackling something deep seated in our culture.

Stop Low-Level Plagiarism!

It’s a common problem today that students genuinely think that ‘doing some research’ involves a quick google search and then pasting the contents of a wikipedia page into a PowerPoint. If that’s homework then you probably have enjoyed reading the same copy and pasted article multiple times, but this low barrier to entry in the world of plagiarism leads to students going on insane binges of copy-pasting that ends up in everything from A-Level essays to work submitted as part of government dossiers.
Students have a major problem with low level plagiarism, and this leads to a poor attitude to the seriousness of the issue that is becoming more and more of a concern the further they get through school. In fact, stopping plagiarism in Universities is big business, with a hugely expensive software solution called Turnitin being by far the industry standard. So, if they’re working so hard to identify students who plagiarise work then shouldn’t we be doing more to change the attitude to it’s younger brother – simple copy-and-pasting – in our own classrooms?
How can we get the students used to not plagiarising any of their work, and why would we want to?


Letting the students get away with doing very little work when completing researching or ‘writing a report on’ type exercises; and not taking the time to identify when work is being simply copy-and-pasted off the internet in any form. Students start to get a little lazy with this and eventually you find that you’re telling a year 10 off for doing the exact same thing in their GCSE coursework.

What we’re really doing is reinforcing the idea that homework is quick, easy and requires very little engagement of cognition on the part of the student – and then they really do have a valid argument when they ask us, “What’s the point, Sir?”


I’ve set some homework for Year 7 to go off and research ‘Operating Systems’ and to come back with at least a page of research about that topic that we can use next lesson.

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Well, students did do that. They all did a quick Google search and copied and pasted the information from the wikipedia page entry, so when they turned up in the lesson they had nothing different to talk about, more than that; it turns out none of them have actually read past the first line… frankly this was a waste of time! I mean look, they haven’t even had the decency to remove the links from the text. 🙁


  • No one has actually done any learning, or anything other than mechanically type some stuff in. Really, all they’ve done is the modern equivalent of finding a book, photocopying a page and handing it in
  • If all your students are using the same resource to work from then they are going to have a very one sided view of the topic at hand
  • Wikipedia is not exactly a definitive resource, unless you really want to find out what happened in Breaking Bad S04e08 in tremendous detail, because it can be updated by anyone, no expertise required
  • Without the cognitive process of even the olden days methodology of ‘copying from a book’ then the information has not even entered the students brains one! They will really have no recollection of this in a days time
  • It breeds a culture that students just have to stick their question into google and not analyse the result, this means that students take this attitude with them throughout KS3, into GCSE work and beyond.
  • The content is at too high a level for the student, and chances are if you select a random word on the page they will not be able to define it
  • High level thinking skills are certainly not being utilised, let’s be honest, neither are lower order thinking skills. I’m not even sure typing the exact question and copying and pasting the first page result into a word document counts as conscious thought. We could probably train cats to do that.
  • Students don’t see plagiarism as a big deal, they build bad habits and end up writing entire essays without really engaging with the topic
  • Students get frustrated when future work requires them to engage their brain or use more than a few seconds of their personal time
  • Students have no concept that merely copy and pasting someone else’s words, or changing a few here and there, doesn’t actually count as their work


Instead of setting a task that is just called ‘research’, I’d be better placed to explain what I mean by this and what I expect. Finding information, and copying and pasting it is acceptable as long as it’s referenced and they have summarised it in their own words afterwards. Why not set the primary task being to evaluate how trustworthy or accurate the source they have found is and justify that? Let’s steal the idea of primary and secondary sources from our friends in the History department and get the students to really think about where they’re getting things from and what value they’re adding to them.

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I’d also take this work in electronically. Get them to email it to you, use Navigator or use Edmodo – it’s up to you – but the point of this is that I’m going to copy and paste the entire thing into a google search and see if it matches anything already out there – if it does google very kindle emboldens all the text it matches. This is the poor-man’s-turnitin but it works, and if the student has copied and pasted more than about a third of it then they’ll get it back with a big fat zero on it, asking them to do it again.
The key to this is being more prescriptive with the learning you want to take place with the task, explaining clearly your expectations for a student in evidencing it, and demonstrating they you can identify when they’ve tried to take the shortcut to success.
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  • Why not set this as one of your first homeworks in September, then take the class apart for their plagiarism and make a huge deal of it. Better yet – catch them early and do it on the first lesson in Y7. Students will learn to identify low level plagiarism with not getting the work completed to the appropriate standard and stop doing it.
  • You only really need to make a big deal of this on the first occasion, an entire class shamed through the simple art of the ‘copy and paste into google’ technique shows them how easy it is for you to be able to identify any copied work. You may need to follow this up on occasion but once they know that you’re no fool then they’ll step into line
  • Really make sure students are aware that the work should take them time, and that the point of the exercise is to see what they can learn from it, not just who can do the best google search
  • Do the brilliant embarrassing thing of asking student to define some of the complex, eight-syllable words they’ve undoubtedly submitted to you
  • Have sanctions in place for plagiarism, sanctions that you’re using and effectively demonstrating to the students that you care about it and will not tolerate it
  • Make sure you do this in KS3, sure it might not be externally assessed but this is where we are building the skills for their successful future education
  • Call it plagiarism, call it cheating, make the language you use more impactful when decrying it than calling it ‘copy and paste’, ‘cause that sounds cosy and nice
  • Try a real software solution to this, packages like viper (, The Plagiarism checker ( and more are completely free to use. They show you statistics for how much is copied and even show you the links to the original works they were copied from, this is really nice for presenting to students or even parents!
  • Get the students to use this software too, if they can see what they need to do to transform a work into their own then they are developing the analysis and synthesis skills they need to succeed
  • Get parents involved in persistent offenders, if we’re spotting this in subjects as varying as drama and mathematics then we can see patterns and read more into a students’ attitude to work than we could otherwise
  • I used to do something a little naught many moons ago, and when I set a research task on something like ‘Operating Systems’ I’d sneak into wikipedia after the lesson ended and put something random in the article for the topic, like ‘Any student with this line in their work will do an after school detention with me’, lo and behold most students ended up with that copied into their homework! The look on a students face when I returned the work with that one sentence highlighted was amazing! It’s very difficult to do nowadays though as the wikipedia guys are changing it back and banning you in a few minutes. Sad times for sarcastic teachers.


Make an effort to seek out and identify this poor practice and the students will engage more in your lessons and homework, because once they realise that you’re not just wasting them time in setting them donkey work tasks, but rather that you’re endeavouring to improve and extend their understanding, they’ll be much more on your side. You’re also going to benefit from the students realising what a big problem plagiarism is and wipe it out whilst it’s still at a low level and not going to mean a major lot of rewriting for an externally assessed piece.
More than this, thought, make it obvious that as a teacher you too live in the 21st century and Google is more your friend than it is theirs!

Otherwise you’re doing IT wrong, and if you are, maybe you need my book…

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