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Plagiarism & Elementary Students

by Van Thompson, studioD

Elementary students are still mastering the basics of reading and writing, making papers and homework important for helping them develop fundamental academic skills. When students cheat, however, they don't learn how to research, write or argue an opinion. According to the Educational Testing Service, cheating often begins in elementary school, which means stopping the cycle of plagiarism before it begins is key with young schoolchildren.

Scope of Plagiarism

The Educational Testing Service notes that cheating is likely to increase in elementary school because there are more opportunities and more incentives to cheat. Boys are more likely to cheat than girls. While students recognize that plagiarism is wrong by a margin of 86 percent, according to Educational Testing Service, 56 percent admit to cheating. Elementary schoolers report that, when facing challenging work, it's difficult for them to resist cheating, possibly because this age group has not fully developed impulse control.

Explaining Plagiarism

Elementary school classes are heavily focused on teaching students to read and write, and in the lower grades there may be inadequate focus on explaining the concept of an original idea. Teachers and parents both need to work to help elementary schoolers understand what plagiarism is. With very young children, explaining that it's wrong to copy someone else's work or ideas is usually sufficient. As children gain awareness and knowledge, however, they need to understand that simply rewording someone else's ideas -- particularly without giving credit -- is unacceptable. Children can benefit from seeing real-life examples of plagiarism or playing "spot the plagiarism" games.

Reasons for Plagiarizing

Some elementary schoolers plagiarize because they don't understand that it's wrong. They might, for example, re-word a Wikipedia entry for a report, thinking that re-wording is enough. But often plagiarism is the result of pressure to complete a task or insecurity about the ability to complete the task. A child who struggles with writing or reading, for example, might resort to plagiarism because he's afraid of getting a bad grade. Because elementary schoolers have less impulse control than older children, the temptation to plagiarize may be so strong that it's difficult to resist.

Plagiarism Detection

Teachers and parents can employ a variety of strategies to detect plagiarism. Free online plagiarism checkers can detect the most glaring examples, and paid services can sometimes detect more. Requiring students to submit outlines, notes and rough drafts can also cut down on plagiarism. It also ensures that students work steadily toward completing a project and that they get help early if they're struggling.

About the Author

Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.

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