Plagiarism: What it is and how to identify it

12 Jan


Man is a thinking creature. We like evaluating ideas and sharing thoughts. That’s a good thing. The more we collaborate, the smarter we all become.

Implicit in this is that we don’t claim someone else’s ideas as our own. In fact, it’s illegal to do this. Read through this rephrasing of American copyright law:

“The law states that works of art created in the US after January 1, 1978, are automatically protected by copyright once they are fixed in a tangible medium (like the Internet). BUT a single copy may be used for scholarly research (even if that’s a 2nd grade life cycle report) or in teaching or preparation to teach a class.” –Jacqui Murray, Ask a Tech Teacher

When we claim someone else’s work as our own, be it text, artwork, movies, music, or any other form of media, it’s called plagiarism:

“[Plagiarism is the] wrongful appropriation of another author’s language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions”

The rules and laws surrounding plagiarism aren’t nearly as well-known as those that deal with, say, driving a car or illegally crossing a street. The Josephson Institute Center for Youth Ethics surveyed 43,000 high school students and found that:

  • 59% of high school students admitted cheating on a test during the last year. 34% self-reported doing it more than twice.
  • One out of three high school students admitted that they used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment.

One note: Laws addressing plagiarizing differ throughout the world. This article deals with commonly-accepted international guidelines and specific rules aligned with the laws of the United States.

Myths about using online material

Lots of adults — including teachers — think they understand the legalities of using only images, videos, audio, and other media forms. Do these sound familiar?

I can copy-paste anything posted to the Internet. Creators know that will happen and are OK with it.
Wrong. Can you grab products from a store shelf just because the clerk is busy? You need to find out what permissions the website allows you when visiting their site.

I can copy-paste anything as long as I give proper credit.
Wrong again. Yes sometimes but no other times and you better know the difference. For example, you can’t copy Nelson DeMille’s latest thriller and post it to your blog and think that’s OK because you gave him credit. If you do that, you’re infringing on his rights. You can post a small amount of his book but you better check with his publisher to see what they consider to be a “small amount”.

I searched the site and didn’t find a copyright so there isn’t one.
Wrong. If you can’t find the website’s media use policy, DON’T use it. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. The courts will not accept an argument that “you tried”. Likely places to find media use guidelines are tabs or sections labeled “Privacy”, “User terms”, “Legal stuff” or links by the picture that say “link credit”, “copyright”, “rights reserved” “terms and privacy” or anything else that is even close to those terms.

When is it plagiarizing and when isn’t it


In general terms, you must cite sources for:

  • facts not commonly known or accepted
  • exact words and/or unique phrases
  • reprints of diagrams, illustrations, charts, pictures, or other visual materials
  • statistics (because these might contradict other statistics so you want to cite the authenticity of your source)
  • opinions that support research

…and you don’t have to cite online material in these instances:

  • No one owns facts. If it’s a fact, like “Mt. Everest is 29,029 feet tall”, you can share that without giving credit to anyone.
  • Common knowledge — what most people know is in the public domain so no need to cite. This is information like the location of the Grand Canyon and how many planets are in the Solar System.
  • Artwork (writing, pictures, movies, all media) older than seventy years past the creator’s death is in the public domain (with some exceptions). You can use it without asking permission or providing credit.
  • It is generally accepted that you can share a small amount of someone’s creation without permission. This is why you can quote from a book you read when you review it.

How do you know if you plagiarized?

It seems like an easy question, doesn’t it? All creations are automatically copyrighted when created. Novels, artwork, music — all are owned by the creator and you can’t use them without permission. So, if you take someone else’s work and call it your own, it’s plagiarizing.

Specifically, you’ll know you plagiarized if:

  • you directly copied someone’s creative work.
  • you changed a few words in someone’s work but it’s still recognizable. For example:kozzi-little_kid_with_fingers_crossed_behind_back-2389x1590.jpg

“Fourscore and seven years ago, our fathers…”


“87 years ago, our predecessors…”

  • you rephrased someone’s opinions and presented them as your own.
  • you purchased a paper and submitted it as your own.
  • you copied your own work for a new purpose without confessing to that.

How do others know you plagiarized?

It’s a lot easier to recognize plagiarism than most people think — especially those engaging in it. Here are a few ways:

  • changes in their writing voice. They sound older than their normal writing style.
  • their font changes. Often what is copied includes different fonts and sizes. It’s not as easy as it sounds to normalize that.
  • a quick Google search of a phrase turns up on Google credited to someone else.
  • the author writes about something they don’t understand or have no reason to know. This is easily checked by asking the purported author a few questions that dig into the topic.

How to cite sources

Lots of people don’t want to plagiarize but don’t know how to give proper credit. Here are suggestions:

  • Use a citation tool like Citation Machine or Easy Bib to correctly format citations with all required information.
  • Add citations as endnotes or footnotes.
  • Add a citation page to your document.

How to check for plagiarism

kozzi-vector_image_of_a_man_waving_hands-1964x1934.jpgEven the best-intentioned writers slip up. We forget to give credit or lose the citation and then don’t get around to following up. Here are steps you can follow to find plagiarism in your own work:

  • use a program like Turnitin to evaluate whether you pulled more than what was legal from someone else’s work. Other plagiarism checkers include Grammarly and Quetext
  • read through your document and see if it sounds like you. Are there parts you don’t understand (even though you wrote it)? Those are places you may have inadvertently copy-pasted someone else’s work.

I know. This is a lot of information with quite a few norms and protocols but becoming proficient in these will make you a better writer and give you a reputation as the author with reliable sources and facts. Whether you’re a student, an academic, a journalist, or a parent, that sort of reputation is welcome.

–published first on TeachHUB

More on plagiarism:

An Easy, Reliable Way to Check for Plagiarism

Image Copyright Do’s and Don’ts

Building Digital Citizens: Certificate Class

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 20 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice reviewer, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. You can find her resources at Structured Learning. Read Jacqui’s tech thriller series, Rowe-Delamagente and her upcoming Born in a Treacherous Time.


Why and How Students Can Blog

09 Jan

bloggingBlogging is a popular tool used in education to not only practice writing, but reinforce collaboration, perspective taking, speaking/listening skills, and a lot more. It’s grown up from its pedestrian start as a journaling platform, where writers share daily activities and don’t stress over spelling and grammar. Look at these reasons why teachers incorporate blogging across all academic topics and lesson plans:


Students collaborate by commenting on the posts of others and/or co-writing a blog themed to a particular topic, taking turns posting articles.

Developing a profile

Blog profiles–often found at the top of the sidebar–summarize what the blog will address in just a few sentences. They must be pithy, concise, and clear. This is a great way for students to think through the purpose of their blog and share it in a way suited to the task, audience, and purpose. I am constantly reworking my own as I figure out a better way to communicate the gist of what I am doing.

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A Teacher’s New Year Resolutions

31 Dec

Every year, I make New Year resolutions and ignore them. I don’t promise to fulfill them. I don’t even check my progress and revise as needed. I make-and-forget, check it off the New Year’s To Do list and move on.

This year, I’m trying something different: resolutions that aren’t quantified, that won’t take extra time from my too-busy schedule. Resolutions that will, instead, require me to leave the safety of “how it’s always been” for the unknown world of “I’ve never done this before”.

Here’s my list:

I will learn one new tech tool a month

There are so many. I get massive lists of webtools, websites, apps, extensions, and links in my inbox, mostly proclaimed as “the tool I can’t do without”. Every month, I’ll pick one and try it.

Just to be clear: Today’s tech ed tools aren’t like they used to be. The ones I’m interested in are easy-to-use, intuitive, easily differentiated for varied student needs, and free or inexpensive. Anything that requires a time commitment to learn and buckets of creativity to use is off the list. My schedule is too packed for that sort of commitment. And, I’ll unpack them with the students, authentically, as part of a project we’re doing. For example: I use Padlet a lot to curate and share projects. Instead, I’ll use Tozzl at least once.

To get me started, would you add a comment with your favorite tool — the one I should start with in January.

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Posted in Musings


Image Copyright Do’s and Don’ts

23 Dec

image copyrightsWhen I teach professional development classes, by far the topic that surprises teachers the most is the legal use of online images. And they’re not alone. On my blog, in educator forums, and in the virtual meetings I moderate, there’s lots of confusion about what can be grabbed for free from online sites and what must be cited with a linkback, credit, author’s name, public domain reference, or even as little as an email from the creator giving you permission. When I receive guest posts that include pictures, many contributors tell me the photo can be used because they include the linkback.

Not always true. In fact, the answer to the question…

“What online images can I use?”

typically starts with…

It depends…

Luckily, teaching it to K-8 students is simpler because most of them haven’t yet established the bad habits or misinformation we as adults operate under. But, to try to teach this topic in a thirty-minute set-aside dug out of the daily class inquiry is a prescription for failure. The only way to communicate the proper use of online images is exactly the way you teach kids not to take items from a store shelves just because they think they can get away with it: Say it often, in different ways, with the buy-in of stakeholders, and with logical consequence. Discuss online images with students every time it comes up in their online activities.

There are five topics to be reviewed when exploring the use of online images:

  • digital privacy
  • copyrights
  • digital law and plagiarism
  • hoaxes
  • writing with graphics

Here are suggestions on how to teach these to your students.

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Posted in Musings


Why is the Supreme Court So Important

09 Dec

supreme court simulationWhen you think of the Supreme Court, you think of old people in black robes that dispassionately determine the fate of the country’s laws. That’s all true, but there’s more to maintaining law and order than a podium and a gavel. The Supreme Court is the apex of one of three branches in the American government:

  • The Legislative (the House and the Senate) passes laws
  • The Executive (the President) executes the laws
  • The Judicial (all the courts in the United States from the local courts to the Supreme Court) judges whether the laws and their execution abide by the nation’s Constitution

The Supreme Court consists of nine individuals who are nominated by the President and voted in by the Senate. Once approved, they serve for life, the hope being that this allows them to judge apolitically, based on the merits of the case rather than political leaning. These guidelines are not without controversy but are critical to a healthy, democratic environment.

But this year, an election year, is different. The death of Antonin Scalia leaves the court split evenly between those who lean Democrat and those who lean Republican. Rarely in our history has an outgoing president — in his last year — been tasked with selecting such a critical Supreme Court justice.

Really, it’s much more complicated than what I’ve described, but this isn’t the place to unravel what could become a Gordian knot of intrigue over the next few months. Suffice to say, this process will overwhelm the media and your students will want to know more about what is normally a dull and boring process and why it has become foundational to our future. This provides a rare opportunity to educate them on the court system in America.

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It’s Time to go Back to School. Lots of Ideas!

26 Aug

I’ve written a lot of Back-to-School articles over the last few years. They cover so many topics–see if you find what you’re looking for here:

3 Apps to Help Brainstorm Next Year’s Lessons

3 Organizational Apps to Start the School Year

4 Options for a Class Internet Start Page

5 Tech Ed Tools to Use this Fall

5 Tools To Shake up the New Year

5 Top Ways to Integrate Technology into the New School Year

5 Ways Teachers Can Stay on Top of Technology

5 Ways to Involve Parents in Your Class

6 Tech Best Practices for New Teachers

8 Tech Tools to Get to Know Your Students for Back to School

Back to School–Tech Makes it Easy to Stay On Top of Everything

Dear Otto: I need year-long assessments

How to Prepare Students for PARCC Tests

New School Year? New Tech? I Got You Covered

Plan a Memorable Back to School Night

Turnitin Releases Free Back-to-School Resources

What Digital Device Should My School Buy?

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What I’m Writing This Month

15 Aug

Much of my day is spent writing, either freelance articles, guest posts, or one of my many fiction and nonfiction WIP. Any leftover time goes to marketing what I’ve already written, trying to get the word out to as many people as possible. That includes outreach, responding to inquiries, and exploring new marketing channels.

Since I work out of my house, I like to break my day into three parts:




I consign tasks to each portion of the day, stopping for lunch and dinner and a few breaks to pet the dog. Every once in a while, I like to look at what I accomplish on a daily basis with my writing. I don’t count words like some writing efriends. I count what I get done. My writing ToDo list this month includes:

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Is Whole Brain Teaching the Right Choice?

10 Aug

If you have challenging students in your classes, there’s a good chance someone has suggested that you look into Whole Brain Teaching (WBT). Whole Brain Teaching is an active teaching method designed to maximize student engagement in lessons, positive interactions with classmates, and educational fun. Instruction includes vocal directions mixed with hand gestures, inflections, full body movement, head motions,  and chants. Studies show that this multi-sensory approach is how the brain is intended to learn and will result in a much greater probability of reaching teaching goals.

Where it might have originally been intended for challenging classes — much like Orton-Gillingham started as a multi-sensory learning system for dyslexics — WBT has matured into a strategy that works for lots of learners, even the quiet ones. It uses “model and repeat” as ways to join the right and left sides of the brain (such as the hippocampus, the prefrontal cortex,  and the motor cortex) in student learning with the idea that if the entire brain is engaged in learning, there is nothing left over for misbehavior or distraction. For many K-12 teachers, WBT has become their primary teaching strategy.

WBT is based on four core components (called Core Four — part of a longer list of techniques):

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My New Non-fiction: 169 Real-world Ways to Put Tech into Class

08 Aug

tech in the classroomJust a note to my wonderful community here that I’ve published a new nonfiction tech-in-ed book for educators called 169 Real-World Ways to Put Tech Into Your Class Now. It’s an overview of the most important tech-in-ed topics with practical strategies to address common tech problems. Each tip is less than a page — many only a third of a page. The goal: Give teachers the tech they need without a long learning curve.

Topics include iPads, Chromebooks, assessment, differentiation, social media, security, writing, and more.

OK, I see all the hands. You want a preview. Here are the top three solutions to any tech problem you encounter, whether you’re a teacher or a writer:

reboot, restart …

… close, reopen …

Google it!

I’d love to hear your most pressing tech problems. I may include it in the next edition!

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2017 Teachers Pay Teachers Conference Session Notes

04 Aug

One of the largest online marketplace for teachers is Teachers Pay Teachers. If you haven’t heard of this store, you are either new to teaching or long since retired. This vibrant educator community hosts teacher-authors who wish to sell their original lessons and ideas to other teachers, homeschoolers, and unschoolers. Since its start in 2006 by a former teacher, it’s grown to over 3.4 million teachers buying or selling over 2.7 million education-oriented Pre-K through High School lesson plans, curricula, videos, classroom activities, assessments, books, bulletin board ideas, classroom decorations, interactive notebooks, task cards, Common Core resources, and more. Teacher-authors have earned more than $330 million since TpT opened its doors with about a dozen making over $1 million dollars and nearly 300 earning more than $100,000. There’s no set-up charge, no cost to join, and no annual fee unless you choose to become what’s called a Premium seller.

My general observations and To Do list from the conference can be found here (if the link doesn’t work, that means it’s not live yet. Check back later!). I didn’t want to overwhelm you-all by including my thoughts on the sessions I attended so I saved them for this post. I start with a schedule of seminars for the three days (only those I attended). Then, I post my notes and screenshots from the sessions. These aren’t exhaustive by any means, just an idea of what was included. For the real thing, you’ll have to attend next year’s event!


One of TpT’s attorneys talked about the importance of using only media that you have permission to use or created yourself.

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