How to Explain Plagiarism to Your Elementary Student

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Late elementary school is the time in which students first begin to write longer-length papers and execute more fact-based assignments. These types of academic assignments require students to learn how to identify and avoid plagiarism. Explaining this concept to younger students, however, can be challenging. When describing plagiarism to your elementary student, define the word, illustrate why it’s important to avoid it, and identify strategies for academic success. Keep reading to learn tactics to utilize when explaining plagiarism to your elementary student.

Explain the definition of plagiarism to your elementary student

The first step when helping your elementary student understand plagiarism is to define the term. In short, plagiarism occurs when an individual copies the ideas and/or words of another as his or her own work and fails to cite the source of that information.  

Your elementary student likely understands that stealing something from someone else is bad. It can be easy for a young student to understand that stealing physical objects, like personal belongings or money, is wrong. It can be a bit more difficult, however, to explain that it’s also possible to steal others’ ideas or words, and that doing so is just as serious an offense. It’s important to find strategies to explain the concept in a way your student can personally relate to and understand.

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Explain to your elementary student why it’s important to avoid plagiarism

Make it clear that taking something—whether you can hold that item or not—from someone else is wrong. Help your child understand that ideas and words have value, just like objects. Ask your student to put him- or herself in the shoes of someone who has had an idea or words taken by someone else, and ask how he or she would feel if another person tried to pass off his or her idea or words as their own. Teaching students to properly cite their sources and avoid plagiarism is important, because it’s an integral way to show respect to others throughout their academic careers—and it can also help students avoid academic penalties.

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Explain to your elementary student how he or she can avoid plagiarism

When showing your student how to identify and avoid plagiarism, it can help to give examples. Ask your student to find a passage in his or her favorite book, and have your child summarize the passage without using any phrases from the snippet. Also spend some time reviewing your student’s class assignments with him or her, and examine the following questions:

  • When mentioning another person’s work, does he or she credit the sources used, and if so, were the citations used correctly?
  • Does your student put the author’s words in quotation marks?
  • Does your student paraphrase the author’s work using words and phrases different from those used by the source?

Praise your student for using correct citations, as well. If you do identify plagiarism in your student’s work, show him or her the correct way to cite others’ ideas and words. His or her teacher will explain the correct way to cite these various works, and can be a good reference for tips on explaining this concept to your student.

When teaching your student to avoid plagiarism, praise originality in his or her work. Applaud your student when he or she comes up with new ideas, and show your child how to complement their own ideas with the ideas of others.


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