EAP: plagiarism

Academic Writing: Helping your students avoid plagiarism step one

The post about addressing plagiarism & paraphrasing
The big P word. Plagiarism. If you have taught English for academic purposes, you know this is a buzz term. As an EAP tutor, I am always going on about what plagiarism is, how to avoid it and I thought it was about time I wrote a short post about how I address plagiarism and how I help my students avoid plagiarism when paraphrasing sources. Now, this people is a tough cookie for both the teacher and the student!! This is my approach….

                                One step at a time

1. Address plagiarism
You need to be clear about what plagiarism is from the beginning and how it is important to cite other people’s views and not just act as if they are your own. Show them videos about plagiarism from YouTube, give them definitions from your own sources, from dictionaries, the lots. It is important to inform them. Also, be clear about the tolerance of plagiarism because sometimes it may not be deliberate (if your students mistype a date for example, do they fail or do you give them another chance?). Another important thing you need to keep in mind is that different fields use different referencing systems, so steer your students towards the one they will be using in their discipline.
Fun ideas: get your learners to make little projects (videos/infographics/posters/animations) of what plagiarism is.
Not such a fun idea: Ask loads of Q&As as well as CCQs related to what plagiarism is.

2.The plagiarism police
“You will be caught!” : S. Yeap. Let them know that you will find the plagiarism. Ask your learners to bring photocopies of the texts they used and paraphrased. Tell them hey should highlight the paragraphs they paraphrased. Inform them of the different software you will be using to scan their papers and detect plagiarism. It is a good idea to suggest that they check their papers for plagiarism with the same software as well.
So, now your learners know what plagiarism is expect the following discussion (I know I have had it a zillion times!):

Student: “Ok! I don’t want to paraphrase sources because it is hard and I will plagiarise.”
Teacher: “Hmmmm or ……………”
Student:  “Yes, I will quote. I will use quotation marks for everything I put in my paper and I will copy their exact words and everything will be fine!”
Teacher: “It is not a good idea to have an essay full of quotes and no paraphrases. You also need to synthesise your information. So, you need to learn how to paraphrase and summarise information. Don’t worry. You can do it! That’s why I am here!”
Student: : ( …….turns to   : )

3. The anti-plagiarism toolkit
Time to bring the big guns in. Let’s get down to business people!Your students need their anti-plagiarism toolkit. So, time to equip them with the strategies they need to avoid plagiarising their sources when using sources in their texts and not just quoting directly. Time to talk about paraphrasing.

This is the most important skill your students need to develop in order to avoid plagiarising sources. Of course, there are a million ideas out there and loads of activities you can use. I will just mention a few things I do. First, let me tell you though that my motto is start simple and then move on. Brick layering.
Start with some simple activities:

  • Key word transformations

Well, yes, why not use key word transformations to engage your learners in exercises that will force them to paraphrase? You can begin with something that builds their general English skills. Remeber….baby steps. The good thing about key word transformations is that since they are part of the Cambridge language exam (FCE,CAE,CPE) you find loads of books and websites with key word transformation activities. So, if, for example,your EAP students are B2 level learners, you can use any key word transformation activities that are for that level. They also give you the opportunity to gauge your learners grammar knowledge and you can focus on structures they are struggling with. Engaging in key word transformation activities does not mean that your learners are out of the woods, it is just a way for them to practice rephrasing short sentences.

  • The Academic Word List (word families-synonyms)

Your learners should download the Academic Word List and familiarise themselves with The Thesaurus (any thesaurus). Get your learners to write down word families and find synonyms. Enrich their academic vocabulary! The richer their vocabulary, the more lexical choices they have.

  • Nominalisation/Active voice vs Passive voice

Find tasks that practice nominalisation and the two voices. Paraphrasing is not just about using different words, it is also about grammar. In order to avoid plagiarism, you gotta get your learners to change structures, word order, forms. Noun phrases and the passive voice are found very frequently in academic writing, so practicing them will help your students feel more comfortable with these structures, thus they will probably use them whilst paraphrasing.

  • Noticing activities

Show your learners good examples of paraphrases. Use an overhead projector/smartboard and some sort of before and after examples and get them to notice the differences.I think it is better to do this as a group task and then follow up with some activities they have to do individually. Check to see if they have noticed all the changes and the differences in the structures, vocabulary etc. I get my learners to make tables of some common phrases and paraphrases/alternative phrases.

Illustration by Daniel Rhone accessed here

                The bigger picture
So, hopefully, with all this training, your learners can paraphrase at least at a sentence level, now it is time to paraphrase real texts. Time for some group work!
Divide your class into small groups. Give them a text and tell them to paraphrase it as a group. Then, tell the groups to swap their paraphrases. Once each group has another group’s paraphrase, the new group needs to underline/highlight anything they think has been plagiarised and once they have done that, they give the text back to the original group. Each group now has their own paraphrased text with feedback from another group. They use this feedback to paraphrase more. The paraphrasing should go on until each group is happy with their final product.
I then suggest getting your learners to practise in pairs and finally individually.

Advice I give my learners: try to paraphrase into simple sentences and then aim for more complex structures.
Once they have paraphrased the sources they want to use, they cite them accordingly, and well, they will have a plagiarism free text.

Final thoughts
Good luck on your anti-plagiarism venture fellow teacher. Feel free to add any other paraphrasing tricks in the comments section. this post will be followed up by a post on summarising so talk soon : )

Till next time……….

I will be talking about plagiarism on the 9th of August at the Belta & Tesl Toronto Web Conference on Reading and Writing. Log on, will you? For more info go to the Belta Belgium or Tesl Toronto website

Conference logo courtesy of Belta Belgium and Tesl Toronto


4 thoughts on “EAP: plagiarism

  1. Great suggestions, Joanna! Can I just add something? The problem of paraphrasing is also directly linked to limited or non-existent note-taking and summarising skills. One of the things I do to help students avoid plagiarism is present them a few simple steps of the note-taking and summarising procedure one-by-one, then give them the opportunity to go through these steps in the controlled in-class environment first and then on a regular basis set homework activities involving note-taking and summarising. I also show them examples of ineffective note-taking and 'bad' summaries and elicit from them what the problems are.


  2. Hi Maroussa!Thanks for reading and commenting.You are right paraphrasing is just one skill. Summarising is very important as well. That is what my next post will be about (the paraphrasing post was too long). Training our sts asmuch as possible is the only way! Let me know what you think of my summarising post 🙂


  3. Interesting perspective! I like to give my students real life examples of how not giving credit (or using work without permission) has ended for people: http://eslcarissa.blogspot.com/2013/07/teaching-importance-of-citing.html They respond really well to this!

    My other technique is similar to yous (I teach paraphrasing, summarizing, quoting etc.) but I put all of these into bite size assignments students use. For example: we review how to paraphrase and then they have to paraphrase information that they can use in their paper. http://eslcarissa.blogspot.com/2013/07/cheating-in-your-class-writing.html is a better breakdown!

    Glad to know other teachers keep this as a focus!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s