We asked teachers for stories about how they've discovered plagiarism in their classrooms. These are their answers...
1. “I once realized that 5 students had all cheated on the small assignment using the same online source when I was reading through them and noticed the same, rarely-used word in all of them. The word was, aptly, ‘callow.’
Started the next lecture by asking, ‘So, who knows what the word ‘callow’ means?’ No takers. ‘Thought not,’ I said, then launched into my anti-plagiarism rant."
2. "Student used the word ‘negro’ and other antiquated terms. Googled it. Found out student was plagiarizing W.E.B. Dubois."
3. “A student turned in a version of the old Nigerian spam (‘I’ve got $5 million dollars in a bank account that I can’t access, but you can help me and I’ll split it…') as a persuasive business letter in a business communications class."
4. "Good old simple, 'I noticed that some of the text was a different shade of black than the rest.'"
5. “One of my students plagiarized President Obama. He copied the most recent State of the Union Address.”
6. “An essay made reference to ‘imagining the possibilities that someday soon we will be able to travel to the moon.’ He was like 18. It’s the 21st century.”
7. “I once had a student plagiarize my own work. He had jumped to a page on the web, not bothering even to back out one step to see what he was in fact reading, and instead just cut a paragraph, my paragraph as it happened, and pasted it holus bolus into his own essay. You can’t make this stuff up.”
8. “A student I’d failed the previous semester turned in the same exact paper he got an F on last time. At least it’s easy to grade?”
9. “That moment when you strongly suspect a paper was purchased from an essay-writing service, because the ‘first draft’ was pretty polished and ended in the middle of a sentence on page 2.
When it got turned in, I saw the file name was '557_order2_.doc’...and of course, it’s the exact same as the first draft, except that now the rest of the sentence (and paper) is included.”
10. “A student in California wrote ‘our climate’ when referring to New England.”
11. “A student wrote a personal essay in composition class. She wrote about how going to **** College had changed her life. Only problem: she wasn’t at **** College.”
12. “There was an advertisement for H&R Block tax services right in the middle of the paper. They’d copied and pasted from a website.”
13. “When asked to write an essay on ‘food and memory,’ a Japanese student (in Japan!) submitted a well-written, grammatically correct story about his grandmother’s Thanksgiving dinner, turkey, cranberry sauce, and all.”
14. “A sophomore once turned in a report on To Kill a Mockingbird, and claimed it was about an Asian girl who woke up to find a mockingbird had built a nest outside her window one day, and her cat killed the mother bird, so she raised the baby birds.
When I asked what he was thinking to plagiarize a classic book that EVERY ENGLISH TEACHER HAD READ, he said he thought the author was Asian, and I had required that they choose a book by a non-white author for this report. He assumed Harper Lee was Asian! Did not know that the book was iconic and universally beloved! Yes, this was in the age of the internet, this kid was class of 2004.”
15. "A student turned in a paper that did not resemble his previous work. Did a google search. Found an essay mill site with an excerpt of the essay. He said, 'That's not the site I got it from. I didn't plagiarize. The dude I paid to write this paper for me plagiarized. So I shouldn't be punished for plagiarism.'"
We hope this list breaks some of the tension around plagiarism. Laughter, after all, is one of the best forms of medicine. We hope that clearing your head and finding a moment to chuckle sparks important discussions and teaching moments with students.