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November 05, 2005

Workplace Issues - Plagiarism and ESL

"The more laws & order are made prominent, the more thieves & robbers there will be." - Lao Tzu

Dear Readers,

What a day.

Today I had my first “plagiarizer” of the semester. With the accessibility of the internet, plagiarism in papers has become easier and easier for students to do and, at the same time, simpler for instructors to detect. Even though I always demonstrate this simple procedure to my own students, there always seems to be someone determined to try and slip through the system.

My colleagues tell me that . . .

Anti Plagiarism Sign.jpg

. . . this particular problem is really beginning to get out of hand, especially since institutional acceptance standards have been dropped in order to increase enrollment. Hell, even our own politicians do it these days, what kind of example does that send to a young audience? (see related article here)

After an exhausting yet thorough lecture in my office on the lying and stealing aspects of plagiarism, I’m having my student write a new, “longer,” essay on the meaning of honesty and his own experiences with it.

I’m curious though, how have the ESL teachers reading this particular blog dealt with the issue of plagiarism in their classes? I’d especially like to hear from those who have a writing component in the upper levels.

In solidarity,

Lee Hobbs
Editor-in-Chief, ESLemployment.com
Blog: http://www.english-blog.com

Looking for more articles that focus on workplace issues specific to ESL? Click HERE!

Posted by lhobbs at November 5, 2005 01:38 AM

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» Plagiarism in ESL Part II from ESL Lesson Plan
In regards to plagiarism and copyright issues: with the popularity of online writing courses and technology services like Blackboard and WebCT, I wonder how papers and essays "published" on these kind of public programs fare legally. [Read More]

Tracked on November 13, 2005 05:26 AM

» Dealing with difficult students from ESL School
Students may display problem behavior in class for many different reasons, often for reasons quite unrelated to what is happening in the lesson. They may have personal problems, relational difficulties with other members of the class, they may resent h... [Read More]

Tracked on December 18, 2005 05:29 PM

» Plagiarism in ESL Part II from [The] English-Blog [.com]
In regards to plagiarism and copyright issues: with the popularity of online writing courses and technology services like Blackboard and WebCT, I wonder how papers and essays "published" on these kind of public programs fare legally. [Read More]

Tracked on February 26, 2006 09:38 PM


F on the assignment. If the student doesn't drop out (often they do due to shame) then I provide a make up assignment which has a maximum value of 50% of the original.

If it happens a second time the student fails the course.


Note from Lee: That's basically what I decided to do. I gave the student a zero on the paper but gave him a chance to decide his own "fate." After writing a signed confession to his misdeed, he has agreed to write a new, longer essay on the subject of honesy using all the writing techniques he has learned thus far in the semester. If it is completed by the mutually agreed upon deadline, I will replace the grade.

Posted by: EFL Geek at November 5, 2005 04:06 AM

I do it all the time and I'm a native speaker. If I see an article or a sentence, expressing exactly what I want to say, much better than I could do, then I claim it as my own and use it.

Where I would draw the line however, with plagiarism, would be if the student didn't understand what he had plagiarized. Generally speaking, a student's written English is atrocious and that includes the higher levels too. Therefore, any help they can get, must be an improvement.


Note from Lee: According to our own institutional policies, the MLA and other style guides, plagiarism involves using the ideas of another without some form of acknowledgment. Common knowledge is often excused, e.g. 'You may have heard the myth of George Washington cutting down the cherry tree" but to phrase a sentence verbatim in the words of another without a citiation (leading the audience to believe that the words in question were the proprietary thoughts of the student writer) is certainly plagiarism in my book. That's where I draw the line.

I agree, however, that using citatations in a student essay might be helpful to their writing since I do subscribe to the philosophy that reading and writing skills are interrelated and that reading "good" examples of written language frequently will contribute to an inmprovement in the student's own writing. Refusing to acknowledge sources, on the other hand, is a kind of intellectual theft and a really bad habit to encourage for any potential, future academic. Allowing it, in my opinion, sends a negative signal to those students who do value originality and honesty (traits also valued, supposedly, by my institution's administration).

Posted by: kenneth at November 5, 2005 04:00 PM

I'd have flunked them on the spot and then told them to stand in front of class and say what they did before I let them out of the room!


Note from Lee: In my initial moment of displeasure, I certainly considered that course of action but then decided that a public crucifiction was a little extreme. Instead, I emailed the entire class with a "mini-lesson" reminder of what plagiarism is, etc. and included the handouts (as attachments) and weblinks on the topic (that they had previously been given in an earlier meeting). You'd be surprised at the amount of replies I got from many of them, worried that they may have unintentionally plagiarized.

Posted by: ESL Nerd at November 5, 2005 04:20 PM

You didn't say what the assignment was. If it was to judge his writing skills then a failing grade would have neen in order.
But, if it was an assignment looking for information, then a lower grade would have been in order for not using proper footnote protocol.
In Windows you can paste in an article and then hit summarize and then you have something completely new that gives the same meaning as the original document.
Also, What about Spell Checkers and the act of having someone look over their paper and make needed changes. Whose work is it?


Note from Lee: The assignment was to write an original essay (from their own experience) explaining a process, e.g. a recipe. The student wrote about how to choose a particular animal for a pet. More than 10% of it was a verbatim transcription from an internet source. I have given this class an entire lesson period on what plagiarism is, why it is not acceptable, and how to avoid it. Spellcheckers alone and proofreadng won't catch internet plagiarism but services like www.turnitin.com are helpful in detecting it.

Posted by: Gary at November 5, 2005 06:20 PM

It is only plagiarism if they do not document their sources. Have the students been taught how to do this?


Note from Lee: Yes, they have.

Posted by: Melissa at November 6, 2005 06:05 AM


I like your notes; just like being back in class and having my homework marked.

Posted by: kenneth at November 7, 2005 08:54 AM


Note from Lee:

I do what I can Kenneth, lol. Thanks for the responses!

Posted by: Lee at November 13, 2005 09:50 PM

i dont like those dang old notes man.i know what i done said i dont need nobody telling me i did good or whatnot.man alive.copycatters need to be exposed thats all there is to it.

Posted by: TEFL Dweeb at November 13, 2005 09:52 PM

I teach university grade students in China. Entire classes plagiarise here - the practice is basically endorsed by the administration, so the students just laugh if they are caught. It's regarded as the ESL teacher's issue, rather than a problem of cheating or dishonesty, since copying from recognised masters in the field is seen as a matter of respect. I just hand those essays back unmarked with the comment that only a Chinese teacher can grade what is really a Chinese essay, and give them a bare passing grade to prevent admin coming down on my head. I figure I would rather put my energy into those few students who make an attempt to learn and are likely to contribute something to society later, than to get worked up over these loser prats who are just buying their degrees.

Posted by: Glen Ponse at November 17, 2005 09:33 AM


Note from Lee:

Glen, I've heard this kind of story before from other ESL colleagues who work in China. I had a similar experience in Central Europe, but more with cheating in general than plagiarizng (I had little way to even check/prove plagiarism back in the early 90s over there in rural areas). Anyway, I found it to be quite a common occurance for Central European ESL students to "help" one another in class, to use a soft euphemism, as a matter of course.

For one thing, I think, they didn't really take the course "seriously." For them, it was kind of an extracurricular activity much like joining the Chess Club or the Debating Team. What did it really matter if they helped one another out when somone was in trouble? Helping is the greatest virtue, right?

Also, the [Western?] concept for competiveness of grades, or the "God helps those who help themselves" point-of-view was virtually non-existant, in my experience. I've been told that their unique approach to schoowork might have been remnants of old Communist ideals of comradery in common "struggle" but I'd be interested to hear your own theories.

Be sure to check out the continuation of this discussion on our other blog post here. By the way, despite my last expressed complaints to my class about the recent plagiarizer, I recently busted plagiarizer #2 for the semester. I guess this sounds like child's play compared to what you must have to put up with on a daily basis!

Posted by: Lee at November 17, 2005 05:33 PM

Note from Lee:

Readers, for reasons of space, the comments for this post have been relocated to the English-Blog space. To remark on this article, please click on the following link HERE!:


Posted by: Lee at January 27, 2006 09:51 PM