An Internet Web Quest on plagiarism

created by Dorothy K. McQuillan

Newton South High School Library



As an educator, you work hard to make sure students learn to the best of their abilities, receive the skills and information they need to be thinking adults, and develop communication skills that are necessary in a modern world. After designing an appropriate assignment, it is indeed very frustrating when a student hands in a paper that you know is not his/her own. It makes you both angry and sad. You are then put in a position of having to deal with an ugly situation. Deal with it you must, but how and when?


In the earlier grades teachers can exercise some latitude about what is acceptable. Students are taught from an early age that copying is wrong. Nevertheless, there can be a great deal of confusion surrounding the difference between general knowledge and unacceptable paraphrase. However, by the time the student enters ninth grade, he or she should be given a solid lesson on plagiarism.


Hopefully, this exercise will alert you to some of the Internet resources available, so that you will be equipped to deal with plagiarism before it happens, and what you can do if you suspect a paper is not original.



The Quest


The problem of plagiarism has been around for a long time; but today the Internet has made cheating so very easy and tempting. Your task today is on one hand to try to "slip one by" the teacher, and on the other hand to use the tools of the Internet to try to track down the source.




The Process and Resources


In this activity, you can work in groups or alone, but it is important that you play both roles. The purpose is:


Phase 1 - Background: Something for Everyone

Plagiarism is a topic that students need to be taught. It is unfair to assume that they know they are copying, and it is incumbent upon us as educators, to be sure they are not inadvertently copying because "it's the only way you can say it."


What is Plagiarism? This site can be used as an instructional for your students.

Citing Sources--The easy way! Here is a place where all you do is input your information and your bibliography turns out in perfect MLA format. The research component also provides students a template to begin an assignment.

Copyright issues--Here's an explanation of copyright laws.

Computer ethics--Visit this site to get information on issues surround computer ethics, such as intellectual property, speech issues, computer abuse, privacy, etc.

Phase 2--Looking Deeper from Different Perspectives




1. Individuals or pairs will explore both of the roles below.

2. First, play the role of the plagiarist. Copy sections you feel are important by dragging the mouse across the passage and copying/pasting it into a word processor or other writing software. Be sure you have the URL of you source so you can quickly find it again.

3. Exchange your paragraphs. Trade paragraphs with another individual or group who does not know your source.

4. Now become the sleuths and try to track down the source of the plagiarism.

5. Be prepared to focus what you've learned into an introduction to plagiarism you will give your students.


The Plagiarist

Use the sites below to investigate the various temptations available on the Internet. You do not have to choose to take your paragraph from a papermill or Sparknotes, but do check out some of the vast array of sites available to students.

1. Choose a work or topic that you have assigned to students.

2. Do a search for that topic in the websites below. If your topic does not appear in any of these sites, do a general search.

3. Turn in a paragraph of your choosing to another person or group.


Sparknotes and Pink Monkey are favorite spots for students to go to when they have not read the assignment. Of course, it is an excellent source for honest pursuits, too. Many teachers use Sparknotes, too.


The Sleuth

Use the Internet information linked below to try to track down the source of your paragraph. It is interesting to do the same search using different links to see if you get the same results.


1. Read the paragraph the student has turned in.

2. Isolate the phrases or sentences that seem suspicious or unique.

3. Search those phrases using the sites listed below.

4. Do the same search using the paragraph with three words changed. (You can try again changing more words.)




Phase 3 - Debating, Discussing, and Reaching Consensus

Discuss your results. You may wish to repeat the task changing more words. What conclusions can you draw from your findings? How much does the content have to change before it is not recognized by the searches?


Phase 4 - Real World Feedback

Prepare a statement for your students. You want them to know that you are very much aware of plagiarism and the internet's resources, but how much should you tell them?



The aim here is not to trap students, but to make them realize that doing their own work is the entire basis of education. Plagiarism is dishonest and the student learns nothing.


Content by Dorothy K. McQuillan