Monday, October 8, 2012


 Most elementary school students enjoy research. It is wonderful to see a classroom or library buzzing with students poring over nonfiction books and searching online resources.  However, reading their reports can be disappointing. Too often, every other line sounds lifted directly from the informational texts they used. Most elementary school students understand that plagiarism is stealing someone else’s words. They don’t copy intentionally or maliciously.  But they don’t understand how to take a concise, well-worded piece of information and put it into their own words. It’s a challenging task, even for an adult. You can model this process by displaying bits of text from an encyclopedia or other nonfiction source and discussing ways to share this information in one’s own words. Below are a few examples I shared with fourth graders in the midst of doing reports on countries. 
·        Define words you do not know.  For example, when I looked up Switzerland, I found references to its “alpine region.” Many of my fourth graders weren’t really sure what “alpine” meant. Looking up the word, we were able to define it as “a mountainous part of Switzerland.” 
·        Make one sentence into two. “The Alpine region has approximately 10,000 avalanches a year,” can become Switzerland has a mountainous region called the Alps. This area has around 10,000 avalanches a year.
·        Use simpler words or synonyms. Can you use the word, “poor” in place of poverty? Can you say “people” for “population?” Using easier words in place of longer ones shows a comprehension of information.
·        Shorten the sentence. Instead of “Almost fifty percent of the population of Switzerland enjoys skiing regularly” say “Many people in Switzerland like to ski.”
·        Compare information to prior knowledge. If you look up Swiss history, you are likely to see that women did not get the vote until 1971. Comparing the year women in the United States got suffrage shows a 50-year difference. Thus, a simple fact from a text such as “Swiss women did not obtain suffrage until 1971” can become a thoughtful response on the order of …
Women in Switzerland got the right to vote fifty years later than American women. They only got the vote in 1971. If my grandmother lived in Switzerland, she would not have been allowed to vote.”
·        Avoid key phrases from the text.  Switzerland is world famous for its luxury watches” could become “Swiss watches are famous all over the world.” Avoiding “world famous” and “luxury watches” forces the writer to present the information in his or her own words.
·        Begin with the ending. Instead of copying "Geneva is home to many major world organization headquarters, including the World Health Organization” say “The World Health Organization has its headquarters in the Swiss city of Geneva.”


  1. Nicely done Jackie. I will copy (yep copy) the blog's url for my friends who teach this level -- and ask my kids to read it too.


  2. Jackie, thanks! You offer excellent advice for writers of any age.