Teaching Academic Honesty in the School Library

Teaching Academic Honesty in the School Library - School Librarians need to provide the conceptual understanding of intellectual property, copyright, fair use, and public domain and give students a positive focus toward Academic Honesty. By commending what's "right" as they learn bibliographic citation and note-taking skills, we can nurture a natural desire to avoid plagiarism. #NoSweatLibraryPosts on librarian listservs and in Facebook groups often ask about copyright, plagiarism, note-taking, and other research-related topics. College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards refer to plagiarism, and Common Core State Standards refer to plagiarism, bibliographic information, and citation, but those are only concerned with documentation, so that is typically all that teachers teach.

However, according to the AASL National School Library Standards, the School Librarian is charged with teaching the full range of Academic Honesty concepts:

  • VI.A. The school library serves as a context in which the school librarian ensures that the school community is aware of the guidelines for safe, ethical, and legal use of information by:
    • 1. Educating the school community on the ethical use of information and the intellectual property of others.
    • 3. Embedding legal, ethical, and social responsibility concepts into the inquiry and information seeking processes.

So, School Librarians provide students with the conceptual understanding of Academic Honesty, and we need to make it an integral part of our Library Research Lessons.

I decided early on to approach Academic Honesty using a positive responsibility focus, teaching students what TO DO rather than talking at them about what not to do. That decision provides a natural progression of academic honesty concepts for lessons.


I begin with Intellectual Property and citation of sources for the bibliography. Why do I begin with these?

  • Intellectual property is the overriding concept from which copyright, public domain, fair use, and plagiarism stem.
  • Bibliographic citation needs to be the first thing students do with a source, because too often they forget to record the source and then can’t remember where they found information, either to return to it or to create their bibliography.

Academic Honesty is the Right Thing to Do.The positive focus is that giving someone credit for their intellectual property by citing them is the right thing to do. And I let students know that their products are their own intellectual property!

Next I transition into the concept of copyright, focusing on the legal rights conveyed to owners of intellectual property. I want students to understand this in order to know the difference between the 3 methods of note-taking from textual material: by quoting, by paraphrasing, and by summarizing.


I firmly believe if we take more time teaching and modeling note-taking with students, so they really learn and understand the 3 types, then we wouldn’t need to admonish them about plagiaristic writing. Quoting is usually well understood by older students, but I model an example to review it and explain how to include an in-line citation.

ParaphrasingWhen I taught high school science, I was surprised how many students didn’t understand paraphrasing nor how to do it. Evidently this is a critical Information Literacy skill that we need to address earlier in their schooling as students begin gathering textual information. So, I spend time with students modeling how to paraphrase a short selection of text, and then helping them see that paraphrasing is still using someone else’s copyrighted intellectual property, so they need to cite the source in-line when they include the paraphrased material in their end product.

summarizingSummarizing is often the lowest score on our State Reading Test, so when 6th grade ELA studies expository text, I teach a summarizing lesson using a graphic organizer and short, 2-page articles from our library’s student magazines. Teachers appreciate this valuable lesson and it sets the stage for whenever these students come to the library for research.

During my Academic Honesty lesson on Copyright & Fair Use, I use a 3-minute Common Sense Media video because I want students to understand why they can legally use other people’s copyrighted intellectual property for their school assignment. I revisit paraphrasing & summarizing, and students have a practice activity using excerpts from the Declaration of Independence and 3 famous Presidential speeches.

Once students understand how note-taking relates to intellectual property and copyright, I have an Academic Honesty lesson on Public Domain & Creative Commons where the practice activity focuses on how to use images and other non-text media from the Public Domain and Creative Commons without infringing on copyright. I re-emphasize Academic Honesty and that they continue to use in-document and bibliographic citation for information or media that isn’t theirs—it’s still someone else’s original intellectual creation.

You can find my Academic Honesty Lessons in my No Sweat Library 
store on Teachers Pay Teachers.
product cover for No Sweat Library Academic Honesty-Intellectual Property & Bibliographic Citation product cover for No Sweat Library Academic Honesty Lesson-Copyright & Fair Use Academic Honesty: Public Domain & Creative Commons Lesson


Only after showing students the “honest” practices, do I explain that presenting someone else’s ideas, expressions, or creative work as your own is unethical. It’s an academically DIS-honest practice called plagiarism—and we all know it’s poor form to “dis” someone!

I find that discussing consequences of plagiarism is unproductive. Most students are eager to do what’s right, but a few would waste time on minutiae just to see what I’ll say. So when someone asks “What happens if I plagiarize?” I ask these questions back:

  • Why do it wrong and then have to do it over?
  • Why risk a teacher’s ill will and a bad grade when it’s so easy to do it right?
  • Why not learn the right way now, when doing it wrong later on can endanger your entire future in college or a career?

NoSweat Academic Honesty & Plagiarism LessonI tell them, the only question I’ll answer is one about true learning, as in, “How do I properly express my knowledge?

Lest you think my Academic Honesty unit sounds like a long drawn-out process, I use fewer than a dozen slides and can cover each one in a single class period. Throughout the year I use the short lessons on Academic Honesty to review pertinent concepts for a particular lesson. I’m not sure if my positive spin produces better student products, but I do know that students come away with a much more optimistic outlook about doing their research projects.


Academic Honesty: Teaching What's Right Instead of What's Wrong - Give students a more positive and comprehensive view of writing for a research project by teaching Academic Honesty, instead of plagiarism. #NoSweatLibraryMy big concern about plagiarism is that we educators may be the problem. How can we discourage kids from plagiarizing when we offer them no opportunity for their own original expressions? When a teacher comes to us about resources for a student research project and we see that it’s low-level Bloom, just begging to be copied from an encyclopedia or a 3rd grader’s website, we, as the School Librarian, can diplomatically suggest ways to rework the topic so it requires more in-depth research, more higher-level thinking skills, and a genuine expression of a student’s own ideas and conclusions.

Here’s an example. A 7th grade research project asks students to choose one Greek or Roman god or goddess, research their attributes from a couple books and websites, then create a written paper or a PowerPoint of the information. Ho Hum…I’m yawning and so will they. My suggestion: compare a Greek/Roman god/goddess with a current popular star from TV/film/music/sports, explain the key attributes they share, and give an opinion on why these two were/are idolized. Every kid has a favorite star, someone they seek to emulate, and this assignment helps them examine the qualities they admire in this person and whether they really do want to be like them. They need to examine several Greek or Roman deities to decide who to compare, a more demanding analysis than the original assignment, and the compare/contrast with past and present can open their eyes to the human need to look outside ourselves for help in coping with life. Now how could anyone plagiarize that?

Another example of a weak research project asks students to create a PowerPoint about the history of immigration into our State (or the U.S.). We can suggest that students interview their own caregivers to discover when they first emigrated here and then have students create a scrapbook or online journal about what they learned. We shouldn’t expect a family tree going back to Columbus, but every kid can benefit by learning about the life of those who directly influence them. Now that’s a meaningful project! If Alex Haley had never heard his family history, Roots would never have opened the eyes of a generation of Americans about the real history of our country.

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