Teaching Academic Honesty in the School Library

School Librarians need to provide students with a conceptual understanding of intellectual property, copyright, fair use, and public domain through the positive focus of "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. | No Sweat LibraryPlagiarism. A “hot” word when teachers assign a research project to students. College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards refer to plagiarism, and Common Core State Standards refer to plagiarism and bibliographic citation, so students invariably get a (boring) lesson about these topics when they begin research.

Unfortunately, those topics relate only to documentation, so that is typically all that teachers teach. However, according to the AASL National School Library Standards, School Librarians are charged with teaching a much wider range of 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 a deep conceptual understanding of intellectual property, copyright, and Fair Use, and we need to make them the key points of our Library Research Lessons.


I decided early on to approach these lessons with a positive responsibility focus, teaching students what TO DO rather than talking at them about what not to do. Thus, I chose the overriding concept of Academic Honesty on which to base my lessons. That decision has proven very successful with my middle school students—because I encourage them to be trustworthy, they rise to that expectation.

I’m a proponent of short, simple, relevant lessons that teach only what students need to perform the task at hand. Since we don’t expect a research assignment to be completed in a single day, Academic Honesty lessons can be spread out over the first few days of research to keep them very short and allow time for students to do their actual research. Each of my lessons follows a natural conceptual progression, from intellectual property, to copyright and Fair Use, then to public domain, and finally to plagiarism.

As teachers, we School Librarians know that students learn best when content and skills are taught in context. Each Academic Honesty lesson teaches a required documentation skill with its related concept and gives students time to apply them to a research activity. This is another smooth transition as students learn bibliographic citation, then in-document citation with notetaking, then citation of images and other non-text media.


You may wonder why I begin with Intellectual Property and bibliographic citation of sources.

  • Academic Honesty is the Right Thing to Do.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.

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…and they certainly want credit for the work that they do!


The second Academic Honesty lesson transitions into the concept of Copyright & Fair Use, focusing on the legal rights conveyed to owners of intellectual property. During the lesson I use a 3-minute Common Sense Media video about Fair Use because I want students to understand why they can legally use other people’s copyrighted intellectual property for their school assignment. They need 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. 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 after modeling an easy way to do it, a guided practice activity has students paraphrase and summarize excerpts from the Declaration of Independence and 3 famous Presidential speeches.

Once students understand how note-taking relates to intellectual property and copyright, the third Academic Honesty lesson is about Public Domain & Creative Commons where the practice activity focuses on how to use images and other non-text media from these sources. 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.


Once students learn the “honest” practices, the last lesson, Academic Honesty and Plagiarism, explains 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?

I 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, each lesson has fewer than a dozen slides as a brief beginning for the class period. Throughout the year I can use the short lessons to review pertinent concepts for a particular assignment. 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?

You can find these Academic Honesty Lessons in my No Sweat Library store on Teachers Pay Teachers. product cover for Research Lesson - Academic Honesty: Intellectual Property & Bibliographic Citation. Get students started on research the right way with this lesson on intellectual property & bibliographic citation, that includes a hands-on citation practice activity. | No Sweat Library product cover for Research Lesson - Academic Honesty: Copyright & Fair Use with Note-taking. Help students do research the right way with this lesson on copyright & fair use, that includes a hands-on note-taking practice activity. | No Sweat Library
product cover for Research Lesson - Academic Honesty: Public Domain & Creative Commons. Help students further their research assignments the right way with this lesson on the public domain & the Creative Commons, that includes a collaborative practice activity for finding and using images and other non-text media. | No Sweat Library product cover for Research Lesson - Academic Honesty and Plagiarism. Help students further their research assignments the right way with this lesson on displaying Academic Honesty by avoiding plagiarism, which includes review scenarios and 3 options for independent practice. | No Sweat Library product cover for Research Lesson - Academic Honesty: 4-Lesson Unit Bundle. Provide students with a conceptual understanding of intellectual property, copyright, fair use, and public domain through the positive focus of "Academic Honesty". This 4-lesson unit embeds what's "right" as they develop their research skills, and nurtures a natural desire to avoid plagiarism. Each lesson has a hands-on practice activity. | No Sweat Library

Post updated from 2016.line of books laying down - indicates end of blog article

Join my mailing list to get a brief email about new posts on library lessons & management. You'll also gain access to my exclusive e-Group Library of FREE downloadable resources!

School Librarians: Show Teachers Their National Standards Require Student Research

School Librarians: Show Teachers Their National Standards Require Student Research - School Librarians may be surprised to learn that at least 46 National Standards for middle school subjects require or align with students doing research assignments. Show subject area teachers these Standards to promote & create collaborative research lessons. #NoSweatLibrarySchool Librarians are excited when a research assignment brings classes to the library. For me, it was my love for helping students do research—finding and using information–that drew me to pursue my graduate degree in Library Science. Teaching research skills is my raison d’être.

When I began my middle school library position, few teachers did research with students, and of those, even fewer gave me the latitude to fully engage students in the research process. As I developed collaborative partnerships, Research Library Lessons—short introductions up through week-long units—became my trademark skill set, and after several years nearly every subject area teacher had some sort of research assignment with me, even PhysEd!

Then 2010 brought Common Core College- and Career-Readiness Standards and high-stakes testing. Our state had given standardized state tests since the early 90s, but with CC-CCRS came the pressure of teacher accountability in a way not seen before.

Suddenly, teachers abandoned research assignments en masse. In the next few years I was able to recapture some research partnerships, but my biggest disappointment when I retired was how short-changed our students would be in their future pursuits because they didn’t know how to do proper research.


Recently I discovered a 2014 blog article by Dave Stuart Jr, a Michigan educator well-known for his expertise in Common Core. In his post, New Thoughts on the Non-Freaked Out Approach to Common Core Literacy, Dave lists 8 CCSS “anchors that deal with research-related skills.” I have his permission to list them here:

  • R.CCR.7: Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
  • R.CCR.8: Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.
  • R.CCR.9: Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.
  • W.CCR.7: Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
  • W.CCR.8: Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.
  • W.CCR.9: Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
  • SL.CCR.4: Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning, and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  • SL.CCR.5: Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.

Note that 2 writing standards use the term research and a 3rd writing standard outlines the same Information Literacy skills that the American Library Association promotes in its Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights:

School librarians work closely with teachers to integrate instructional activities in classroom units designed to equip students to locate, evaluate, and use a broad range of ideas effectively.


Did You Know National Standards for Many Subjects Require Student Research? - Read this list of 46 National subject area Standards that require or align to student research! School Librarians can show these to teachers & invite collaboration on Library Lessons to meet the Standards. #NoSweatLibraryFascinated by Dave’s analysis, I looked at Common Core Literacy Standards for History/Social Studies and for Science & Technical Subjects. For middle schoolers I found 7 more “anchors that deal with research-related skills” including 3 listed under the specific heading Research to Build and Present Knowledge:

  • R.LHSS.2: Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
  • R.LSTS.8: Distinguish among facts, reasoned judgment based on research findings, and speculation in a text.
  • W.LHSS8.1a: Introduce claim(s) about a topic or issue, acknowledge and distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.
  • W.LHSS.1b: Support claim(s) with logical reasoning and relevant, accurate data and evidence that demonstrate an understanding of the topic or text, using credible sources.
  • W. LHSSST.7: Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.
  • W.LHSSST.8: Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.
  • W.LHSSST.9: Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis reflection, and research.

Curious, I browsed the C3 Framework for Social Studies Standards and found this statement on page 17:

The C3 Framework offers guidance and support for rigorous student learning. That guidance and support takes form in an Inquiry Arc—a set of interlocking and mutually reinforcing ideas that feature the four Dimensions of informed inquiry in social studies: 1 Developing questions and planning inquiries; 2 Applying disciplinary concepts and tools; 3 Evaluating sources and using evidence; and 4 Communicating conclusions and taking informed action.

You can see that 3 of their 4 Dimensions deal with student Information Literacy skills, and within those 3 Dimensions, I found 9 Standards which specifically address student research or information literacy skills:

  • D1.2.6-8. Explain points of agreement experts have about interpretations and applications of disciplinary concepts and ideas associated with a compelling question.
  • D1.3.6-8. Explain points of agreement experts have about interpretations and applications of disciplinary concepts and ideas associated with a supporting question.
  • D1.5.6-8. Determine the kinds of sources that will be helpful in answering compelling and supporting questions, taking into consideration multiple points of views represented in the sources.
  • D3.1.6-8. Gather relevant information from multiple sources while using the origin, authority, structure, context, and corroborative value of the sources to guide the selection.
  • D3.2.6-8. Evaluate the credibility of a source by determining its relevance and intended use.
  • D3.3.6-8. Identify evidence that draws information from multiple sources to support claims, noting evidentiary limitations.
  • D4.1.6-8. Construct arguments using claims and evidence from multiple sources, while acknowledging the strengths and limitations of the arguments.
  • D4.3.6-8. Present adaptations of arguments and explanations on topics of interest to others to reach audiences and venues outside the classroom using print and oral technologies (e.g., posters, essays, letters, debates, speeches, reports, and maps) and digital technologies (e.g., Internet, social media, and digital documentary).
  • D4.4.6-8. Critique arguments for credibility.

In addition, Table 4 on page 20 shows how Dimensions connect to Common CoreELA/Literacy in History/Social Studies Standards, where I count 27 CCSS Standards to which the C3 Framework Dimensions connect:

C3 Framework for Social Studies Connections with CCSS

More curious than ever, I searched the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). It’s a complex document, but a quick view of its Disciplinary Standards shows that 8 Standards address inquiry & research skills or align with the four CCSS Standards listed above for Science & Technical Subjects:

  • MS-PS1-3: Gather and make sense of information to describe that synthetic materials come from natural resources and impact society.
  • MS-PS1-6: Undertake a design project to construct, test, and modify a device that either releases or absorbs thermal energy by chemical processes.
  • MS-PS3-3: Apply scientific principles to design, construct, and test a device that either minimizes or maximizes thermal energy transfer.
  • MS-PS4-3: Integrate qualitative scientific and technical information to support the claim that digitized signals are a more reliable way to encode and transmit information than analog signals.
  • MS-LS4-5: Gather and synthesize information about the technologies that have changed the way humans influence the inheritance of desired traits in organisms.
  • MS-ESS2-2: Construct an explanation based on evidence for how geoscience processes have changed Earth’s surface at varying time and spatial scales.
  • MS-ESS3-1: Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for how the uneven distributions of Earth’s mineral, energy, and groundwater resources are the result of past and current geoscience processes.
  • MS-ESS3-5: Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century.

I was on a roll…so I scanned Common Core College- and Career-Readiness Standards for Math, and even there, under Statistics and Probability, I found “Develop understanding of statistical variability,” with 2 standards related to research:

  • Mathematical Practices: Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
    • M6.SP.1: Recognize a statistical question as one that anticipates variability in the data related to the question and accounts for it in the answers.
    • M6.SP.5b: Summarize numerical data sets in relation to their context, such as by describing the nature of the attribute under investigation, including how it was measured and its units of measurement.

Now I was really intrigued, so I explored the National Core Arts Standards for Media Arts, Music, Theatre, and Visual Arts, where I found 8 standards related to research:

  • MA6.Cn10.1a: Access, evaluate, and use internal and external resources to create media artworks, such as knowledge, experiences, interests, and research.
  • MA6.Cn11.1a: Research and show how media artworks and ideas relate to personal life, and social, community, and cultural situations, such as personal identity, history, and entertainment.
  • MA6.Cn11.1b: Analyze and interact appropriately with media arts tools and environments, considering fair use and copyright, ethics, and media literacy.
  • MU.Pr4.1.6: Apply teacher-provided criteria for selecting music to perform for a specific purpose and/or context, and explain why each was chosen.
  • MU.Pr4.1.7: Apply collaboratively-developed criteria for selecting music of contrasting styles for a program with a specific purpose and/or context and, after discussion, identify expressive qualities, technical challenges, and reasons for choices.
  • MU.Pr4.1.8: Apply personally-developed criteria for selecting music of contrasting styles for a program with a specific purpose and/or context and explain expressive qualities, technical challenges, and reasons for choices.
    (I’ve added these 3 Music Standards to my blog post for a performing arts make-up research assignment.)
  • VA.Crt1.2.6: Formulate an artistic investigation of personally relevant content for creating art.
  • TH.Cn11.2.6b: Investigate the time period and place of a drama/theatre work to better understand performance and design choices.

Finally I checked the Career & Technical Education Core, where I found 4 standards related to research:

  • CCTC.AG.1: Analyze how issues, trends, technologies and public policies impact systems in the Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources Career Cluster.
  • CCTC.AG-ANI1: Analyze historic and current trends impacting the animal systems industry.
  • CCTC.AC.4: Evaluate the nature and scope of the Architecture & Construction Career Cluster and the role of architecture and construction in society and the economy.
  • CCTC.AC-DES.1: Justify design solutions through the use of research documentation and analysis of data.


Get this FREE list of 46 National Standards for Student Research! -Perhaps you are as surprised as I am to find no less than 46 National Standards for middle school subjects that either require or align with students doing research. And that doesn’t count the 27 that connect C3 & CCSS. The conclusion is inescapable: in order to comply with all of the National Standards, students need a research assignment within every content area class! School Librarians to the rescue!

To help you approach teachers for collaborative Library Lessons, here’s a printable PDF document listing the above National Standards. Click this link to download the FREE document National Standards Requiring or Aligned with Student Research Assignments.
(It’s also available on my FREE Librarian Resources page.)

It is imperative that we School Librarians design a variety of lessons for research assignments, in order to appeal to every teacher in our building. I’ve given an overview of how I do some of these lessons in my blog post about Information Literacy, one of the 5 Essential Literacies for students.

line of books laying down - indicates end of blog article

Join my mailing list to get a brief email about new posts on library lessons & management. You'll also gain access to my exclusive e-Group Library of FREE downloadable resources!