Avoiding The Plagiarism Epidemic in Your ESL Classroom

The integral part of your curriculum is academic writing. Assigning essays to students, you set sights on enhancing their critical thinking and brain functioning. As a teacher, you want mentees to shape opinions intelligibly and argumentatively, as well as clarify thoughts, summarize, and highlight the crucial information.

The problem is, ESL/EFL students find it more challenging to do as compared to natives. That's not because of reluctance to write but a lack of feeling for language. And that's among the reasons why ESL students are more likely to fall into the plagiarism:

  • they don't know the core difference between plagiarism and paraphrase, as well as unobvious consequences of plagiarism in academia;
  • they don't know how to cite a source right;
  • they copy from peers or ask others to write academic papers for them, as they don't understand all the consequences, including the unobvious ones.

To avoid plagiarism in your ESL/EFL classroom, teach all pitfalls of academic writing to students, as well as explain the aftermath and recommend them resources to check essays for duplicates and style.

The following tips will guide you through several lessons you might want to give in class for students to know all forms of plagiarism and tactics to avoid it in their academic works.

5 Lessons to Help ESL Students Avoid Accidental Plagiarism


A poor paraphrase is among most popular types of accidental plagiarism. Students don't know how to use it, so they copy the exact wording of the original texts or change the words order without proper citations.

Explain your mentees that it's okay to use paraphrasing in essays but also teach them how to do it right. Let them know that paraphrasing is about keeping the meaning of the original so it would appear in a student's words, not the author's. Strategies of a proper paraphrasing are as follows:

  • Students can use synonyms but shouldn't overuse them. Excessive synonymization doesn't equal integrity and turns a text into poor plagiarism.
  • Students can switch between active and passive voices, change parts of speech, expand or shorten phrases, and split compound sentences.
  • They can use shared language such as tech-related terms, commonly-accepted vocabulary, and conventional designations. It's also fine to use a bias-free language without quotation marks.

Teach your students to use their writing voice, tone, and style rather than copy those from the sources they use. They should write in own words and phrases.


Another strategy to avoid plagiarism in writing is proper quoting and citing. Sometimes students don't know or forget to follow the accepted formatting guidelines (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.), which leads to misunderstanding and low grades. Give them to understand that quoting and citing quotes are subjects to strict rules, and teach them those rules in details.

One more tricky moment you might want to explain to your ESL students is self-plagiarism when they use passages from their previous papers. Make it clear that citing own works is a must and teach how to refer to them right.


Sure enough, your students know about a reference page to include at the end of academic papers. But do they know how to format it right, as well as how to refer to it from the body of essays?

Teach tactics on how to do research and gather references for a paper, which could help your mentees in writing. For example:

  • Encourage to plan ahead and take notes on what they are going to write and in which order they are going to write it.
  • Advise keeping notes and drafts separate to avoid accidental copying of the original language without proper attribution.
  • Suggest to not paste information from sources straight to an essay but use separate files for that.

And explain that reading peer works for inspiration is great but also tempting, as it may lead to accidental plagiarism too.

Working with the source text

Help your ESL/EFL students write a one-of-a-kind academic paper by sharing some tips on working with source texts. What can they do to ease the work with your writing assignment?

  • Advise students to paraphrase the source text in their notes before proceeding further.
  • Suggest them to make lists and use abbreviations while taking stock of sources.
  • It's a good practice to teach how to define key insights and nonessential components of documents for further analyzing and memorizing.
  • Also, suggest students use bright colors and mind maps for highlighting and organizing the notes.

Recommend your mentees to look away from the source text while writing. They might read it several times and then use notes they've made beforehand; otherwise, the temptation of word by word copying is too big.

Explaining the risks

Your students should understand they are responsible for plagiarism, whether intentional or accidental. Teach them to respect the intellectual property of others, no matter if it's their classmates, a paper found online, passages from printed books, or a quote of a classical poet from the 15th century.

Explain that consequences of plagiarism are far beyond reputation loss or low grades for essays. Even accidental, plagiarism in academia leads to broken trust between teachers and students, harm, expulsion, atrophy of creative thinking, monetary theft, demotivation, and other unobvious factors you might want to reveal to your mentees for avoiding plagiarism in your ESL classroom.

These are just a few ideas of how you can encourage students to create unique writings.

Plagiarism is serious business, and your mentees need to understand that a lack of intent doesn't absolve them of responsibility. To ensure the integrity of their writings, students shouldn't neglect to cite sources and quotes, use paraphrasing right, and take accurate notes while research.