Copyright and Plagiarism with 3rd and 4th Graders

Note: This year I am blogging weekly reflections at my school site ( in order to provide more transparency in my teaching for parents, students, and the community (local and global). I will be cross-posting most of the entries here at Bit By Bit as well. You can see the original posts at the “Reflections by Mr. S” blog.


This week, we’ve been moving into a lesson on Copyright with the 3rd/4th graders that comes from the excellent site, Common Sense Media. You can find the original lesson here:

3rd and 4th graders have already heard a lot about Copyright during our lessons, but it is not an easy concept to grasp, and certainly needs repeated teaching. In fact, Copyright Law is often difficult to interpret: I’ve been to many workshops on Copyright over the years, and there are always questions that arise from the participants that can’t quite be answered by the presenters… There are a lot of “gray areas” in interpreting the laws, and not always clear answers.

However, we can all agree that “Plagiarism” is wrong. Students have been hearing this for a long time. So why does it still take place all the way up to college levels? (check out THIS interesting article!)

This week, rather than write to you about how I set up the lesson’s “hook” (to engage interest), I thought I would show you (via video) how I started the discussion of Copyright and Plagiarism. In viewing the video, you may notice a few things that I’d like to address:

  • I’m talking really fast. Remember, this is the “hook” part of the lesson and I could only give it the 12 minutes that it took.
  • I’m talking a lot. There are indeed a few lessons (such as this one), where I talk more than I’d like to the students. Usually, I set them up with their lessons and get them on the computers quickly.
  • Students initially fall for the “trick.” When we question “Why?” we must take into account (as I discuss briefly in the video) that part of “falling for the trick” is because I am their teacher who they are used to trusting. It would be interesting to see them view the “hook” from a stranger and see if they agree with that person’s methods of plagiarizing.
  • And finally, I wish that I kept filming because students were very engaged in carrying out the rest of the discussions and activities.

And now, the video:

What Does Plagiarism Look Like? from wells elementary on Vimeo.

Things you can do with your student at home:

  • Note: your scholar may not have had the lesson yet, so try not to give away the “hook” if you can!
  • But, even if your student hasn’t had the lesson yet, you can still talk to him/her about the words plagiarism and copyright and ask what they know about them.
  • You could work on reading a nonfiction article or book with them and then model how you would retell it using your own words—only looking back at the text to check your facts.
  • You could show them Internet sites or articles that show citation or books that include a bibliography.
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4 Responses to Copyright and Plagiarism with 3rd and 4th Graders

  1. Hello Mr. Sprankle,
    I replicated your lesson on plagiarism with my 5th grade classes. It was a big hit, thanks for the idea! I’d like to write a blog post about it for my professional organization, the Association of Independent School Librarians, if that is acceptable to you. Here is a link to our professional blog:


  2. Bob Sprankle says:


    Of Course! Thanks so much for asking! Please let me know when the post is up, and as I ask with my CC, just please tag me and give credit.

    I can’t wait to see it!


  3. Thanks so much. The blog won’t be published until early November and I’ll let send you a message.


  4. Bob,
    I just posted on the lesson inspired by your blog.

    Thanks so much!

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