a class of collage artists

The first time I allowed pencil-based research, I assumed kids would understand how to look at the bias in a source, figure out the facts and summarize them.  So, I brought our kiddos to the library and found a disturbing trend.

Students pulled out their notecards and began to write everythign they read.  Apparently "research" means "become a medieval scribe."  I pulled the group together and said, "If I wanted copies, I'd be running a printing press."  Students stared at me blankly.  Note to self: six graders sometimes have a difficult time comprehending sarcasm.

After dismissing them, the trend continued, but this time a few students pulled out scissors and simply copied and pasted from the Encyclopedia Brittanica. On some level, I didn't mind.  The British already have a monopoly on trade and language.  Do they really need to be the experts on all of humanities' collective knowledge?  Still, we have books with gaping holes, because students simply stole information without even bothering to copy it into their own words.

On some level, the librarian still hates me.

Move ahead to this year.  I begin, not with the notion of research, but with the concept of intellectual property.  Here, I separate the class into groups of four and have each group solve a complex, creative problem.  I then allow two spies to steal an idea and use it in their group.  I do a similar thing with a short paper students write.

When the students begin to complain, we have a class discussion on collaboration versus theft of intellectual property.  We discuss the need to share information and make it one's own rather than simply copy the work of others.  

I provide them with two options.  Either they can use a chart or they can use note cards.  However, for each source, they must include the following:
  • a question they are trying to answer
  • facts (in their own words)
  • bias of the source (with at least one loaded word)
  • a citing of the source
Students don't seem to plagiarize much anymore, but I had to model it for them.  For all the talk of the Pencil Generation and Pencil Natives and the telegraph promising to instantly connect information from around the world, my students still need help learning to decipher what is true, to find facts, to develop questions and to create an argument that is their own.


  1. What a wonderful lesson, I think I may need to try that with my students. They are researching Canadian heritage at the moment and I am experiencing the same problem.

  2. Excellent way of showing the difference between research and plagiarism.