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Plagiarism and Paraphrasing Lesson

Research skills can be tricky to teach, especially to younger students.

No research skill is more tricky than avoiding plagiarism by paraphrasing and citing your sources. Our final unit is under the transdiciplinary theme of Sharing the Planet. Our students choose a plant or animal to research and they write a report about their species. We look at many research skills, from finding reliable sources and creative commons images to taking and organising notes.

With my grade 2 students, I managed to put together a successful series of lessons to introduce the idea of plagiarism and how to avoid it.

I wanted to share it here, so that other teachers can get an idea of how they might tackle this topic with their students, and also because it relates to my Unit Plan for COETAIL.


Plagiarism, Paraphrasing and Citation – Grade 2 Sharing the Planet

Lesson #1 ­ Plagiarism

  • The Teacher­ would prepare for the lesson by taking a student’s recently completed published piece that the class would recognise. The Teacher would then put his/her name on the piece or copy it to try and pull it off as their own. (This would work best with a published book or story.)
  • The Teacher would begin the class by telling the students that while they were writing their story, he/she was also writing his/her own story too. And ask if they would like to hear it.
  • The Teacher would begin reading the ‘plagiarised’ story and hopefully the students would begin reacting to the fact that the story didn’t belong to the Teacher.
  • When the Teacher is satisfied with the protests he/she will strop reading and lead the students in a conversation about what happened and what they were thinking or feeling, (especially the student whose work was used).
  • Through the discussion, the students would hopefully come up with the words not yours, stealing, lying, property, angry, upset, sad, hurt.
  • The Teacher would then introduce the word Plagiarism and show the  BrainPop video about  Plagiarism.
  • After watching the video and discussing the definition of plagiarism, the Teacher might then choose to read their school’s policy on plagiarism, and read out a couple hypothetical scenarios involving plagiarism to discuss as a class.
  • The Teacher would divide the students into small groups and hand each group scenario, (See Appendix A ­ from  Common Sense Media‘s  Whose is it,  anyway? lesson.)
  • In groups the students would practice applying what they learned by deciding if their scenario qualifies as plagiarism or not and, if it is, come up with an alternate solution or ending for each situation or problem. (The Teacher could also infuse some drama into this lesson by having each group act out their scenario as written and then, ‘rewind’ the situation and act out their alternate ending in which the situation would no longer qualify as plagiarism.)
  • The Teacher brings the students together to share their scenarios.
  • The lesson would end with students reflecting, either orally or written, their understanding of plagiarism. They may choose to use the following sentence starter: Plagiarism is when..

Lesson #2 ­ Paraphrasing and Citing Sources

  • The Teacher would ask the students to reiterate what they learned about plagiarism.
  • He/She would ask what the students remember as the two ways that plagiarism can be avoided when doing research. And hopefully the students will remember paraphrasing, (or using your own words), and citing your sources, (or saying where you found that information).
  • Watch the BrainPop video on  Paraphrasing and talk about it with students afterwards. Make a class list of paraphrasing tips.
  • As a class examine a couple of resources about Orangutans (or other animal / plant), both print and digital and talk about how we should go about citing those resources, using what they have learned from the two BrainPop videos they have watched.
  • Agree as a class on some logical way to help their readers know where they got their information, and record it on a class list of citing sources agreements.
  • Using the example of the Orangutans, let the students know that they are going to make a class ‘report’, (or whatever summative assessment the grade teachers have agreed upon beforehand, ex. report, wiki, poster, student choice, etc.), to help them practice the process of gathering information.
  • Using one of the guided inquiry questions that was predetermined by the class, (ex. what do they eat?), the Teacher would begin modelling using a variety of non-fiction resources to find information relevant to the question and using the class tips for paraphrasing and citing sources.
  • The Teacher would then divide the students into pairs and assign each group one of the class inquiry questions, along with a variety of resources. The students would practice using the resources and class generated tips to paraphrase appropriate information and cite their sources.
  • After a predetermined amount of time, the class would come together and share their research.
  • The Teacher would then help the class logically assemble their research into the desired format for whichever form of presentation was decided upon.
  • The class would then reflect upon what they learned either orally or written. They may choose to use the following sentence starter: You can avoid plagiarism by…

Assessments for Learning

  • Students will use their class generated tip lists for paraphrasing and citing sources.
  • Students will refer to their unit rubric which they helped create at the beginning of the unit.

Accommodations/Special Needs:

  • Provide research material from a variety of media, (books, magazines, videos, interactive online resources, etc.) and reading levels.
  • Offer students a variety of opportunities to express themselves, whole class discussions, small group, partner work, writing, speaking, acting.
  • Take note of children who have misconceptions, (example: thinks putting something in their own words means changing the meaning of the information), and address these misconceptions immediately.
  • Any other accommodations necessary based on the needs of the students in the class.

Resources / Materials

  • Piece of published student work
  • Projector and internet access for BrainPop videos
  • Plagiarism Scenarios, like the one pictured below
  • Plant / Animal resources of various types and reading levels

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Why We Should be Teaching Kids about Money

Talk about an authentic math lesson…

Today my students and I went to the grocery store.


It was so powerful watching my students interact with the shopkeepers, compare produce prices, weigh vegetables to make sure they have the right amount, and even stress out when the store doesn’t have what they need or they go over their projected budget.

I started thinking about how important money is in our everyday lives and how little we touch on financial concepts in school.  We are living in an age of mortgages, credit, and student loans. Where job security and long-term employment, (complete with retirement fund), are no longer the norm. Financial literacy is timely and essential for every individual no matter their chosen field.

When I was growing up, the topic of money was very taboo in my family.  It was considered rude to ask about money and the cost of something like a family vacation or new skates. My brother and I started making our own money at around twelve or thirteen years old with weekend, evening and summer jobs, this carried on throughout school and into our post-secondary educations.  A work ethic was something we never lacked. We were very good at making money. But because we were essentially forbidden to talk about money as kids and because we weren’t explicitly taught about money in school, we never learned to manage it properly.  We did not have basic financial skills like budgeting, saving, or investing.

This summer I read a book that will hopefully help me get my ducks in order now that I am debt free and able to save and invest.  Millionaire Teacher: The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in School taught me everything I should have been taught once I started making my own money. (And a couple of things that wouldn’t have hurt me to know before then.) Up to this point I had read several books designed to instruct or inspire financial independence, but this was the first one that really clicked and deepened my understanding of what I should be doing to secure my future.  It is written by Andrew Hallam (read his bio), a teacher at Singapore American School who wrote his book in response to the lack of sound financial lessons in schools.

As a teacher I try to create authentic opportunities for math learning for my students.  Now that we have visited the grocery store, my students are enthusiastic to start their own pretend grocery shop in our classroom.

If you are a parent, please take your kids shopping. Talk about comparing prices and the value of the yen (or dollar, or euro, etc.) Let your kids help you budget your next family vacation. Give them an allowance and take them to the bank to put a percentage into a savings account.  (Read this snippet from Daniel Pink’s Drive first.) Have them save up for something they really want. Show them how you are saving for their college or university and talk about why you’re saving now when your child is only in second grade. Even talk about retirement, (yours and theirs), and what people do to prepare.

(Apologies if some of these topics are based on North American financial issues and values.)

How do you teach your students or children about money?


Grade 3 Skype Experience

(This past Thursday, I set up a Skype call for our grade 3 class at ISH to connect with students from Jacksonville, Florida.  It was a great experience – you can watch an amazing video reflection from the students at their end here, on the ‘Around the World with 80 Schools‘ Ning.)

Using Skype in class…

‘I thought it was over-rated…Maybe just an over-hyped novelty…Probably end up being a one-time thing…’

Boy was I wrong.

It was worth the hype and more.

The students level of excitement, the wide eyes, the ooohs and ahhhs.

This was definitely a memorable experience for these kids – one that had them making connections and asking questions, and learning from each other.  They were carrying on a dialogue over thousands of kilometres.  A dialogue that saw them looking at kids their age in a different part of the world, different cultural and religious backgrounds and realizing – they had just as much in common with these kids than their neighbour sitting next to them.

I was very fortunate that the teacher at the other end had lots of experience conducting these kinds of lessons, and I was very happy to follow her lead.  They asked and answered great questions that highlighted both the differences (geographically and culturally) and similarities – this was so key.  The similarities now seem insignificant – two kids on opposite sides of the ocean have art as their favourite subject – both groups of kids like pizza, the same TV shows – and the same Hannah Montana song.  But these seemingly insignificant shared pieces of pop culture astounded and united the kids who were oceans away from each other.

In order to do a better job of this next time , (and there DEFINITELY will be a next time), I’m reflecting on how I prepared, what I loved, what I learned, and what I would do differently next time.

What I did to prepare:

  • I ‘test-called’ the other teacher in Florida to make sure I could get a good skype connection at school
  • Informed students and ‘hyped’ them up
  • Sent home a letter (email) to parents asking permission for students to stay after school to skype and included information (website, etc.) about the school we would be communicating with
  • Tried to prepare the students for our call by using ‘Google Earth’ to find both Helsinki and Florida on the map and compare.  Looked at photos of our school and of their school and compared
  • Made a list of different nationalities represented in our class.  (13!!!)
  • Talked a little bit about what the call would look like (but I wasn’t very helpful…this was my first time  too!)
  • Set up the video camera – (ended up being useless)

What I loved:

  • The excitement in the room
  • The anticipation
  • The faces of the kids in the room

What I learned (or re-learned):

  • How important it is for kids to connect with other kids
  • Kids can learn from each other
  • Kids can teach each other
  • Connections are powerful
What I would do differently next time:
  • I would prepare the kids better (inquire into the places we are skyping to)
  • Set up a ‘hot seat’ for the person speaking
  • Get a better external microphone that can pick up the whole class, but is still able to clearly pick up the person speaking (any suggestions?)
  • Get a tripod for my video camera and have a designated camera person
  • Maybe figure out how to ‘tape’ the webcam feed (on both ends for video making purposes)
  • Have students rehearse asking and answering questions
  • Talk about ‘good’ questions
  • Talk about behaviour expectations
  • Have students record what is going on during the call (back-channelling, photos, videos)
  • Have a student introduce the class
  • Prepare something special for the class to show the school we’re skyping with
  • Debrief students immediately afterwards

One big thing I learned after this lesson, (that is completely unrelated to Skype), is that I have zero video editing skills!  This is something I plan to change.

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The North American Barn Owl Part 2 – A Reflection

The past two Thursdays I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone and into a Kindergarten classroom for the first time.

I taught two mini-lessons on owls.  (See this post, for the full lesson idea.)

The lessons went well.  I was nervous teaching such a young age group, but it went better than I thought.

The fist day I read ‘The Barn Owls’ by Tony Johnston, and then asked students what they already knew about owls.

They knew so much already, and we were able to make a big list.  The kids commented on how much they already knew.

We then headed up to the grade 1 classroom where we  used their smart board to view Molly’s Box live.  We also watched some recorded videos of the box and a video of an owlet hatching on YouTube.

The Kindergarten students had great questions and were very engaged watching Molly and her babies ‘Live’ via ‘The Owl Box’ on UStream.

They did start to get a bit restless, (not surprising), but they were nonetheless engaged.

Surprisingly, the hardest thing to convey to the students was what it meant to watch something ‘Live’ as opposed to pre-recorded like the YouTube video.  It was also challenging to explain to the K1’s that Molly was in California, so it was only 11:30pm there, while here in Helsinki it was already mid-morning.

The following Thursday we headed straight up to the grade 1 classroom.  We looked at the list of what we already knew about owls and then made a new list of things we knew about Barn Owl’s digestive systems. (It was more just me telling them about the Barn Owl’s digestive system.)

Molly’s UStream channel was down so we watched some pre-recorded videos of Max (the oldest owlet) expelling pellets.

Since I wanted the kids to further understand the distance between Molly and them, I made a really simple google map to show the distance between San Marcos, California and Helsinki.  The Kindergartens found the map so interesting – it sparked more questions and discussion than the owl pellets.

(My idea to use a map came from Heidi Hayes Jacobs’ new book – Curriculum 21 – Essential Education for a Changing World.  She argues that maps should be used throughout the curriculum in order for students to be able to relate to geography in a meaningful way.  For more about this, check out the book, or Curriculum 21’s Ning, or this great post by Silvia Tolisano on her Langwitches Blog.)

We then headed back to the Kindergarten classroom to make our own edible owl pellets! (Scroll to the bottom of this entry for the recipe.)

These were a very messy highlight.  The kids loved making them, and loved tasting them even more. We added ‘rodent bones’ to the recipe, (mini marshmallows and small pieces of white chocolate.)  Delicious!

I was having so much fun, I forgot to take pictures of the K1’s but I revisited them when their teacher had them do a follow-up activity making owls from paper plates.

Paper plate owls - so much fun!


What went well:

  • Reading the picture book and asking students for prior knowledge
  • Watching Molly live and watching pre-recorded videos
  • Making edible owl pellets

What didn’t go well:

  • Questioning
  • ‘Lecturing’
  • Understanding

What I would do differently next time:

  • I would consult the classroom teacher about questioning – the K1 teacher was really helpful during my lesson, asking clarifying questions and prompting the students
  • I would have taken more of an inquiry approach, maybe try to get real owl pellets to look at and touch – I did not intend to ‘lecture’ Kindergarten kids, but that’s what happened because of lack of time and maybe my inexperience with this grade level
  • I would take more time to look at and discuss the map – I’m slowly realizing the importance of maps in lessons, regardless of subject or grade level
  • I would do a better job of checking for understanding – after making the edible owl pellets, most K1 students couldn’t express themselves when their classroom teacher asked them to recall one thing they learned

This was so much fun and I can’t wait to work with the Kindergarten teacher and students again.

Next: My first skyping with students.  Coming soon…

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The North American Barn Owl

So, I’ve been mildly obsessed with `The Owl Box‘ – this U-Stream channel that’s gone viral lately and is completely addictive!


The story behind The Owl Box is a great one.  Carlos and Donna Royal set up this owl box in their back yard complete with cameras (one for daytime and an infrared one for night-time), and waited for something to happen.  The owl box went unused for two years before a barn owl chose to nest in it.  They named the owl Molly and her mate McGee.

Since they have started broadcasting online, Molly has laid five eggs, four of which have now hatched.  The channel is so popular, at times there are tens of thousands of people watching.  This has garnered an incredible amount of attention for the couple and their city of San Marcos, California.  Carlos has skyped with schools around the U.S., talking about owls and answering questions from inquiring students.  There is Molly merchandise and even an e-book in the works.  (Reference:

The educational opportunities The Owl Box offers are endless.

I approached the Kindergarten teacher at my school and told her about The Owl Box.  I offered to come in and teach a lesson on Owls for their on-going unit of inquiry on ‘The Four Seasons’, obviously relating the Owl and her nesting cycle to the season of Spring.

So, this Thursday, I’m going into the Kindergarten class for a fun owl themed morning.  I’m very excited and it’s been fun putting together what I hope will be an engaging lesson.

This is my lesson plan so far:

  • Prepare edible pellet mix
  • Make sure smartboard and U-Steam work in G1 teacher’s room
  • Ask K1 teaching assistant to make a giant cut-out of an owl where we can post ideas and questions
  • Photocopy and mix sequence of ‘nesting cycle’ from ‘Owls’ by Gail Gibbons
  • To learn about the nature of owls through a case study on the North American Barn Owl
Mental Set (in K1 room):
  • Read ‘The Barn Owls’ by Tony Johnston
  • Think Pair Share – Ask students what they know about owls (display somehow-giant owl cut-out?)
Input & Modelling (In Gr 1 room):
  • Talk about how Owls are born (what do students already know about the nesting cycle?)
  • Show Molly on the smart board, answer student questions (or at least try to, I’m not an expert)
  • Write down student questions (display somehow-giant owl cut-out?)
  • Focus questions on the nesting cycle and on digestion
Practice (In K1 Room):
  • Put ‘nesting cycle’ story in order
  • Make (edible) owl pellets
Check For Understanding:
  • Ongoing: I will be checking for understanding as students ask question and as they sequence the ‘nesting cycle’
Closure / Reflection:
  • Review what we know, and what we’ve learned
  • Have students bring home Owl Pellet to parents and explain what an owl pellet is
  • Have students bring home ‘nesting cycle’ to explain to parents
  • Give students links to the ‘Owl Box’ on U-Stream and the ‘Molly’s Box’ blog
  • ‘The Barn Owl’ by Tony Johnston
  • ‘Owls’ by Gail Gibbons
  • Display for ‘What we know’
  • ‘Nesting Cycle’ sequencing photocopies
  • Edible Owl Pellet materials

I got the edible owl pellet recipe from The Barn Owl Trust.

I tried it out this weekend, (yes we had owl pellets for desert at Easter dinner).

Edible Owl Pellets

A closer look

They were delicious, kind of like chocolate truffles.  If I was living in North America I would use this recipe from Dr. Rickert’s Education Adventure.  (Taken from ‘Owl Puke’ by Jane Hammerslough.)  It has stuff that’s hard to find and expensive here in Finland.  (It’s not nut-free either.)

I will post a reflection on the lesson after teaching it.  I can’t wait!