Instilling ethical writing habits in students is one of the most daunting tasks that teachers face today. With mounting classroom sizes and increasing expectations from parents and administration, there is often little time or energy left to devote to teaching subjects such as plagiarism awareness and proper citation skills, not to mention deeper nuances within the field. These deeper topics, such as citation styles, and gaining an understanding of when each style is most appropriate often fall by the wayside.

Although it can be tough, most educators and administrators would agree that there is significant work yet to be done to improve the way ethical writing is taught. Arguably, one of the most impactful things teachers can do to fit this critical subject into their curriculum is to take a step back and evaluate the efficiency of their approach.

Below are four actionable suggestions on how teachers can weave ethical writing into content instruction. Additionally, a digital resource is included for each suggestion as well as ideas on how they might be implemented.

1. Utilize Quality Models

If students do not understand what a properly cited paper looks like, they may flounder and end up plagiarizing due to a lack of knowledge. Use quality examples that demonstrate the citation style you expect.


This resource, Purdue’s Online Writing Lab (OWL), has subject-specific examples, including professional/technical, literature, social science, engineering, creative, journalism, and others.

Broken down under each category are specific instructions that pertain to the different techniques, types, or styles. For example, included under the professional/technical writing sub-sections are basic business letters, grant writing, technical reports, white papers, and activity and postmortem reports.

Using a quality example of the citation style that corresponds most to the subject matter ensures that students know how to properly source and cite their work, no matter the topic or writing style.

2. Business as Usual

Many teachers wait for one giant research paper to teach citation. However, if students are instructed both formally and informally on when to quote, summarize, and paraphrase, they are more likely to cite their sources correctly on all their assignments. This idea can be implemented easily in almost any subject area.


Using a site such as Newsela, teachers can choose articles with relevant context from ELA, Science, Math, and Social Studies to use as examples. After reading a brief article, teachers could then query their students for what lines from the text would require a citation or a quotation.

Thoroughly discuss why certain lines are to be quoted and talk about how to cite. Some of the questions could include: what would be lost if it was paraphrased or summarized instead of quoted? Or: Why is it important to use the exact words of the author here? Or: How do we know we can trust this line of information?

Additionally, the difference between paraphrasing and summarizing should be addressed. Discuss the criteria for both and how and when these instances apply.

If students understand quoting, summarizing, and paraphrasing as a “business as usual” situation within a classroom, ethical writing practices will increase.

3. Bell-ringers/Exit Slips

Having students answer questions for review at either the start or end of class is a common practice. These are often called “bell ringers”, “openers”, “do-nows”, “exit slips” or ”tickets” and can establish the tone of learning as well as check for understanding. Imagine if this time was used for practicing or reviewing both content and ethical writing practices. This would, idiomatically-speaking, kill two birds with one stone.


Poll Everywhere is an exercise in which you can ask a question and collect responses in real-time. These can then be integrated into Keynote, PowerPoint or Google Slides, which makes implementing a bell-ringer or exit slip strategy very simple. Teachers could ask a range of questions such as:

  • What is the proper way to cite this text in [chosen citation] format?
  • What line of the text MUST be quoted directly? Why?
  • How can a reader trust the information about [topic]?
  • Summarize and cite paragraph 4 of the text.

4. Check for Plagiarism

Without enforcement, there is no law. This applies to many scenarios, from the classroom to the professional world. One way to ensure that students are not only understanding of the practices of ethical writing but also willing to apply these concepts to their writing is through the use of a plagiarism checker.

A quick and easy lesson to share with students is one in which you demonstrate what NOT to do. In this lesson, you will model a piece of writing and instead of citing, you plagiarize or steal material. Next, show students how this practice will be caught by running it through a plagiarism checker. If they know that their work will be analyzed for plagiarism through an effective filter, it will keep their citation practices top of mind.


Our plagiarism checker uses an algorithm to detect statistically similar material. The uploaded information is checked against over billions of websites, millions of academic journal papers and millions of books, songs, and more.

In conclusion, ethical writing practices are key to academic and professional success in the digital age. Teachers have free and premium tools at their disposal that include writing models, current events articles, live polling, and plagiarism checkers for crafting instruction around these essential practices.