Helping Students Succeed With Expository Writing

Elementary school students struggle to understand the concepts of plagiarism and paraphrasing. You could ask most classrooms, “Should we copy out of the book?” and they will respond chorally, “Nooooo.” Some students might even be able to tell you that you should “put it in your own words.” But can they actual put this into practice? Not usually. In this post, I will show how my team of teachers made one tiny tweak to a research assignment that helped students succeed and avoid plagiarism.

A few years ago, I read someone’s observation that if you have students research an expository text and then have them produce an expository text in the exact same format, plagiarism is almost unavoidable. You are setting them up to fail. (I wish I could remember the source; my apologies.) This really revolutionized the way we have designed research-based, expository writing assignments.

If students read expository articles on a topic, my team adjusts the written product so they students must fully understand and process the information, which eliminates the possibility of plagiarism. So what do we do? Read on!

animal project

Our state life science standards requires students to study animal adaptations and how those adaptations help animals survive in their habitat. After completing the research process (a post topic for another day), each pair of students had to develop a Google Presentation about their animal’s adaptations. However, instead of just having a list of plagiarized facts, the assignment asked students to create their presentation as a set of instructions for a young animal. So, instead of plagiarizing, “A giraffe has a long neck so it can reach the highest leaves in a tree,” the students might have written an instruction to a baby giraffe that says, “Use your long neck to reach leaves that the other animals can’t get.”


The science concept is, of course, the same, but the latter shows that the students fully comprehended the nonfiction articles they read, which shows we have helped students meet our nonfiction reading standards as well. By changing the genre slightly, we created an assignment that could help students succeed when producing original expository writing. Here are a few more examples from the students’ presentations:

greywolf slide

tiger slide

penguin slide

I was very proud of the student’s work, and I enjoyed the ways this assignment require them to think. The possibilities for this assignment-creation strategy are endless. I’m interested to hear other possibilities from teachers of various grade levels.


About mrwhitehb

I teach 4th grade and am the chair of the Young Hoosier Book Award Committee for grades 4-6.

Posted on January 15, 2015, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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