How to deal with plagiarism and AI in ESL? 7 strategies for teachers

Enhancing Academic Honesty: Strategies for Managing Plagiarism in ESL Settings

Enhancing Academic Honesty: Strategies for Managing Plagiarism in ESL Settings


  • Tips & Strategies
  • Methodology

We are now seeing an instant growth of academic dishonesty. The reasons for that are pretty simple: despite the normal percentage of students who have always leaned towards using other people’s work, it is becoming increasingly common to use AI-powered tools that rewrite the given text, rephrase it or even write an original text instead of you. This article will elaborate on issues that are important for any ESL teacher: how to spot plagiarism and what to do to avoid such cases within your class.

Signs of plagiarism or AI use

It is possible to spot plagiarism even with no special tools. There are always some specific signs that can help an ESL teacher see that the student is engaging in academically dishonest behavior:

  • The vocabulary is beyond the student’s level. You know your students better than anyone else. If you feel like the language is too advanced, follow the feeling and talk with the student. You don’t have to blame the person instantly.

However, if asking a couple of questions about the used vocabulary is not successful, you have every right to start a serious conversation.

  • The words don’t match each other. When the text is rephrased, the program usually doesn’t care whether these two words can be used together. The only task it has is to change every given word within the text into something different. This is how we get a very obviously generated text.
  • A lot of passive. Another thing about rephrasing AI tools that are one of the main sources of academic dishonesty is that they often change an active sentence into a passive, and vice versa.

However, because we have a much bigger amount of active sentences in general and usually choose them while writing something original, a generated text with a lot of passives seems extremely weird and suspicious.

  • Unconventional order of the sentences’ parts and parts of speech. Rewriting tools often rephrase sentences by changing the order of the words or sentences’ parts. Even though these tools handle grammar well, the general appearance of the sentence just seems to be off. 
  • The text lacks any personal details and is too general. 

If the text looks like it could have been written by anyone, it might be generated or copied by skipping personal unrelated information.

  • The style of paragraphs is different. If the text chunks seem to be written by different people, it is a sign.

Strategies to enhance academic honesty

There are certain strategies you can implement to make your students avoid plagiarism and convince them that stealing somebody else’s work is never an option:

Forewarned is forearmed

The easiest way to prevent plagiarism is to warn your students. As soon as they get acquainted with the classroom rules, it becomes much more difficult to simply ignore them and plagiarize. Sure, this strategy doesn’t guarantee that students will never want to copy another person’s work. However, with such an announcement you do set the rules and consciously referring to plagiarism becomes a way to break them.

Familiarize students with the policy

Students often come from different backgrounds and their learning experience always varies. Therefore, it is crucial to familiarize students with the anti-plagiarism policy. It really matters because students might have never seen it before. So, the concept of “plagiarism” is not on their radar at all. 

When I first got into my university that was the case for many of my peers. Astonished with the bad marks for their first assignments, they were wondering what happened. And after the thorough explanations of our professor, they realized that there is no such thing as “borrowing”. You either cite or plagiarize. So, sometimes lacking the knowledge of basic issues might be the cause of plagiarism in your classroom.

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Review what plagiarism is

It is also crucial to clarify what you actually mean by “plagiarism” and “academic dishonesty”. At the beginning of the course, the difference between citing and copying can be very vague for students. That is why, it would be a good idea to start the term with a little explainer on academic (dis)honesty. What is especially important in this case is to show real examples of what the citation is and how plagiarism looks. 

In this way, students will never confuse these two things or put all the blame on not-knowing.

Sign a pledge

After you are done with reviewing the rules, you may offer your students to sign a pledge with all the rules. The practice might seem weird but actually you get the document which you can refer to anytime you spot academic dishonesty. 

By the way, it was compulsory in my university to sign such a thing.

Make the tasks interesting to invest in

There are two most popular reason-whys students plagiarize. They either have no time so copying seems to be a way out of the situation or they don’t want to invest their time into the task.

The first case might be a result of a student's bad time management. 

Or maybe it is you who announced an essay’s deadline too late? Make sure that all the task deadlines are transparent and announced way ahead of time.

The second case signals about lack of engagement.

Then, you should reflect on your assignments. Maybe they are boring? Maybe they are very difficult? Maybe they are huge? Consider correcting some possible flaws that make students cheat rather than invest into completing the task.

Develop your personal reputation

If you want your students to quit cheating, you have to develop a strong reputation as a person who doesn’t tolerate such behavior. This can be achieved through clear communication with your students and exposing the lie whenever you find it. If you do so, students will naturally stick to academic honesty because it is easier to complete the work in the right way than dealing with overstepping your main rule.

Use AI checkers

Finally, the era of technology gives us eternal possibilities to check any work for plagiarism at any time. There are many softwares of different quality, price and accuracy that may give you a helping hand with checking the students’ papers.

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Apps and softwares to check plagiarism

Here are some of the most popular plagiarism-checking softwares:

  • Grammarly
  • Copyleaks
  • Unicheck
  • Turnitin
  • PaperRater
  • Scribbr
  • Copyscape
  • Plagiarism Checker X
Apps help to find out whether the text has been copied.AI-powered programs are still not perfect and often make mistakes.
Apps are convenient and easy to use.The majority of them have a subscription plan you have to follow to enjoy all the features.
Apps are usually good at spotting AI- generated texts.They fail if the app that was used initially is advanced or the generated text is a bit rewritten.

As you can see, there are many strategies that you can use to fight plagiarism back. If it has become a serious issue, you can use the combination of strategies we have proposed. 

Article authors & editors
  • Arina Kravchenko

    Arina Kravchenko


    Teacher of General English & IELTS



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