Thursday, September 17, 2009

Repeat Offender

5-Paragraph Essay

Mrs. Scribe is still slogging thru the flotsam & jetsam of the second week of school. I've graded 120 papers in the last week, with miles to go before I sleep, y'all! I selected this prompt from Mama Kat's Writer's Workshop: The Message You'd Like to Craft. Think there are quite a few messages in this piece, which first appeared as a guest post at Mr. Teacher's Place.

The prose struck me. Fluid. Full of imagery. An intro paragraph that fairly lifted off the page and hung there.The Boy definitely “gets it,” I said to myself. He captured the thesis—the gist of his analysis—within the first two sentences, and laid it out there for all of us to see. None of this “The book I read is about…” nor “The thesis of my research paper is…”

Manna from Heaven. Or, prose proffered by a pupil, if you prefer. Literate, readable; the yin and yang of the perfect research paper.

Paragraphs two and three stood at attention. Then they marched off the page and into my psyche, begging my green (green, you know, is the new “red” for high school English teachers these days), pen to scritchy-scratch across the sheet. But I kept my powder dry. Only the merest “Good Job!” emitted from the felt point of my green Flair pen. (No red marks mar my students' work, since the day one of them complained, "Mrs. Scribe, my paper is bleeding!")

I knew that calamity surely waited around the bend in Paragraph 4. Or perhaps 5. But the melody of The Boy’s prose continued to sing along with the harmonic balance of his analysis. “Bravo!” I scrawled.

But then came Paragraph 6. Hmmmmmmmm….I know! I’ve read this before! Plagiarist! I knew it was too good to be true! I scurried to my laptop to search for the roots of The Boy’s criminal action.

But nothing clicked. Nothing remotely resembling the research paper before me. What, then, was that “familiar feeling” that kept lurking right behind my eyes, willing my felt-tip to scribble away?

I flipped the pages back to Page One. Searching for an answer. Which lay, of course, in the first paragraph of this alleged prodigy’s “masterpiece.”

Yes, The Boy wrote a near-perfect first paragraph. Anchored with a tenacious, bold thesis. His subsequent four paragraphs echoed the thoughts that he meant to argue, and persuaded his reader—this reader, me—that his points were well worth considering. Until…Paragraph 6? The same as Paragraph 1. And Paragraph 7? The same as Paragraph 2. And so on and so forth. Word for word.

The Boy had not suddenly learned how to write. Rather, he had absorbed that age-old lesson that we teachers of writing don’t like to admit. Not all of us read every word we assign.

The young man specialized as a “Copy & Paste” crook. And a gambler, I’d wager. He was betting that 5 solid, golden paragraphs would be a good investment. And then he copied & pasted until he had the required 5 pages. Wrote a deceptively wicked conclusion and called it a day.

You might say The Boy was a Repeat Offender.


quilly said...

How remarkably ingenious! You have to give him credit for creativity!

One of my favorite plagiarized pieces of student work was copied by hand from the encyclopedia and the student paid so little attend to what he was writing he included "as depicted in illustration two" and "see also: anemone".

LadyStyx said...

Oh my. At least he plagiarized himself and not something like, say, the Bible. When I was working for a private Christian school in Louisiana, I was responsible for one class one year. Since it was a "filler" class, they didn't require an actual teacher per se in there and since I was the only staff member with free time at that point, I was shoved into this class of 6th graders. I can't remember what the writing assignment was that I issued but I can remember the one student and what happened. I was reading along in the homework and most did really well. Then I came across this one lil fella's work and it was beautifully written. About a couple paragraphs in, I realized it looked familiar...very familiar. Infact, I knew what page it was... You see, he plagiarized the Bible. I knew simply because I'd read those very passages not 2 days prior. Needless to say, I had to have a conversation with his very embarrassed mother.

Amy said...


While, in retrospect, I regret this because of my awful vocabulary, in the seventh grade, we used to fill our vocab workbooks with the word cheese in all the blanks because the teacher just walked by looking for words.

Life with Kaishon said...

Wow. The kid does have a good mind to think of an idea like that : ). I hope he didn't get in too much trouble. 5 out of 6 great paragraphs is pretty good : )

Susie said...

That is too funny! He cheated and not well:-(

S.E. Sward said...

The ingenuity of the dishonest student knows no bounds. The great irony is that he no doubt invested more time trying to figure out how to fraudulently fill 5 pages for the assignment than he would have spent had he actually done the assignment to begin with. *sigh*

Stopping by from SITS.

Mom of Three said...

Clever little boy. I hope he puts that mind to use for good and not evil. :-)

And @quilly - that's really funny! haha.

Tammy Howard said...


I got identical papers from a boyfriend and girlfriend once. Identical. Verbatim. And they had the nards to approach me - TOGETHER - after class to complain about their failing grades.

blueviolet said...

I wanna be mad at him and I am a little bit but there's still a piece of me that admires his gumption.

Tara R. said...

Oh my... that is hilarious! *snort* I will be giggling about this one for days.

Genny said...

Interesting. Oh my. Let me just pat you on the back though because it sounds like you've had a busy two weeks...120 papers? Wow.

CJ said...

That was a great post. Very creative.

As a (very-happily) retired teacher, I was feeling your pain at the 120 papers graded. I was always glad I didn't teach writing. However, I once was asked to help judge creative writing pieces for a contest. I was the only one who noticed that one of our best students had stolen her three entries from Rudyard Kipling.

My response to Mama Kat's writing workshop is HERE.

Tracy P. said...

That is funny! What a shame that he could take the time to write something as glowing as all that, and then not keep it up. Obviously the boy was talented.

I still remember cutting my teeth on "Five Paragraph Themes". Why did they wait until our senior year to teach us that format? It's like it all clicked for me--but really it's so simple that a fourth grader could do it. (My fourth grader. And his writing needs help so badly!) Maybe it's just that the teachers of younger grades don't want to grade them???

Miss Jo said...

Gosh, a copy-and-paste caper. I wonder how he really writes.


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