Reducing Plagiarism with Non-Traditional Assignments

By Peter Connor

Are you looking for assignments that spark the intellectual interest of your students while reducing the temptation to plagiarize or, otherwise cheat? It might not be as tall an order as it sounds. The in-class activities and discussions you’re already conducting might hold the answer, laying the groundwork for out-of-class assignments that do both.

Relying on non-traditional multi-part assignments that link in-class teaching moments to independent, outside learning activities is half the battle. To help you think about and create non-traditional assignments, Lieberg (2008) provides the following ideas (as cited in Tomorrow’s Professor: Msg. #1001, 2010).

  • Assign teams to interview each other on course readings or assignments and prepare an appropriate summary.
  • Use pairs to "pass the baton." Create an assignment with two parts. Have one student complete part one, then have the student pass it to his or her partner, who must rely on what the first student did, to complete part two. You might also have the students switch roles for another pair of activities. The pieces can, of course, be modified according to the goals of different assignments and to a variety of media.
  • Ask students to interview a local person regarding actions or policies relevant to your course content.
  • Ask students to write a dialogue between two people they have been studying.
  • Ask students to create a list of paragraphs, quotes, or sample problems from sources you give them or sources you tell them to locate. Such a task resembles an annotated bibliography, but instead of the typical forms of annotation, students will locate a piquant or cogent paragraph, explanation, diagram, problem set, or comment type that you designate. As with a typical bibliography assignment, they should include all citation information.
  • Ask students to employ their knowledge about a media form to analyze material. They might create a portion of "director’s notes” for the destruction of an overpass, a re-creation of a historical event, or the announcement of a merger.
  • Use the form of a letter, or a memo, with invented roles for students and the audience to whom the memo is addressed.
  • Invite students to adopt the voice or style of a newscaster to report on and then analyze an event in your discipline.
  • Another direction to take, which overlaps with the suggestions above, involves asking students to discuss points made by other students during a discussion in person or online

Non-traditional assignments such as these have great potential for grabbing your students' attention, stimulating them intellectually, and removing unintended opportunities that tempt acts of plagiarism or cheating.


Lieberg, C. (2008). Plagiarism and assignments that discourage it. In R. Reis (Ed.), Tomorrow’s Professor: Msg. 1001. Retrieved from

Lieberg, C. (2008). Teaching your first college class: A practical guide for new faculty and graduate student instructors. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.


Thanks to Dr. Erica Suchman, Associate Professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University, for this tip suggestion. Erica is the CVMBS Master Teacher Initiative (MTI) coordinator.