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Plagiarism question


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I wasn't sure where to put this but I thought the book forum might be best


I am teaching songwriting in my high school music class. I often use lyrics from songs that the kids know, so that they recognize the melody and understand how the lyrics fit into the meter of the song. Then, I'll have students take one line of lyrics out, and write their own original lyrics.


Today I gave them a test which had some songwriting in it. Before the test was started, I made it a point to tell them that they very well may recognize some of the song lyrics in the test, and that they MUST write their own original lyrics for the sections that I took out. For example, I used:


"Take me out to the ball game,

Take me out with the crowd.

Buy me some peanuts and cracker jack,



The original song goes: "I don't care if I never get back."


But one of my students wrote, "I don't care if I ever come back." (The rest of my students wrote lyrics that were very different from the original song)


Two words are different from the original... but would it still be considered plagiarism? I'm not sure if I should penalize the student, since 1. we didn't study these lyrics in class and therefore I don't know if the student knew the song previously, and 2. how much of an original piece of work must be the same to be considered plagiarism? I've read some articles saying that moving the words around still doesn't make it different, so I'm wondering if this would be the same thing.

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Maybe the student didn't understand. They may have thought you wanted them to fill in the blank with what the rest of the song. They didn't realize perhaps that you wanted something original. What about asking them to compose original words to a familiar melody versus substituting one line? If they just substitute one line at a time, the words will feel disjointed. Just a thought.


Instead of calling plaigarism, I would remind the student that you want something original that they make up rather than the lyrics to the song. I would honestly take them aside and ask them to do it again this one time. point out that its almost exactly the same. But then again, what you gave them doesn't give them much creativity/room unless it was a longer song you used. A student may want to naturally guess what you want them to write rather than giving them more room for expression. It becomes a test of logic rather than creativity at least for this age group.

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