Classroom Leadership: 10 Ways to Cheat-Proof Your Classroom

When I was in high school, I helped set up a system where seven of us would divide up math problems and copy from one another. It was an intricate framework involving which ones we each did on our own and which ones we copied from one another. With the addition of our three separate mistakes that we added to the problems, it became nearly impossible for the teacher to detect.

Was it wrong? Probably. It certainly wasn't honest. We would have been better off simply doing less homework and standing up boldly to the consequence for insubordination. Was it surprising? Not at all. We were motivated by work completion in a system of rewards and punishments. It wasn't that we were cheating so much as bargain hunting. We had rigged the system to benefit ourselves as consumers.

One of the biggest classroom management complaints I hear in the staff lounge involves student cheating. Teachers are horrified, mystified and petrified when it happens. Typically, the solution moves toward stricter surveillance and harsher punishments.

However, a classroom leader should be more proactive by attacking the causes rather than the effects of cheating. This begins with establishing a relationship of trust. Students are less likely to cheat if it feels like a betrayal of trust with someone they care about. However, the following are a few more ways that teachers can prevent students from cheating:
  1. Critical Thinking: The best assignments cannot be copied. This might include asking students to develop an argument and defend it individually or having students develop their own math problems or their own processes for solving shared math problems. 
  2. Move Toward Mastery: Help students see that the goal is not completion, but mastery. Get rid of averages and zeroes. Students need to understand that cheating prevents teachers from providing necessary intervention and plan for future learning. 
  3. Monitor Frequently Engage with Students Often: If a student turns in a plagiarized essay, chances are the teacher wasn't part of the pre-planning, writing and editing process. Teachers need to monitor students often and provide instant feedback so that incompletion doesn't snowball into an opportunity to cheat.
  4. Allow Mistakes: Sometimes students copy work, because they have become risk-averse and afraid of having the wrong answers. However, if a teacher can cultivate an classroom culture that values risk-taking and vulnerability, students have less of a need to copy.
  5. Don't Assign Homework: Students cheat on homework for a variety of reasons, including lack of time (due to extracurricular activities), a sense that the work is irrelevant and the lack of a guide who can provide feedback. Quit assigning homework and cheating is less of an issue.
  6. Make It Meaningful: If an assignment is intrinsically meaningful, students are less likely to cheat. Find ways to make learning fun, challenging, creative and driven by a larger purpose. 
  7. Teach Intellectual Property: I'm often surprised when students don't know the reasons why cheating is unethical. To them, it's simply sharing or working together. And, on some level, that's what happens in groups. However, when students learn about Creative Commons and intellectual property, it moves from an issue of compliance to one of ethics.
  8. Personalization: When students are encouraged to customize assignments, it becomes harder to cheat. Loosely constructed assignments that require personal input allow for a deeper sense of ownership. By contrast, standardized assignments are easy to copy, because they require a cookie cutter approach. 
  9. Be a Creative Teacher: Students need to see that teachers are creators rather than consumers. When they see a teacher passionately creating and implementing lessons, there is a sense that the teacher is showing pride in his or her craft. However, when a teacher simply photocopies a packet, students can sense that the teacher doesn't value the creative process. 
  10. Avoid Consumerism: Get rid of the concept that assignments are about the completion of work in order to attain a grade. Switch toward a framework of project-based, authentic assessments instead. In most cases, let them create and they won't want to cheat.
Photo Credit: ECU Digital Collection
John Spencer

Professor. Maker. Speaker.
I want to see schools unleash the creative potential in all teachers to transform classrooms into bastions of creativity and wonder. Read more →
Email me at john@educationrethink.com for speaking inquiries on design thinking and creativity.


  1. While these are great there is no way to cheat proof anything, these also focus on ideas, concepts and some hard skills. There is no mention here of building relationships and coming from a place of trust and respect. That would make this top ten list easier to implement and more likely to work. Certainly, just simply trusting students and having good relationships with them does not guarantee they won't cheat , neither will these. If someone is motivated enough they will find a way. Using all these together will definitely make it less likely. Homework for homework sake is useless, however "homework" that utilizes the ideas put forth in the top ten list can be tremendously meaningful. When students have to work outside of the "regular" school day it also reinforces the idea that learning is not about being in school. I think the list is definitely helpful and overall a great way to approach learning. Nice post.

    1. I think the trust and relationship piece are critical. Both of those are mentioned previously in this series, so I was thinking that was a bit of a given. Maybe I should have made that clear.

    2. I find your list full of purpose. I know that as I work with pre-service teachers one of the most important aspects of teaching we discuss is the purpose behind the educational designs they are creating. Each of the items on the list have a purpose for teaching that relate to relevance. The intent it see is to provide the learning space for personal growth and refinement. Isn't that what we want our kiddos doing when they learn? Taking their experiences and content and weaving a tapestry of deep understanding?

    3. Thanks for the kind words, Dr. S. I like the way you put it as learning space for personal growth.

    4. This begins with establishing a relationship of trust. Students are less likely to cheat if it feels like a betrayal of trust with someone they care about.

      Perhaps John added this after your comment. John's themes are trust and paradox.

    5. I did add those after the facts, but I think you picked up on my most dominant themes: trust, humility, paradox. I'm like a broken record. And yours? Nature, observation, humility. I think we have a lot of overlap.

    6. Another way I sometimes see this derives from Aristotle's ethical categories: virtuous, continent, incontinent, vicious. The minority who are virtuous we don't worry about, and the minority who are vicious we can't organize around. The majority of humans are continent or incontinent, my experience tells me, and a poorly-designed classroom system will incentivize (or condone) sliding down toward incontinent, which is the category one is in if he or she knows what is wrong but does it anyway, or, perhaps, can't stop oneself from doing it.

      Trust, humility, authenticity, engagement, mastery: all these elements push our kids to climb back up into continence, if not further.

      Great list!

  2. I like most of what's here because of what's already been said in the comments, but I have to challenge you a little on, "If a student turns in a plagiarized essay, chances are the teacher wasn't part of the pre-planning, writing and editing process," because I think it's a little misleading. In many cases, a teacher may not be part of the writing process, especially if the essay or paper's purpose is for the student to demonstrate mastery of the skill of writing. Or, a teacher may be part of said process and does not see the plagiarism until the final product is actually turned in. Case in point: I had a student plagiarize (via a bad cut-and-paste job) a final term paper this year and that student did so after I had read a draft and given her feedback that she requested.

    You obviously don't need to monitor frequently, and while you do need to engage your students, very often you also need to step back and allow them to do their work -- even if you're giving them enough rope to hang themselves.

    1. Thanks fror pushback, Tom. Sometimes it is important to pull back a bit and sometimes plagiarism happens, even when you do everything right as a teacher.

  3. On occasion, we assign "group quizzes". Students can pool their understanding and bring the other students up to speed. Especially good for confusing plot points in stories...then I can work with more important critical thinking activities.

  4. John,
    Agreed on all points on the list. Excellent work. A few of the points I'm still working on, but assigning homework that is not project based and personized is something I gave up years ago. I wanted students to have practice with some of the skills needed in my class but realized most if them copied.
    PBL is the way to go!


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