Introducing Copyright: An Information Teachable Moment

One of the key information literacy concepts that is covered in the fifth grade research projects that the tech integrator, the classroom teachers and I coordinate is copyright. I want to help students realize that copyright applies to more than just words on a page (or screen)  In the case of words, I want them to realize that copying someone else’s words verbatim is not ok nor is making insubstantial changes to the text.

That’s where my flute comes in.



At the start of our first research lesson, I bring out my flute and a sheet of paper where I’ve scratched out a few measures of music. I ask the students if I can share a few measures of a song I wrote. I show the rough written music to a few tables so they can vouch that the music wasn’t printed off a computer or photocopied. Then I start to play. Surprised expressions appear, hands are raised and normally at least one kid blurts out where they’ve heard that song.

What happened?

Those few handwritten measures I play are the opening notes of a popular science fiction movie theme. I stop playing. I ask the students if I could sell that song. Many will chime in saying no or telling me that is stealing. I protest it is in my writing, but they are quick to tell me it’s not mine. 

I tell them I’ll change the song a bit. I play part of the song from before and then launch into a few measures of a different song from that same popular science fiction movie. When I ask if I could sell that song or charge money for a performance of it, they still tell me no because I’m still taking someone else’s work. It’s just from two different places in the same body of work.

The flute playing may seem a bit random, but it sticks with students. At least one of the fifth grade classes later told their music teacher all about copyright and what I played when she was introducing them to orchestra instruments. The playing made a great discussion starter for giving credit, ownership, etc.

What do you do to teach students about copyright?




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4 thoughts on “Introducing Copyright: An Information Teachable Moment

  1. I like your originality in teaching introduction to copyright. Nicely done.

  2. Great idea! Not sure if my high school flute playing days could remember hoe to play. This seems like it could stick with them. With my younger students I always talk abut stealing a candy bar from the store, and then relate it to copying another students work…then to the text we ate using.

    One of our fifth grade teacher’s husbands is a photographer– as is my brother in law. I always show their web sites and talk abut how they sell their work. Then we learn about Creative Commons.

    I might try to collaborate with our music teacher to do something similar to your idea. Thanks for sharing.


    • I like the photography idea as a bridge to Creative Commons. Creative Commons is something I need to incorporate into my teaching as well.

      Thank you for stopping by!

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