Tuesday, January 5, 2010


It's hard to do, it's hard to teach. But paraphrasing is so important for our young readers. When students can put ideas into their own words, they can take notes, effectively answer questions, and summarize.

Today we embarked on a study of paraphrasing, preparation for future summarizing. And it was a tough go. Paraphrasing seems concrete, but is really a very abstract concept. Think about it--when we paraphrase, we take ideas and put them into our own words. So ideas exist outside of words.

This is pretty abstract for fourth graders. (Just today, one of them asked me if The Sorcerer's Apprentice was a true story. Sigh.) They equate words with ideas--the words that are used to explain an idea ARE that idea.

The challenge for teachers, then, is to help students recognize that ideas can exist without words. So I went back to visualizing. As we read original sentences, I encouraged students to visualize what the sentence was saying. Then, I had them keep the visual image, and try to write a new sentence to describe it.

Results were mixed. For some students, this strategy worked brilliantly, and they wrote really decent paraphrased versions of the sentence. But other students struggled with the need to come up with synonyms, or the need to rearrange the order of ideas. By the end of the class, everyone at least knew that paraphrasing is putting ideas into your own words...which was a start. Tomorrow, I want to try again, with more concrete, easily visualized sentences. The next step, then, is to take paraphrasing into authentic texts.

Here's a link to a Powerpoint that I made to use with students. Lots of snow pictures from Caledonia State Park!

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