For our research unit last spring, I had my students choose a narrow topic and create 7-10 solid research questions for that topic. We spent a great deal of time creating clear questions that readers would be interested in knowing the answers to. Once we had those questions in place, we conducted our research in the Library using a variety of databases that our Librarian showed us how to properly navigate.
With our research in hand, we headed back to the classroom to begin searching for the answers to our research questions. Once we began reading those articles, however, I found that many of my students wanted to give up. They quickly realized that reading these non-fiction texts was a lot of work. These articles were challenging and it took a lot of time to make sense of what they were reading. But it didn't have to be so overwhelming. To help them make sense of the articles they'd found, I taught them how to use some of the reading work we'd already done to help us build a new skill: paraphrasing.
Paraphrasing as a Reading AND Writing Tool
I start this lesson by asking students what Plagiarism is. They always get it right. Then, I ask them what Paraphrasing is and they aren't quite sure. In my classroom we use these definitions:
Paraphrasing: restating or rewriting a writer's ideas in your own words.
Plagiarizing: copying someone's ideas and written words without giving that writer credit.
I tell them that I'm going to show them how to use Paraphrasing to help us become better readers and to help us make sense of our research. I also tell them that we're going to practice Paraphrasing by using the books we're currently reading because this is a text they're already familiar with. Plus, it's easier to read than the non-fiction texts we've accumulated from our research. I do this because I want them to have some success with Paraphrasing before applying it to harder texts.
Then, I go over the steps we're going to use. I post these in the room and have a handout for students to refer to. On the handout, I ask them to highlight each step and the key words/phrases.
Step 1: Read the passage slowly. Underline the topic (subject) and key facts or ideas in each sentence. Ask yourself: What's the one most important thing the writer wants me to know in this sentence? What else is important in it?
Step 2: Reread each sentence and Phrase Break it. Ask yourself: What is the writer saying in each phrase? What is the idea here? (For more on Phrase Breaking, see Monitor Your Fluency with Phrase Breaking).
Step 3: Find the meanings of challenging words. Which words are confusing? Use The Visual Thesaurus to help you find synonyms and definitions. Write these synonyms and definitions above or next to confusing words. Thinkmap Visual Thesaurus.
Step 4: Reread each sentence again. Use the synonyms you found for challenging words.
Step 5: Rewrite each sentence in your own words. Once you understand a sentence, paraphrase it. Use your own words. Shorten long sentences. Change the order of the words/phrases. Avoid plagiarizing.
I then show my students the Paraphrasing resources in Purdue's Online Writing Lab (OWL), which provides examples of Paraphrased and Plagiarized material. We talk, in detail, about the importance of changing words that include key facts or ideas to other words or other versions of the same word to avoid Plagiarizing. Then, it's time to practice.
Using my current book, I read a passage from it to my students underlining the key ideas in each sentence. Once I did that, I broke it up into its phrases like this:
"We did not know / how wrong we were. / As far as I know, / not one Navajo code talker / was ever raised above the rank of corporal, / just as none of us / were ever given / any kind of official recognition or honor / from the time we enlisted / until the surrender of Japan. / In fact, / most of us never even got to wear / one of those dress blue uniforms / like the first one I saw / on the Marine Corps recruitment poster. / We were kept invisible. / It was partially because / our true duty / was kept such a secret / from so many. But I think / it was also because / we were Indians / in what was still, / even in the Marines, / a white man's world. / It was easy / to forget Indians" / (Bruchac 87).
After Steps 1 and 2, I show my students Thinkmap's Visual Thesaurus. I type in words like "corporal" (enlisted officer), "honor" (respect), "enlisted" (signed up), and "surrender" (give up) to show students how the Visual Thesaurus works. We talk about what the different colors mean and how important it is to choose words that are the correct part of speech so they will make sense within the context of each sentence. Once I have the synonyms I need, I write them in (above the phrases) to help me better understand each phrase.
From here, I rewrite the passage in my own words. Here's what I came up with:
We were completely mistaken. There weren't any Navajo code talkers who had received a promotion or any of the respect we deserved. We didn't even get to wear the "normal" Marine uniforms. We were kept hidden. It was probably because our work was confidential. I also believe it was because we were Navajo in a place where Navajos didn't belong. It wasn't difficult to overlook us (Bruchac 87).
Once I've modeled these steps for my students, we practice with paragraphs from their books. I have a few students find a paragraph for us to use and ask that each of them write them it on the board with the appropriate citation. It should be noted that when I first ask students to copy parts from their books into their reading journals, I teach them about citations. Then, I reinforce this work throughout the school year.
As a class, we practice going through the steps a few more times. Then, I give them time to practice with paragraphs from their books. To simplify things, sometimes we have to practice with one sentence and then work our way up to paragraphs or small passages.
Once we've had some practice Paraphrasing passages from our current books, we move into working with our research. Because this text is more challenging, I'll model with a passage from one of the articles I found in my research and we'll practice together using a few paragraphs from their research as well. Once we've had some practice with these more challenging texts, I'll give students work time to begin Paraphrasing the articles they found for their research topics.
Remind, Reinforce, and Re-teach
Teaching students the complex, but necessary skill of Paraphrasing takes a great deal of time and patience. During work time, I give a lot of lot of one-on-one conferences, which allow me to remind, reinforce, and re-teach the steps I modeled for my students earlier in this lesson. These conferences also give me the opportunity to assess how my students are doing, what we might need more practice in, and allows me to figure out who my "experts" are. Once I've identified these "experts", I can list their names on the board as "helpers". If I'm busy with another student, I can have struggling students work with one of these "experts" until I'm free. Sometimes having a peer explain things in "student-friendly" language helps a student get unstuck.
After spending a solid week or so working on Paraphrasing, I felt that my students had a clearer understanding of their research and a better understanding of how to tackle challenging texts. More importantly, they were able to answer their research questions without Plagiarizing.
During work time, many of them used Thinkmap's Visual Thesaurus, which I had available via my SmartBoard. They were adamant about finding the right synonyms to help them put the writer's words into their own. Their final research projects showed me they not only learned the process of research, they learned an extremely important skill worth spending the time on!