The purpose of teaching the paraphrasing strategy to students is to give them a tool for monitoring their own comprehension as they read science text. Proficient readers have an ongoing internal dialogue with the text as they read. When comprehension breaks down, they notice, and they use fixup strategies to repair comprehension. The ability of a reader to paraphrase, to put into one’s own words, text written by an author, is a good indication that the reader understands the text.
When first introducing the paraphrasing strategy, the teacher should select a text that is not overly complex for students. The goal of that initial lesson is for students to experience what it feels like to paraphrase successfully. Additionally, it is recommended that students paraphrase orally to a partner without annotating in the margins when the strategy is first introduced. While annotating is a very helpful strategy, the point in this introductory lesson is for students to get a sense of what the internal dialogue between the reader and the text feels like, and adding a writing step may take the focus away from this goal for some students.
Ideally, students will reach a level of independence that will allow them to identify when they need to stop and paraphrase while reading. It is a tool to use when they come across a particularly complex sentence or section of text. A good guideline to give students when they are first applying the strategy is to have them stop after each paragraph, or chunk, and summarize what they have read. If they cannot do this, they should probably reread and paraphrase. A note about vocabulary: while a few unfamiliar words in a complex science text would be fine, it is advisable that teachers ensure that students have some familiarity with the domain-specific vocabulary in a text that they select for teaching students to paraphrase. If the text is loaded with new science terminology with which they have no prior experiences, it will be difficult for students to paraphrase successfully.
Resources for Paraphrasing
These resources were developed with the generous support of The Carroll and Milton Petrie Foundation.