Teaching Kids to Paraphrase – Step 1

A common fault among teachers (myself included in years in the not-so-distant past) is they assume kids know what plagiarism is . The students can recite the definition quite nicely. They are actually really good at reciting a lot of things on command. However, they cannot identify it. Many students (and many adults for that matter) think you can change a word or two and the writing has become one’s own.

A big part of teaching students how to do a research paper is teaching them how to paraphrase. We start off with the most basic step–identifying what plagiarism is and what it isn’t. Following are some screenshots of a PowerPoint I made on this topic for Learn Zillion. First, I give them a very short text to read.

Actually, I lied. First, we review the definitions of both paraphrasing and plagiarism. Then, we read the text. The excerpt above is from their history textbook. I have my own copy, and the history teacher is great about letting me know which chapter they’re going to be on when. It’s win-win–I don’t have to wrack my brain thinking of topics or text for research lessons, and they are getting supplemental history information. The history book is full of great short texts for paraphrasing like the one above. They are outside of the regular book text, in the margins, next to a picture, etc.

After we’ve read the original text together, I show them a sample “student” paraphrase.

I then pass out highlighters, because everything is more fun with markers, right? On their own, the students highlight any words they find that are in both the original text and the student sample. I think I forgot to mention this, but the students have a hard copy of both the original and the samples. I then ask them to share things that are highlighted, and I highlight the one on the screen.

After highlighting, it’s very clear that this has not been rewritten at all. The author of the sample has only changed and/or left out a few words. Surprisingly, before this lesson, some kids think this is okay. Next, we read another sample.

And we highlight.

This leads into a great discussion about how some words WILL be the same as the original text, especially proper nouns and specific dates and times. Even though some words are the same, this is an acceptable paraphrase. At least, it’s acceptable for 8th graders. I think an adult could do better.

After looking at one “good” and one “bad” paraphrase, I have them do the same thing with a separate text and two more student samples. They share what they’ve decided and explain why.

Part II, as you can probably guess, is to actually paraphrase, but that is a lesson for another day!

If you’d like a copy of the full PowerPoint and student handout, you can get a copy here: PowerPoint and Student Handout on Teachers Pay Teachers.

7 thoughts on “Teaching Kids to Paraphrase – Step 1

  1. Great idea! I am having the same problem with my ESL students and despite discussing what plagiarism and paraphrasing are– they are clearly not getting it. I will try your method. Speaking of plagiarizing, may I use your exact examples? (I will give credit) thanks!

  2. Teachers in my country should start doing this in classes. I have never been trained in paraphrasing even after admitted into a University.

    To see that a kid could do a much better paraphrase is hurting my pride (just kidding but it’s kinda sad that I can’t do this enough of times within the time limit of the IELTS writing test.)

  3. Hi Jan. I really appreciate the explicit guidance of the lesson. I would like your permission to use your idea.

  4. I am teaching my 8th grade son the basics of writing a research paper. I know when I was in school years ago I was never taught the correct paraphrasing techniques. My son has ADD and it’s difficult for him to focus on long passages. I love your idea of highlighting the repeated words. I appreciate you sharing this information and I would like to use it with my son.

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