Goodness knows, paraphrasing is hard even for adults -- professional writers have been caught copying. It's hard for even good students, who may see promising academic careers crash over cheating. But it's hardest of all for students with learning disabilities, who may not understand the original material enough to put it in their own words, and be eager for any way to get the misery of writing over with. That's why your child is going to need your help to learn how to turn someone else's ideas into his own. Lead her through this how-to for answering a short essay question, or adapt it to fill items on an outline.
Time Required: A lot, but you've got to do it
- Consult more than one source. You're much more likely to copy words if you only have one set of words to copy from. Look the answer up on three or four websites, or in several encyclopedias or reference books. Think about the different ways these sources express the same ideas. Does each one bring a new idea or approach? Which one do you find easiest to understand? If you're not able to understand it at all, keep looking for more helpful sources, or ask a teacher or parent for help.
- Jot down a few ideas. Picking from all your sources, jot down some key words and ideas that have to do with the question you're trying to answer. Don't use complete sentences or phrases, just individual words or groups of no more than three words. You want just enough to jog your memory of what you learned and understood about the material. Names and dates and places are fine, but not opinions or fancy language. If you can't understand it, don't include it in your notes.
- Close down your sources. Hide your browser window, or close your books. Get that original material out of your sight. You're on your own now, working from your notes and your brain. You may want to keep the sites or the pages marked if you need to refer to them for further clarification, but don't keep them open when you're writing, and NEVER cut and paste.
- Speak your answer out loud to a parent or teacher. Using your notes and what you have learned from the original material, explain the answer you've found to an adult, including any opinions you may have formed for yourself. If you've really understood the material, you should be able to do this -- maybe not in as much detail or fancy words as the original, but in your own language and understanding. If you can't, or still don't understand the question or the answer, ask the adult to go over the material with you and help you get it. Then close that material down again before you write.
- Write down what you've just said. When you get an answer that sounds right to you and sounds original to the adult who's helping you, write it out on paper. You should have something that draws its facts from research material you've found, but filters it through your own thoughts and understanding and language abilities. Your teacher will be far happier with this than with a more knowledgeable passage you copied directly from somebody else. Your ideas, directly from you, are what's important. Good job!
- Never cut and paste. It's worth saying again and again. You may feel you can drop something onto your paper and then rewrite it, but shuffling words around is not the same thing as paraphrasing.
- Ditto copying directly from a book. Take notes of facts and basic information, but don't write sentences down word for word. If your hand's getting sore, that's a good sign that you're copying too much.
- Don't leave researching to the last minute. The more time you can put between looking at the original material and writing about it, the less likely you are to remember exact words and phrases -- or to be so desperate that copying seems like the only option.
- The very first thing to do before you write a word is to understand what you're writing about. If you can't do that, make an adult help you. That's their job. Knowing to ask is yours.
What You Need
- Three or more resources on the subject you're researching
- Index cards or paper for jotting notes
- Your brain, to process that material and create something that's yours
- A parent or teacher, to help you think things through
- Enough time, so don't procrastinate