How to Paraphrase Your Notes & Learn More
“Ok, what is gerrymandering?” I asked Kierra. She had stayed after school for extra help before the unit test and I was quizzing her on important terms.
Kierra recited the textbook definition of the term back to me. “Right, but put it in your own words,” I requested.
“Oh. Well, I’m not really sure what it means. Can you explain it to me again?”
This scene repeated itself so many times when I was teaching. Students would memorize the book’s definition, but didn’t actually know what it meant. That lack of understanding showed up on quizzes and tests. They spent so long studying, thought they understood everything because they memorized definitions, but they didn’t actually know much at all.
We’ve all been told to paraphrase, but my students rarely know why paraphrasing is so important. And even worse, they have no idea HOW to paraphrase. Let’s fix both of those today!
How to Paraphrase Your Notes & Learn More
Why Should I Paraphrase?
Paraphrasing is a powerful brain process. Your brain must listen or read information, and then decide what information is important and what is not important. That process helps you to learn and remember! (Psst- this is why students who take notes by hand remember the content more than those who type notes!)
Paraphrasing is also vital because you are more likely to remember your own wording, not your teacher’s or the book’s. When it’s time to take the test and you have to explain a term or concept, your own words will come back to you faster or in their entirety more.
Paraphrasing also helps us with metacognition. That’s a fancy term that means “thinking about thinking.” In this case, you thinking about your own understanding. If you can’t simplify the definition or change it into your words, you probably don’t understand it enough. Head back to your textbook or your teacher for some assistance.
How to Paraphrase
Paraphrasing is restating a passage in your own words. It is NOT just substituting words in a sentence. You can paraphrase a single sentence, a paragraph, or an entire passage. It usually includes swapping out technical terms for simpler ones, cutting out some detail, and rearranging the order of information in the passage.
First, read a short passage – maybe a paragraph or two at the most. If there are words you don’t understand, look them up. Then say the phrase out loud, using those new definitions.
Now, try to simplify and/ or shorten the wording. I often ask myself, “How would I explain this concept/ theory/ term to a child?” Using this as my guide, I automatically simplify the words and make the concept shorter. I also like to throw in an example if I can.
Rachel and Cassi at Minds in Bloom offer this advice when paraphrasing – think about the 4 Rs
- Reword: Swap words out for other words with similar meanings
- Rearrange: Rearrange the sentences, combine shorter sentences, or break long sentences up into smaller ones
- Realize: You won’t be able to change everything. Keep theory/ concepts names, people, equations, etc
- Recheck: Make sure that your paraphrase has the same meaning
That last step is vital. You need to double-check that your paraphrase is still accurate. If you’re not sure, run it by another student or your teacher.
When should I paraphrase?
- Taking notes in class or from a textbook, website, video, etc
- Making flashcards
- Working on a study guide
- Talking It Out
I recommend starting small and slow. Start with a textbook reading and work your way up to a live lecture. Practicing with video can also be helpful because you can slow down the speed if you need to. Practicing your paraphrasing is also a great activity to do with a friend or in a study group!
Keep in mind that paraphrasing is a skill that you must practice. It will feel super awkward in the beginning, but you will become better at it over time! Use these tips to start paraphrasing and improve your learning today!
How is paraphrasing coming? Let me know in the comments below!
Related Posts: 5 Powerful New Study Habits to Try, Why Rereading the Textbook is a Waste of Time, How to Avoid These Common Study Fails