min read

Smart and Original

Jessica Tess
April 30, 2024
Riveting Results Blog

Most high school students know that their peers will take notice if they say something smart and original. We can give our students the opportunity to get this kind of attention when working with complex texts. 

In the Riveting Results ninth and tenth grade English Language Arts program, students practice paraphrasing short excerpts from the book they are reading. This activity invariably leads students to develop their own interpretation of the text and to appreciate the uniqueness of their fellow students’ insights. 

The key to the activity is that after they paraphrase a short passage (often just one sentence), they compare their paraphrase with that of a partner, and determine whose paraphrase came closest to what the author intended. They have to discuss the paraphrases until they can agree. Each student writes their own explanation about why the selected paraphrase is closest to the original. 

Take, for instance, the explanation a student wrote below. In this section from page 145 of Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing, a dad is talking to his five-year old daughter about making decisions based on what your gut tells you and not regretting it later. The bolded words are those addressed in the student’s explanation that follows.  

If in the moment of doing you felt clarity, you felt certainty, then why feel regret later?” She nodded as he spoke to her even though she didn’t understand his words, because she knew, even then, that he was speaking more for himself.

Karina [not her real name] writes about why her paraphrase of “she nodded” is closer to the original: 

My partner paraphrased “she nodded” as she shook her head. But he [the partner] doesn’t say in what direction. Shaking your head can mean yes, no, or just an ache. I said “she accepted the knowledge her father was telling her.” That’s what the author wants us to see here—how Abena has to accept her father’s knowledge.  

Reading Karina’s response, you can almost hear the two students' conversation. Her partner may have even pushed back, forcing Karina to more fully explain her idea. The student’s conversation unlocks some of the passage's meaning while showcasing two different experiences of the text. 

I encourage you to give your students the chance to compare their paraphrases with those of a partner so that they can each say something smart and original. Let me know if you want to try the Riveting Results digital Paraphrase Tool that gives students a lot of practice—and makes it easy for the teacher to support each effort. 

Jessica Tess

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The Riveting Results program works because it incorporates feedback from dozens of educators experienced in the classroom and in running schools. Unlike other programs that primarily use academic experts to review materials, Riveting Results gets feedback from educators who have actually used Riveting Results in the classroom to develop students reading and writing performance.

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