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Technology Tip of the Month

December, 1996: Teaching Paraphrasing
With Text Manipulation Software

by Deborah Healey, with ideas from John Whitney

The inspiration for the Tech Tip this month came from colleague John Whitney's brainstorm when working with two text manipulation programs, Storyboard and Gapmaster. Further incentives were provided by teaching an advanced reading/writing class, ELI 162, where students and teacher alike struggle to find better ways to understand (and explain) paraphrasing and summarizing processes.

While this Tech Tip refers to Wida Software's Storyboard and Gapmaster, there are a number of similar programs. See the Appendix for a list of additional titles and publisher information.


My traditional way of explaining paraphrasing was to give a list of steps to follow:
  1. Understand the sentence thoroughly first
  2. Divide the sentence(s) into meaningful chunks--the ideas
  3. Change the grammar
  4. Change the vocabulary
  5. Read the new sentence to be sure it makes sense and is grammatical
(See the Web-based information for my class.)

I often had diagrams on the board or on an overhead with highlighting, circles, and arrows, showing where the chunks of meaning had moved. It worked, more or less. The graphic below shows in color what I would do with highlighting or circles; arrows would be added next. paraphrase w/colors

Here's another way to approach it--John's brainstorm:

This method shows students how key words do and don't reappear in a series of paraphrases of the same original sentence. Take a whole-text deletion program like Storyboard, where every word in a text is replaced by a dot, dash, or nonsense letter. Blanks are still blanks, so the output looks somewhat like this: storyboard

The initial screen gives students the original sentence; as they type in the content words, they can see how they appear in different places in the sentences, as below: partially done

As students work through the paraphrases, they have to think of synonyms for many of the content words. This exercise works best when students are in pairs, since they can work either cooperatively or competitively to fill in all the words.

One of the best things about this kind of program is that it is very simple to create--I just copied and pasted from a handout into Storyboard, so it took me longer to write the initial instructions that students would see than to create the gapped text.

Using Gapmaster

A gap-filling (cloze) program allows for more variations on the theme. Here you can be selective about which words are gapped. I start with single content words in the first couple of gaps, then move on to longer phrases that need to be filled. It's easier for intermediate students to see how paraphrasing works if they don't have to reconstruct everything.

Here's the same set of paraphrases done in Gapmaster this time: gapmaster example

Gapmaster allows for much more control than Storyboard, allowing you to add hints and multiple correct answers. While it's still relatively easy to create (again, I copied and pasted the paraphrases), you need to mark the specific words to gap. If you want to add hints and multiple correct answers, that will take more time. Still, it's yet another way to help students visualize what we're trying to explain--and many people need all the help we can give!

Other possibilities

To add even more to your bag of tricks, an excellent online resource is Purdue's Online Writing Lab, where you can download information about paraphrases and other exercises for students to work on. While it's better to work from sentences your students already understand, the OWL exercises are great for those days you just can't find enough inspiration in the sentences in your textbook to make five variations on a theme to show how many ways a paraphrase can be constructed.

I'm not giving up on my old method with the circles and arrows; I've just added a new wrinkle to what I already did. The hope is that somewhere in all of this, the light will come on and students will say, "Oh, so that's what you meant by a paraphrase!"

Appendix: Publishers and additional text manipulation programs

John Higgins,
Mar Lodge
Stirling FK8 1EQ
Email: john at
Fun with Texts
10 Wheatfield Close
Berkshire SL6 3PS
Tel: +44 1628 825206
Fax: +44 1628 825206
E-mail: info at
Gapmaster, Storyboard
2 Nicholas Gardens
London, England W5 5HY
Tel and fax:44 20 8567 6941
E-mail: info at
Vance Stevens,
P.O. Box: 41637
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Tel: +971-2-326972
E-mail: vstevens at

Many of these are also available from vendors, such as:
2476 Bolsover, Suite 464
Houston, TX 77005
Tel: 800-598-3880, 713-523-2837
Fax: 713-523-6543
101 N. Union Street, Suite 300
Alexandria, VA 22314
Tel: 800-648-4809, 703-684-1494
Fax: 703-684-1495

See Other tech tips

If you have questions, comments, or for more information, contact Deborah Healey, dhealey AT uoregon DOT edu
Last updated 26 June, 2009