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The Chunking Method: Teaching language learners how to paraphrase





Date Published

01 March 2021

Whether you are preparing learners to write research papers or to take the IELTS Writing Test, paraphrasing is an important skill; however, the task of taking a long sentence with elevated vocabulary and trying to reword it can be overwhelming. Furthermore, students who attempt to paraphrase and fail may be accused of plagiarism, so it is vital that students preparing for academic work in English have a solid foundation in how to paraphrase. In this post, I’d like to introduce one method of paraphrasing called the “Chunking Method," and I’ll also explain how paraphrasing can be used on the IELTS Writing Test.

Using the Chunking Method

When writing academic papers, students are expected to incorporate the ideas of others through a combination of quotations and paraphrases. Instructors often suggest students paraphrase more than they quote to show they understand the quotation and to maintain their own voice throughout the essay.

Paraphrasing, however, is not something that comes naturally to students and so instructors should include time in their lessons for explicit paraphrasing instruction. Though there are many methods, the chunking method is one I have found great success in. I am not sure who is credited for inventing this approach, but I first learned about this method of paraphrasing in Dollahite and Haun’s academic writing textbook, Sourcework: Academic Writing from Sources.

The Chunking Method includes three steps: chunking, rephrasing, and reorganizing. I will explain each step and provide an example.

Step #1: Chunk the sentence

The first step of this method is chunking. To do this, students must separate the sentence into smaller segments - think adverb clauses or prepositional phrases. They can do this by adding a slash between chunks. If you are teaching a mixed skills class, then it is great to review thought groups before this as it lends itself well to understanding where slashes might go. I have given an example sentence below:

  • This graph gives information / about cinema attendance in Australia / between 2010 and the present, / with projections to 2030.

Step #2: Rephrase each chunk

Now that the sentence has been separated into smaller units, students will reword each chunk. Not only is it easier to reword smaller chunks vs the entire sentence, this approach also lessens the likelihood that a student will make mistakes in terms of changing the meaning of the sentence.

  • This graph gives information / about cinema attendance in Australia /
    This chart presents data / regarding movie theater attendance in Australia /
  • between 2010 and the present, / with projections to 2030.
    from 2010 until now / including forecasts for 2030.

Step #3: Reorganize the sentence

The final step is to reorganize the sentence. For students with lower levels of proficiency, you may want to skip this step, but for higher levels it is a fun activity to see how students can restructure the sentence. In addition to just reorganizing, you might encourage students to incorporate previous grammar knowledge (e.g. reducing adjective clauses or writing passive sentences). Here is one possibility:

  • Data regarding movie theater attendance in Australia from 2010 to 2020 and forecasts for 2030 are included in this chart.

Paraphrasing on the IELTS Writing Test

You may be wondering where a student might paraphrase on the IELTS Writing Test. Often test takers begin Task 1 and 2 of the IELTS Academic Writing Test and Task 2 of the IELTS General Training Writing Test by paraphrasing the prompt. If test takers simply copy and paste the prompt, this might impact their ability to show a range of vocabulary (lexical resource) and it also would not count toward the minimum word count required for the task, so students are encouraged to begin their essays by paraphrasing the prompt.

Paraphrasing adequately requires a sophisticated vocabulary and sufficient grammatical range to be able to reword and reorganize a sentence without losing meaning. Breaking this task down into manageable “chunks” is one way to help your students perfect this important academic skill.

  • Do you have an activity relating to paraphrasing you would like to share? We’d love to hear about it on our LinkedIn page.

About the author

Based in Savannah, Georgia, Misty Wilson is an experienced English as a Second Language instructor.