Paraphrase vs. Inference: “What did he tell you, and what does it mean?”
Added Bonus: How does the quotation fit in?
There are times in our lives when we do not need to attach “meaning” to our words. This could be when we are asked about the plot of a story, which is the chain of events that occur throughout a tale. We can simply list the exact situations that have occurred, in order (sequence), and we would have completed our task. In this way, we would be paraphrasing.
When we paraphrase, it shows we understand the meaning! Other times, however, we need to analyze or figure out someone’s words, a situation, or even a picture. This would involve making an inference.
How do we know the difference between the two?
We could simply look at a picture and talk about its literal meaning, which is the face value of what we see. An example of this could be an image I’m about to show you.
Can you tell me exactly what you see in the photo without attaching any meaning at all to it? Please just provide us with all the facts!
An example could be “A woman in a yellow blouse is closing a suitcase full of clothes.”
Notice that I did not mention what I THINK is happening in this situation or what MAY happen because of what she is doing. This is paraphrasing.
Now, let’s look at that photo again. Let’s pretend it is a writing prompt that I have given you, and I want you to create a story about it. This means that I want you to add meaning to your words. When you do this, you are making an inference. Believe it or not, doing this type of activity is more common (meaning more people want to do this) than paraphrasing. This is because we want to make a connection with the photo. We often think back to something that happened to us, which is part of our background knowledge, and we start asking ourselves specific questions, such as:
Who is this lady?
Why is she packing a suitcase?
Why did she put so many clothes in this suitcase?
Where is she going?
How does she feel?
What will happen next in her life?
When we answer these questions to ourselves, which we would do automatically, we are making inferences. We are adding meaning that we do NOT actually know is correct or incorrect, but we are doing so because we want to connect with the person in the photo.
Have you ever packed a suitcase in your life? Have you ever packed so many clothes in your suitcase that it almost didn’t close? Many of us know what that feels like, and even if we ourselves have not done it, we most likely have seen someone else doing it. We also know what it MEANS to pack a suitcase.
These types of questions invite inferences.
The person is:
Taking a nice vacation
We make inferences like this when we read stories, and we make them all the way through until the very end (and often, beyond!). Sometimes, we make an incorrect inference. We may think a character in a story is the bad guy at first, but then we find out he has donated lots of toys to children at various hospitals, and we change our opinion of him. A mystery story will be filled with clues just waiting for you to make inferences about them, and many of them will not be correct. That is what creates suspense and makes you want to keep reading. You thought you knew what was happening in the story, but then you find out you were wrong! The good thing about inferences is that we can change them at any time!
So let’s go back for a moment to paraphrasing.
Examples of Paraphrasing:
● When we use our Personal Dictionaries to provide the definition of a selected term in our own words.
● When you are asked to explain something we did in class; for example, how a bar graph works. You are not telling me exactly what the person who created the graph said about this diagram. You are using your own words to describe the parts of the graph and what they represent. You do not attach any meaning to this activity at all. ● When you give me a ticket out of class, and you tell me what you learned that day. Often, you wil simply say that you learned about a literary term, or what an antagonist is. Our exit tickets most often are factual, and you have paraphrased some of the things you learned in class that day.
● When someone asks you to relay a message to someone else.
Let’s look at an example together, and then I will ask you to try one out.
Situation: You receive a phone call from the director of a company your son Joe has been waiting to hear from. The director asks you to tell your son to please call her back; she has something she wants to discuss with him.
Paraphrasing could be that your response is: “Tim, the director from that job you applied for called today and wants you to call her back. She wants to talk to you.”
Notice that everything listed here is factual; you are telling your son just what the message was, but you are not using the exact words the director said to you. No opinions are given at all. You did not provide a quotation of what the director said on the phone. (Note: When you copy a quotation into your Writer’s Notebooks, do you add any words to it? No, because you copy EXACTLY what the author wrote!)
If you were to provide your son with a quotation of what was said on the phone, you would have to say the exact words the director said. If you were to write these words down, which punctuation marks would you have to place around these words? What do they mean? When we use quotation marks in this way, we are showing that the words we are speaking about are NOT our own. When you paraphrase, you take someone else’s words and say them your own way without changing the meaning (or adding any meaning to them!). When you say words your own way, and they are your words, you do not need to add quotation marks to them!
Now we will look at more photo prompts, and you will work with a partner (or two!) to write a paraphrase (which is exactly what is in the photo), write down some questions you would like to find out regarding what is happening in the photo, and then create an inference of your own (that is filled with your opinion, your background knowledge, and lots of meaning!).
Good luck, and as always, enjoy the process!! I can't wait to see what you come up with!!