Thursday, November 19, 2009

"Summarizing, Paraphrasing, and Retelling" from Emily Kissner

"Night Cafe at Arles" by Paul Gauguin

AA: I'm Avi Arditti and this week on WORDMASTER: our guest is Emily Kissner, a schoolteacher in Pennsylvania and author of a book called "Summarizing, Paraphrasing and Retelling."

Emily Kissner

EMILY KISSNER: "When you summarize, you need to first choose what's important in the text -- look for the main ideas. And a good way to do that is to look at what the author refers to over and over again, because that's probably what's important.

"And then you need to condense those main ideas. You need to get rid of the repeated ideas. You need to exclude the trivia, those little details that are in there to keep you interested but really don't contribute to the main idea."

AA: "And then from there, you've boiled it down, you're looking for the important ideas, how do you begin to put them down on paper?"

EMILY KISSNER: "Different readers use different methods. There's been a lot of research on retelling, which is where you just retell the important ideas to someone else. Even without someone telling you it's good or bad, retelling what you've read changes something about how you store the information in your brain and helps you to understand it better. So one great way to start summarizing is just to turn to someone else and say 'Hey, I just read this, listen to what the author's talking about.'

"And from there, you can maybe list some of the main ideas. And then if you need to write a formal summary to give to someone else, you can kind of look for the connections between those ideas and then use those to frame your summary."

AA: "You write in your book here, you say: 'Left to their own devices, most students write the topic of a text when they're asked to write a main idea.' Now what's the difference between the topic and the main idea?"

EMILY KISSNER: "The topic is usually just one word or phrase to which everything in the text refers. So, for instance, if you were reading about dinosaurs, the topic of the book could be 'dinosaurs.' A main idea is usually a sentence that explains why the topic is important or explains something about the topic. So one article about dinosaurs might be 'dinosaurs evolved to many unusual creatures.' And so then everything in the text would go back to that main idea."

AA: "Do you find these techniques of summarizing to be helpful at all, or especially helpful, to English learners?"

EMILY KISSNER: "Where I teach right now, we actually have quite a significant population of students who are learning English, and one method that I found especially helpful for them was looking for key words in the article or the text. And so we would kind of develop their background knowledge first, and then they would look for key words that were important.

"And using some of these techniques like finding the main idea and looking for the structure of the text helped them to -- by the end of the year, they were writing some really competent summaries. And that really shows they were understanding the texts."

AA: "What would a bad summary look like?"

EMILY KISSNER: "A lot of students, and a lot of adults, use what's called the copy-and-delete method: 'Oh geez, I have to write this summary. I don't really know how. I'm just going to go through and pick up a few sentences here and a few sentences there, copy it down, I'll leave out a few sentence, and I have something that looks like a summary.' So when you're seeing a lot of text that's directly taken out of the main article, you can tell that the writer of that summary isn't working with very effective strategies for summarizing."

AA: "Now what's the difference between summarizing and paraphrasing? Since the title of your book is 'Summarizing, Paraphrasing and Retelling,' what's the difference?"

EMILY KISSNER: "Paraphrasing is just putting ideas into your own words. So, for instance, you could read a paragraph about global warming and you could paraphrase it and it could be just as long as the original paragraph. The key part with paraphrasing is that it's in your own words. With summarizing, you have a more formal product that is shorter than the original text."

AA: No one says any of this is easy, even for teachers. Emily Kissner recalls the day she told her students about her book.

EMILY KISSNER: "And then one kid just looked at me, and raised his hand and with a kind of sly smile said, 'Missus Kissner, could you summarize the book for us?' And suddenly I was put on the spot and I had to put all of what was in the book to the test to try to summarize this book in a way that the students could understand."

AA: "And did you pass the test?"

EMILY KISSNER: "Well, I think I did. [Laughter] It's hard to do on the spot."

AA: Emily Kissner is a schoolteacher in Pennsylvania and author of the book "Summarizing, Paraphrasing and Retelling." And that's Wordmaster for this week. Archives of our segments are at I'm Avi Arditti.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Learning Business English, and a Little Philosophy, in Tough Economic Times.

AA: I'm Avi Arditti. Rosanne Skirble is away. This week on WORDMASTER, on the phone from Southern California, is English teacher Nina Weinstein. She teaches business English, among other things, and I was curious how she and her students are addressing the economic crisis.

NINA WEINSTEIN: "Well, I teach students from all over the world. In one of my locations I teach for the University of California, and I teach a graduate group of students who are working on professional certificates. And after they finish my course they'll go into the regular university with native speakers. So one of the things that of course is on everyone's mind right now is the stock market, and I always advise my students to listen to a radio station we have out here.

"We have local news stations that keep repeating stories, kind of in a loop, and so it gives them an opportunity, if they didn't hear it the first time, to hear it again and again and again as the day goes on. So what I've done is I've given them kind of the basic vocabulary that they need to know if they're listening to a stock story."

KFWB NEWS 980: " ... Dow stocks went positive a few moments ago -- that was then, this is now. We're back in negative territory with the blue-chips down fifty-two points. Nasdaq stocks are down by thirty-one, and S-and-P lower by a dozen ... "

AA: "Your students are here from other countries, they're going to, presumably most of them, [be] returning to their countries, so they're kind of observers of this economic crisis that we've got in the United States. And obviously it has spread around the world. But what are they saying about their own reactions to what's going on in the markets?"

NINA WEINSTEIN: "I think everybody's scared, this is something that we haven't seen in decades, and I think especially for the younger students. The older students, when I work in private industry I have students of different ages, so they've had something in the past that they've also dealt with and so they can kind of put it in a perspective. But with the younger students, they come here, they're so excited and they're enthusiastic. This is their opportunity to do this final thing before they go out there in the business world. And I think they're scared.

"And so what I say to them is that, you know, these are cycles and even though this is a really bad cycle, there's a beginning and an end. And I say that what I really think is that this is a great opportunity to increase your skills. Whatever your skills are, this is a great time to train. And so when the cycle finishes and things get to be normal again, your training will be even better than what you had planned before. And so this is how I'm treating my own life, and my colleagues and so forth, and this is what I tell to my students."

AA: "So it's business English plus a little philosophy."

NINA WEINSTEIN: "Yeah! A little encouragement. I think everybody needs a little encouragement during these times. So yeah, I think that's part of teaching English."

AA: "Do you ever get questions that require an economist to answer, not an English teacher?"

NINA WEINSTEIN: "Well, actually I work with executives who are in finance and so sometimes they have questions about something that may have happened in their area. And what I do, because I have a background in vocabulary tools and this whole area of breaking apart words and looking at their roots and so forth, often -- even though it's a very technical area, often you can figure out just based on the roots and the context what the term actually means.

"And so, fortunately I can do that. And if it goes beyond that, then I tell them that they need to ask somebody in their own department for that term or what not. But usually you can just kind of figure it out by breaking the word apart."

AA: "And do some of the terms that we've grown used to hearing now in the news, in the depressing business news we hear every day, do those terms translate well into and out of other languages that your students speak?"

NINA WEINSTEIN: "I think that they do. I think that they just realize that they have to learn these terms that we use. The terms that might be used in Japan would be Japanese. It's not like computers, where you have terms that are kind of transcending different languages. And so I don't think it's a problem because they recognize that this is a different language, almost like English is a different language from Spanish."

AA: Nina Weinstein is an English teacher and author in Southern California. Other segments with Nina can be found at Our stock-market audio clip came from Los Angeles radio station KFWB News 980. And that's WORDMASTER for this week. I'm Avi Arditti.


Dow = Dow Jones Industrial Average, based on stock prices for 30 leading, or "blue-chip," U.S. companies

S&P = Standard & Poor's 500, an index of 500 large U.S. companies; based on market value

Nasdaq = Nasdaq Stock Market, an electronic exchange with corporate headquarters in New York