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Teaching Paraphrasing

  • What is it?
  • Why do it?
  • Changing vocabulary
  • Changing grammar

What is Paraphrasing?

I often find it helpful to start the paraphrasing lessons with this question to get an idea of what students think paraphrasing involves. In response, I'm often told something to the effect that it is taking something you've read and putting it in your own words. This in itself is not necessarily a bad answer, but it doesn't tell the whole story. Changing the vocabulary of a passage is only half the task. The half that tends to be more problematic for students is the other half, i.e. changing the grammar.

With this in mind and a little discussion back and forth, the class is usually able to come up with a more accurate definition of paraphrasing; for example, something akin to taking something you've read and changing the vocabulary and grammar while keeping the original meaning.

Our definition of paraphrasing firmly in hand, we come to a second important question.

Why should students learn to paraphrase?

"Because you have to." is rarely a very helpful answer, so I usually take some time and go over the benefits of learning to paraphrase by asking this question to the students and, with a little guidance, coming up with a list like the one below.

  • It improves their grammar skills which improves their writing skills.
  • It improves their reading and vocabulary skills.
  • It helps them develop their own style of writing.
  • It helps to relieve stress.

"It helps to relieve stress"....Students usually find this a rather odd thing to say, but I tell them to think of it this way. Imagine they are in the university and one of their professors assigns a five-page research paper. If they know how to paraphrase, this assignment is no sweat. On the other hand, what are their options if paraphrasing is not among their skill set? They could copy-paste and hope they don't get caught [stressful]. They could cheat and buy a paper or try to get one online. That sounds like a plan, but consider the fact that the guy who sold them the paper probably sold the same one to many other students, significantly increasing their chances of getting caught [stressful]. Their final option is simple, yet also stressful. They could just not do the assignment and get an F.

Let's begin our discussion with Changing Vocabulary.


page last modified: September 28, 2016

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