In Your Own Words: 5 Ideas for Teaching Paraphrasing

In Your Own Words: 5 Ideas for Teaching Paraphrasing

As English Language Learners prepare to become effective academic writers, one of the most essential skills that they will need to acquire is paraphrasing for the purpose of source integration.

Writing teachers will often find themselves reminding students to put things “in their own words”, but for many students, this is not a simple task, and they will need thorough practice before it becomes an accessible skill. Before students can begin to paraphrase with ease, they need to understand the purpose for doing so, and develop strategies for making it happen.

Help Your Students Paraphrase Effectively

  1. 1

    Explaining Academic Integrity

    Students are more motivated to learn a new concept when they have a clear understanding of the purpose and importance of the task. It’s crucial that students understand why source attribution is so important in Western culture: we want to give others credit for their ideas when we share them. Some English as a Second Language students may come from cultural backgrounds that value shared information in a different way; in fact, often times, the use of others’ ideas can actually be seen as a sign of respect in some collectivist cultures. In some instances, there are no conventions for including citations in place.

  2. 2

    Comparing Summarizing to Quoting and Paraphrasing

    From the start, students should know that they will utilize paraphrasing to lend support to their ideas by providing evidence through the use of paraphrasing and quoting sources. Quoting is used similarly to paraphrasing, and teaching these two writing techniques together can highlight the similarities and differences for students, hopefully, resulting in a greater understanding of how to properly use each technique to incorporate information from outside sources.

  3. 3

    Speaking First

    Do you remember the childhood game, “telephone”? While paraphrasing is typically taught as a writing skill, students may benefit from exposure to it in a less formal way first. Paraphrasing comes naturally in speaking; we do it almost every day without realizing it. By engaging students in a casual and fun game of telephone, you can help them to connect paraphrasing to real life. Have students sit in a circle; the teacher can start the game by whispering a short, silly message to the student next to him. That student passes the message along to the next and so on. By the time the message has made its way around the circle, it will likely have changed into something completely different than the original. This is fun way to show students how easily information can get “lost” if we aren’t extremely careful with how we “pass it along”.

  4. 4

    Group Paraphrase

    One of the activities that works well to illustrate the challenges of paraphrasing well is to create an activity in which students work together in groups to write paraphrases of short excerpts from texts and then give them to another group of students in the class to “paraphrase the paraphrase.” The second group can give it to a third group, and so on. The activity can get time-consuming, and three rounds of paraphrasing should be sufficient. At the end of the activity, the class can compare the final paraphrase with the original and check to see if the meaning of the original has remained intact. If the meaning varies greatly, it’s important to direct students to review the progression as the paraphrase was forwarded to each group. This will help to illustrate errors, which can be used as a valuable opportunity for learning.

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    Avoid Common Problems

    There is a tendency among students to approach paraphrasing as a task that involves simply changing each word by using synonyms without addressing sentence structure. Arming student with different strategies is essential, and helping students to think of paraphrasing as a task similar to the way they would simply tell a friend story is essential. An instructor needs to provide ample opportunity for students to engage in structured practice that allows them to develop a variety of strategies and then put them together.

For those ESL students who will be pursuing academic studies in any capacity, paraphrasing is an essential literacy skill that should be carefully developed.

Teachers can aid the process by making sure that the purpose and technique of paraphrasing is clearly understood, and providing well-structured activities for guided practice.

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