Posts Tagged ‘Paraphrasing ESL’

Toward the end of the semester my writing class works on summary paragraphs. One of the challenges of writing a summary paragraph is paraphrasing. In order to paraphrase successfully, the writer needs to convey the correct meaning of the original without plagiarizing. This is especially difficult for students who are still developing their English language skills. For the last few semesters, I have been using a PowerPoint presentation with paraphrasing exercises created by Professor Jean Van Meter of Montgomery College in Germantown, Maryland. Slide one starts with the words reading, thinking, understanding, and rewriting. The first time I viewed this slide, I had the feeling I was about to see something good. This first slide gives me the opportunity to remind my students that paraphrasing it not piece by piece work. A successful paraphrase is not a puzzle with tiny parts that you arrange. In order to paraphrase well, you must truly think about what you are reading and understand it. The rest of the presentaion is a series of quotations. Each quotation is followed with wh-questions. These questions are presented one at a time, and after each question the key words used to answer the question are highlighted in the text. This step by step approach is extremely helpful, and students can use this same process later when they paraphrase without the help of their instructor.

In order to help students activate their schema before reading the quotations, I added some images and prereading questions to the orignal presentation. When I asked Professor Van Meter if I could share her presentation with the readers of this blog, she very kindly said yes. The link is



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Some time ago when I was teaching in a content based English language curriculum, I asked one of my classes what types of topics they were interested in studying. At the time, I was working within a curriculum that was organized around very interesting, serious academic topics such as perception, educational values, and bioethics. Along with all of the suggestions that I perceived as serious and academic, one student said she would like to study love. I was puzzled. I admit it, I was doubtful. I paused. I then asked her if she could give me an example of something specific that could be categorized under the topic of love. On the spur of the moment, she wasn’t able to come up with something, but I continued to think about her idea. Later, when I developed a course that taught academic English language using topics based on classic social psychological studies, thanks to my student, one of the topics that I chose was love.

I have adapted the material I used in the class based on social psychology and now use it in my beginning writing course. It works very well, in part, because my students are so keenly interested in the topic. We use the material from some of Robert Sternberg’s research on love as a basis for a paragraph that uses examples as supporting points. The examples are the four types of love.

  • Before class, I make copies of the information on the fours types of love. I cut them up into little strips, labeled A, B, C, and D. Pieces of Information on the Four Types of Love
  • In class, I set up the activity by asking what topics they are the most interested in. We have some fun back and forth and, not surprisingly, sooner or later love always comes up.
  • I then divide the class into groups of four — members A, B, C, and D. (Original, right?)
  • I tell them that each of them is going to receive a small piece of paper with information, based on Sternberg’s work, about one type of love and that they are going to read this information to their groups. I tell them that the readers will not be allowed to show the group the paper. They must read and the others should listen, ask questions, help everyone in the group understand, and take notes. Their notes should not be full sentences and should only consist of a few key words.
  • We start with A. I give one of the students in each group a paper labeled A and ask them to read it to their groups. I walk around and if a group has a word or phrase they don’t understand, I help them. I also remind the listeners to only take notes on key words.
  • When everyone is finished with A, I collect the papers labeled A and hand out B. We continue like this until all four pieces of information have been shared and all four pieces of paper have been collected.

The reason I let them simply read the information is because my students have a very wide range of language ability and simply reading allows everyone to participate. Asking them to read and then paraphrase would be too challenging for a few of them. I am always pleased with how the students help one another and plow through new vocabulary. Once again, it demonstrates that if the material is challenging, but interesting, students will find a way to understand and to help each other understand.

  • After all of the information is shared, I put an interactive PowerPoint slide on the screen and as a whole class we fill in the blanks. Four Types of Love Chart
  • Then the groups write paragraphs about the four types of love.

Because they no longer have the pieces of paper to refer to and their notes do not consist of copied sentences, the resulting paragraphs are in their own words. Later, when we work on writing summaries and paraphrasing, this lesson serves as a good reference point. I remind them of this lesson and inform them that they have already paraphrased and summarized. (They are quite pleased with themselves when they realize this.)

As they progress through the writing of the paragraph, I use something I learned from Rob Homan. If I recall correctly, he called it the “Talk, Write Method.” This means, simply, that the groups talk about what they will write and then everyone in the group writes the sentence that the group has agreed upon. First, I ask them to talk with the other group members about what they want to write for the topic sentence. We share ideas as a whole class and also listen to each group’s idea. This is a good point to review how to refer to someone else’s work by using the introductory phrase “according to….”  They then move on to write the paragraphs. For this paragraph, I encourage them to use signal words for listing since this is the first paragraph that they write which does not use spatial or time order.

This lesson evolved out of an idea that a student gave me and I’d like to say thank you to that student and to the others who have helped me to be a better teacher.

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