ESL Paraphrasing Activities & Games

Instructor: Matthew Hamel

Matt has degrees in Journalism and Business and has taught a variety of courses at high schools and universities around the world.

Properly paraphrasing can be a challenge, especially for English as a Second Language (ESL) learners. This lesson provides teachers with activities and games designed to teach paraphrasing skills to ESL students.

What's a Paraphrase?

An entire book could be (and probably has been) written about how to properly paraphrase. Since this lesson is intended specifically for ESL learners, it focuses on providing a basic introduction and guidelines for paraphrasing accurately and appropriately.

Begin by explaining to students that paraphrasing is the process of putting something in your own words. While a summary is shorter than the source material, a paraphrase can be the same length or even longer than the material being paraphrased. It can be helpful to write the following points on the board as you introduce this topic to the class.

  • Rules for paraphrasing:
    • Use your own words.
    • Don't repeat sentence structure or copy words. Instead, vary the sentence structure and use a combination of synonyms and alternative phrases.
    • Don't add new information to your paraphrase. Stick to the original ideas and main points.

At this point you may also want to mention plagiarism to the class. This is a complex topic and can confuse ESL learners, so it's best to simply state that copying someone else's words without attribution is considered academic dishonesty.

Paraphrase Example

Try this exercise as an introductory exercise. To begin, show the following two texts to the class and discuss the similarities and differences.

Original Text

Deciding which university to attend can be a difficult decision for many high school students. First of all, one must decide where to study. Small towns and big cities both have advantages and disadvantages. High schoolers must also consider how many students attend the university and if they like the degree programs offered.

Paraphrased Text

There are many reasons why it's not easy for young people to choose a university. Location (urban or rural), university size, and available programs are all important parts of the decision-making process.

Be sure to point out that the second text is a good paraphrase because it alters both the sentence structure and the vocabulary of the original without adding new ideas or changing the author's meaning.

One Story, Many Perspectives

In this activity, students can have a chance to see that there are many different ways to paraphrase the same material. Ensure that all students have access to the same source material. A textbook, novel or news article will work. Then follow these activity directions.

  1. Give the entire class the same page number and/or paragraph to paraphrase.
  2. After students have written their paraphrases, either collect their work for assessment or ask for volunteers to share their paraphrases with the class. If you opt to have volunteers read aloud, be sure to discuss the differences and similarities of the paraphrases with the class.

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