Published 23rd March 2018

paraphrasing as a skill

Exam classes are a different kettle of fish when it comes to teaching English. In our General English classes we teach communicative English so that our students can understand the English they are exposed to outside the classroom and be understood when communicating outside the classroom.

How are exam classes different to General English classes?

With exam classes, we need to shift our thinking so that we incorporate the different skills needed to pass the exam (whichever one it may be) into our classes. Of course, we are still focused on communication and intelligibility but there are the added elements of Academic English we need to deal with. Plus there is the added stress of being in an exam class and the deadline of the exam looming over your students’ heads.

What is paraphrasing?

Paraphrasing is a skill that is important in Academic English. Being able to paraphrase means being able to write a person’s idea without using their words. In other words, using your own words to report on someone else’s idea. The reason this is so important in Academic English is because it is essential to avoid plagiarism. When writing reports or academic papers it is essential to be able to include other people’s ideas without claiming them as your own. You accomplish this by paraphrasing.

A paraphrasing activity

There are many ways to practise paraphrasing in the EFL classroom, but we need to be careful to make sure our lessons aren’t boring! Paraphrasing is an activity which is usually done individually – so it could be done at home. This activity makes paraphrasing a group activity to make it more engaging and enjoyable and yet the skills acquired during the activity will be transferrable to individual practice.

Seat the students in two concentric circles facing each other. Give each pair an extract from a paper, the same extract. Give a time limit and students must work in pairs to paraphrase the extract. They must write this down. When the time limit is up, everyone moves one seat to their left – this should give them a new partner. Hand out another extract. In their new pairs the students must write a paraphrase for the new extract. Continue as many times as you like.

Once this has been done, students must volunteer to read their paraphrases of each extract. The class must compare each example and decide which is the best. If you’d like continuity in the extracts you can use extracts from the same paper or on the same argument. The students can then write a paper using those arguments for homework.

In this way paraphrasing is effectively turned into a communicative activity. Students will spend the lesson discussing the content and talking about paraphrasing. The fact that they work in different groups means that they will be exposed to different ideas on how to paraphrase and the reflection and feedback part of the activity will allow them to assess their skills. Finally, they are given the opportunity to put these skills into practice on their own in the homework activity.