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English Conversation Tips: The Power of Paraphrasing
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
Paraphrasing matters in conversation too ― especially when learning a new language!
Experienced English teachers know that students must learn paraphrasing skills to complete academic writing assignments. Likewise, paraphrasing remains a vital skill for classroom participation, everyday conversations, and commercial transactions.
The ability to re-phrase and re-state, usually called paraphrasing, allows English students to confirm and accurately convey information while avoiding plagiarism when writing papers. As a result, paraphrasing is usually emphasized in English as a Second Language (ESL) and English as a Foreign Language (EFL) writing classes. Classes and teachers focusing on oral skills from academic presentations to simple conversations should also devote some attention to paraphrasing too.
English language students, whether young or old, university or adult, must learn to confirm information by asking clarifying questions. This critical skill increases their ability to collect information, avoids costly mistakes and reduces their everyday stress level. It’s also impossible to accurately paraphrase a conversation if one is confused about the meaning. Some useful phrases for a listener to ask include:
- Are you saying…?
- Do you mean?
- What are you getting at?
- If I understand you correctly, you are saying …
- So you are saying… Right?
- Did I get that right?
Speakers can also check to see if their group members and classmates understand their directions.
- Are you with me?
- Can you understand me?
- Was I going too fast?
- Should I rephrase that?
- Do you follow?
- Is that clear?
- Should I repeat the directions?
- Do you want me to repeat that?
- Would it be better for me to repeat that?
- Can I answer any questions?
- Is anybody lost?
Asking advanced English students to repeat directions in different words can also be an effective group activity. The directions can be to a physical location (home, campus building, museum) or for a simple task like finding a definition or sending an email. You can extend the assignment by requesting detailed directions on a complicated procedure such as getting a driver’s license, applying for a visa, or choosing a new laptop.
Using Authentic Materials
Furthermore, you can ask students to share an autobiographical story. Student A tells a story, and Student B retells that story with different words to Student C. This paraphrasing exercise also helps build a larger, more practical vocabulary.
Another technique that I have found useful is asking students to paraphrase proverbs and quotations. This exercise, done in groups of two, often finishes with asking if students agree or disagree with the specific proverb or quotation. Of course, students have to give a reason and/or an example to support their answers. ESL tutors and English teachers lucky to have small classes can elaborate on this technique to match student interests.
If English students can accurately paraphrase a reading, a radio segment, or a verbal statement, they can actively participate in common conversations and classroom discussions. Many English teachers underestimate the importance of this skill, and assume students understand it more than they might. Verbal paraphrasing activities allow both students and teachers to assess listening comprehension skills in a natural, authentic manner.
Therefore, verbal paraphrasing deserves more attention in speaking activities, especially in high intermediate and advanced levels! Don’t you agree?
What techniques or exercises do you use to improve paraphrasing skills? For more materials, check out our Studying English activity collection ($4.99) from Creating Compelling Conversations!
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Top tip Eric, thanks for the list as well!
Karenne – Thank you for your kind words and sharp eyes!
It is so cool! I am trying to do that
the thing what i want is the important of paraphrasing technique to the law students so can you help me please.
its so exiting like
Paraphrasing is a difficult skill, but it becomes easier with practice. As a law student, you might try practicing listening to short broadcast pieces on the Voice of America or Marketplace, my favorite public ratio program, and mentally take notes. Then, when the broadcast – or podcast – is over, try to summarize the 2-3 minute report to two sentences. By dramatically reducing the information to a few sentences, you have to edit out many details and focus on the main idea. That’s the essential skill required for effective paraphrasing while listening to lectures – or questioning witnesses.
As a future lawyer, you will use paraphrasing in many parts of your future career.
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#tefl Paraphrasing is an Essential Conversation Skill! – If English students can accurately paraphrase a rea… http://t.co/smYS9uXsvq
Thank you for the tweets!
RT @compellingtalks: Paraphrasing is an Essential #ConversationSkill! : Why #English teachers should not overlook its importance: https://t…
How do you teach paraphrasing in your #English class? What techniques do you use for conversations? https://t.co/7CGnoLokth #TEFL #ESL #EFL
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Thanks for connecting to our article on paraphrasing!
Wonderful information! I especially found it interesting about students practicing verbal paraphrasing activities to assess listening comprehension. I have found that students are less capable of this skill today than when I first started my teaching career two decades ago. Can you please guide me to where I can find activities to practice this with 5th/6th grade aged students? I really want to prepare my students in how to properly paraphrase when they begin writing research papers in middle school and high school. I know that plagiarism is a huge problem in writing assignments. And I really believe it’s happening because students just are not taught/coached well in how to paraphrase; they have no idea how to put ideas and quotes into their own words.
Thank you, Traci, for your generous words and patience with my tardy response.
Improving the paraphrasing skills for 5th/6th grade students remains a challenge. Yet helping middle school students develop and deepen their paraphrasing skills in writing will dramatically improve their academic papers and future prospects. Too often, as you note, schools overlook this vital skill and students remain confused about how to rephrase ideas, cite sources, and “translate” quotes into their own words.
Partly because I teach graduate and university students, I am less familiar with the outstanding resources for middle school students. Purdue University’s OWL (Online Writing Lab) has many excellent resources for older students. You might be able to adapt these materials: https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/using_research/quoting_paraphrasing_and_summarizing/paraphrasing.html Sometimes students also use – for worse or for better – various online resources such as https://www.prepostseo.com/paraphrasing-tool and grammarly.com to help them rephrase materials. Consider me ambivalent about these online tools.
Likewise, I would suspect that both http://www.TeachersPayTeachers.com and https://www.englishworksheetsland.com/ would offer Common Core related materials. I am sorry that I can’t provide better leads.
By the way, I first learned to paraphrase in 5th grade many, many moons ago with a simple technique. The teacher had us read two pages, shut the book, and write a single paragraph about what we had read. It’s a bit old fashioned, but it might work.
Thank you, again, for visiting the blog and I apologize for my inadequate and tardy response.