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Paraphrasing in TEFL

Look at the picture of Winston Churchill on this page.Waxwork of Winston Churchill It’s not the man himself but rather a waxwork of him. It’s a less rounded, less detailed, copy of the real thing.

In essence, this is what Paraphrasing is all about. Simply put it is taking what someone has written or said and reforming it in your own style. The finished result is usually much simpler and shorter than the original.

To take an example, this is part of a speech made by Winston Churchill in 1940 during the Second World War.

…we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…

The original above is 81 words long. We could paraphrase it like this:

We won’t fall. We’ll carry on. We’ll fight in France and the sea. We’ll carry on fighting and we’ll get stronger and defend Britain no matter what it costs. We’ll fight them throughout the whole country and we’ll never give up.

This is 41 words long, half the original length. What we’ve done is take the main points and rewritten them in a much simpler style. We’ve lost the powerful oratory of the original, but kept the bare essentials.

And that’s what paraphrasing is all about: keep the main points and simplify the text.

Why Paraphrase in the TEFL Classroom?

Paraphrasing is very useful skill for students for several reasons and is well worth exploring in class.

  1. For English learners it helps them to analyze and understand the text fully; unknown words, for example, may become clearer if the students paraphrase.
  2. It focuses students on the text and gets them to analyze it and concentrate on the main points.
  3. It allows students to use their own words and therefore avoid plagiarism (important in many instances, but especially for students taking EAP).

How to Paraphrase in Class

These are the simple steps to paraphrase a text. If you are doing this in class go through each step individually before moving on to the next step and, obviously, make sure all the students complete each step before moving on.

  1. Read the original text and understand the meaning; as a teacher you may well help out a lot in this phase or you may have the students work together.
  2. Make bullet points with of the main points of the text; again small groups could be the way to go here.
  3. Check your points against the original and make sure you haven’t left anything out; as above; group work or perhaps even classwork as a whole.
  4. Turn your noted points into text; this is usually best individually done.

Let the students know that each of them will likely produce a slightly different paraphrase and as long as all the facts are there and it is correct English, then it is good work.

spoken paraphrasing

Of course the above is for written texts. Equally useful is the art of paraphrasing spoken language.

Again you can do this in class by telling a short story and have the class rewrite it in their own words. This is obviously fairly simple but once the class is used to it you can work on developing the activity so that it involves more student work and participation.

Paraphrasing vs Summarizing

Note that these two terms are sometimes confused but are, in fact, very different.

Where paraphrasing is taking the content of the text and putting it in your own words, summarizing is just taking out the main points and leaving out less important parts.

A summary of the speech by Churchill quoted above could be:

We’ll never give up or stop fighting.


The term paraphrase comes from the Latin word paraphrasis which itself comes from the Greek‏‎ word παράφρασις [parafrasis] which meaning “other manner of expressing”.

photo credit Peter Kratochvil in the Public Domain

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