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Teaching ESL Students
How to Paraphrase
What do your students do when they can't think of an English word? Do they stop speaking or can they find a way around the problem? Paraphrasing is using many words to describe one unknown (or forgotten) word. When students know how to paraphrase, they can get through any dificult situation easily.
Teacher Joe has come up with a method for helping students learn how to paraphrase. The first step is to describe basic words to students (just one at a time!). Use words every student will know, such as apple, radio, laugh, walk, angry, red, etc. After describing five or ten words so students can guess and see how paraphrasing is done, give a word on a slip of paper to one student who must then describe it to the rest of the class.
While students are describing words to the whole class, they will inevitably run into some problems. Show them how to get through by giving them tips on how to paraphrase successfully. You may come up with ideas of your own, but here are Teacher Joe's ideas:
- Describe a situation, including enough details to make the word clear.
- Give a specific example, including when, where or with whom the word is used.
- Use the opposite word if it helps.
- With difficult or abstract words, it is sometimes necessary to give two examples before people will understand.
After 15 or 20 students describe a word to the whole class, and everyone understands how to paraphrase, they still need additional practice. Put them in pairs (See Timed Pair Practice to learn more about pair practice.) by giving each student 5 different words to paraphrase.
Repeat paraphrasing practice in pairs several weeks later to reinforce this essential skill.