Section 3: Leading & Participating in Academic Discussions:

Activity Two: Paraphrasing

Leading and Participating in Academic Discussions
  • To become familiar with ways of paraphrasing
  • To practice paraphrasing skills in both written and spoken forms
The Internet
30-60 minutes



Paraphrasing means to restate information in different words. It is a useful skill to practice for many reasons. First, paraphrasing is a necessary part of writing papers; you must be able to reproduce, in your own words, the information you read or hear. Second, in discussion, it is very common to restate what you have heard or read. Sometimes you may do this to make sure you understood what someone else said. At other times you may want to rephrase what you have already said, to help someone else understand what you mean. Finally, there may be times when you paraphrase what someone else has said as a way to lead to your own idea; that is, you use a paraphrase to connect your idea to someone else's idea.

Paraphrasing involves two main things: using synonyms to replace some words, and rearranging sentence structure.

Synonyms: Synonyms are words that have the same general meaning. Some examples are:

therefore =consequently
fact = truth
gift = present

Rearranging Sentences: Often if you are trying to paraphrase, you may repeat information and change the order of the sentence, or change the sentence structure itself, making shorter or longer sentences, emphasizing only the main points. Usually, these paraphrases have a sentence before them that introduces them. Here is an example:

Student 1: I can't wait for winter vacation to be over. I miss school.
Student 2: Let me get this straight, you are looking forward to going back to school?
Student 1: That's right, I love to go to class!

In this example, Student 2 paraphrases what Student 1 has said, and starts the paraphrase with a short phrase " Let me get this straight,". This is a very common way to see if you have heard correctly.

Whenever you paraphrase, it's important to emphasize the main information, but it's equally important to make sure you do not accidentally change the main information through the process of paraphrasing.



Let's practice with a few example sentences. Remember to try and say these sentences in your own words, but make sure you cover all the important information (don't leave out any information that affects the main idea).

Write down or say out loud how you might paraphrase these examples.

Example 1. Rain is necessary for a student to get a good education. If it did not rain, students would not be able to stay indoors and study.

Example 2. Many factors have been identified as leading to problem drinking. Researchers have emphasized the role of genetic factors. Others note the social factors like the inability to deal with emotions that leads to problem drinking.

*adapted from

How did you paraphrase these sentences? One possible paraphrase of Example 1 might be "Rain helps people succeed in school by forcing them to stay inside and do their homework." However, this is not the only possibility -- with paraphrasing there is never one "right answer", because we can all think of a variety of ways to say the same thing. The important thing is to cover the main information in your own words.

If you would like extra practice, choose a book or article you have recently read, or a story from the newspaper. Read a few sentences, or a paragraph, and then paraphrase what you read (you can either say your paraphrases aloud, or write them down, whichever you prefer). Afterwards, double-check that you have not left out any important information.



Now it is time to listen to some English speakers and practice paraphrasing what they say.

Step 1. Go to You will see a list of listening topics and a brief explanation of each. Choose any topic and click on one of the titles. This will take you to a page for that topic, and you can click on the LISTEN button.

Step 2. While you are listening, take notes on the important information, the main topics and examples you will want to paraphrase (once you have had some practice, you may choose to not take notes and try to remember the important information). If you can't say your paraphrase from looking at your notes, try writing exactly what you would want to say.

Step 3. After you have listened and taken notes, paraphrase out loud what you have heard. So if you heard about Ultimate Frisbee, you would give the same speech in your own words, covering the main ideas. (You may want to listen again, and pause after each main idea to give your paraphrase of that idea.) Remember there is not one correct answer, but many different ways to paraphrase. Remember to try and cover the main points.

Step 4. After you have paraphrased the speech, click on the "Questions and Answers" button under the title "Study Aids". Go through these questions and answers. Did you cover the same information in your paraphrasing? If you covered most of the information that the questions cover, you are doing a great job and can try again with another topic. If you missed some of the information that the questions and answers cover, try to figure out how the information was important for the overall meaning.

Repeat Steps 1-4 for as many topics as you can.



Keep track of your successes in a journal. Save your notes and think about your improvement over time. Are you getting better at covering the main points? Is it becoming easier for you to restate the information in your own words? Is your listening comprehension improving? Do you feel more comfortable restating information in your classes?




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