How to Use Paraphrase to Help English Language Learners

Why is Paraphrasing Important for ELLs?

It is important to use paraphrase to help English language learners because paraphrasing is one of the main methods that ELLs will be able to use to clarify that they have understood something correctly. For example, if a bank teller explains to an ELL the terms of a loan, the ELL should learn to clarify by saying, “So what I understand from what you’ve said is…” and to paraphrase what was heard. The same applies in many areas of life, including academic work, social settings, and professional situations.

Helping ELLs Paraphrase

Asking an English language learner to orally paraphrase what she has heard may put her on the spot, and she may be unable to paraphrase well. In order to show her how to paraphrase what she’s read, have her write down the paraphrase and then read it aloud. If she is having difficulty paraphrasing what she’s read, consider introducing her to a backwards web graphic organizer. This organizer looks like a web, with a large circle in the middle connected by lines to several smaller surrounding circles. The student can then insert details from what she’s read into the outer circles and then combine these details to fill in the central circle.

Paraphrasing Sentence Frames

Write a list of paraphrasing sentence frames on the board, and encourage English language learners to use them. The list might include any of the following:

  • So what I heard you say was…
  • From what you said, I understand that…
  • Can you tell me if I understood correctly? It seems that you said…
  • When you said…did you mean…?

Broken Telephone – A Paraphrasing Game

You can also play a game of broken telephone to help your students paraphrase. Have the class sit in a circle, and instruct every second student to tell a story – personal or otherwise – to the student on their right. When all of the pairs finish telling and hearing the stories, have the listeners to turn the student on their right and retell what they’ve heard. Continue until the story travels around the entire circle, and have the last listener of each story tell the story to the entire class. Ask the original teller of each story to explain if and how the story changed while going around the circle.

These activities use paraphrase to help English language learners communicate effectively with those around them. Encourage students to practice this skill over the course of the year, and praise those who do so spontaneously.