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  1. Paraphrasing is an Essential Conversation Skill!

    July 10, 2014 by Chimayo Press
    Chimayo Press

    Why English teachers should not overlook the importance of paraphrasing

    “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

    ―Albert Einstein (1879-1955) German physicist

    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 English language learners to participate in college classrooms, everyday conversations, social situations and commercial transactions.

    The ability to re-phrase and re-state, usually called paraphrasing, allows English students to confirm information, accurately convey that information and avoid plagiarism problems 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 university or adult and young or old, must learn to confirm information by asking clarification questions. This critical skill, crucial to effective paraphrasing, will increase their ability to collect information, avoid costly mistakes and reduce 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 how to do something simple like finding a definition or sending an email. You can also 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.

    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 teaching 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?

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  2. Speaking Together to Write Academic Definitions

    March 4, 2011 by Eric Roth
    Eric Roth

    “The beginning of wisdom is in the definition of terms.”
    Socrates (469 BCE–399 BCE) , Greek philosopher

    Getting students to speak can be a challenge, especially in ESL courses focused on academic writing. Flexibility remains essential.

    How does one, for instance, teach the difficult task of writing formal academic definitions in a communicative style? The challenge becomes more difficult if the “high intermediate ESL” class is really a broad multilevel ESL class. Just presenting the standard “term+ class + distinctive feature” formula used in academic writing from the dense textbook won’t work. Defining “erosion”, “enamel”, “folk art” and “network” – the academic writing textbook examples- seems too difficult – and can be a tad boring.

    I recently faced this awkward situation. Putting aside the textbook for a day, we took one step back to take two steps forward. We also created a lively ESL vocabulary lesson almost by accident as I redirected the two-hour class toward a communicative ESL lesson.

    Students, working in small groups, created a large list of places where people could live – a house, a dorm, a cave, a castle, a duplex, a bungalow, a trailer, a penthouse, a cottage, a villa, a tent, etc. The students further refined the list in small groups, and then focused on describing four types of housing. Students were also asked to think about potential users, applications, materials, and advantages of different types of housing. The ultimate goal would be giving formal sentence definitions that could be expanded into extended definitions.

    Given the mixed level, I also allowed the “high-intermediate ESL” students to verify their answers with both electronic and online dictionaries in their groups. By allowing the English students to authentically generate the vocabulary lists in a communicative fashion, the English students seemed both more actively engaged and appeared to enjoy a vocabulary lesson that could have been on the dreary side. They exchanged ideas and clarified the definitions. They also gained far greater comfort in the original task of writing definitions while expanding both their working and academic vocabulary.

    What is your dream home? Real estate ads often ask this question. Our class explored a different question. What is a house? Our vocabulary activity lead to some good discussions and concluded with each group briefly offering sentence definitions to describe a wide variety of housing. The relative clauses might have been long, but they were clear and detailed.

    Bottomline: exploring interesting topics, evoking student experiences, and requiring students to speak in small groups can work even while working on difficult writing tasks. Score another one for communicative teaching methods!

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    Coastal Duplex

    Housing comes in all shapes and sizes

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