Pearson Test of English (PTE) General is an exam which tests real-world communication skills. The tasks students have to complete are familiar, understandable and will help them with their day-to-day lives.
Paraphrasing can be an extremely helpful skill in all sections of the exam, as well as when writing and speaking in both professional and social situations. Not only can it help students clarify what they mean, it allows them to reproduce key information from the exam texts without copying word for word.
So just how useful is paraphrasing and how can it benefit students taking the PTE General? Also, what are some classroom exercises you can use with your students to help them develop their paraphrasing ability?
Why paraphrasing is a useful communication skill
Day-to-day spoken communication
In casual conversations and formal meetings, we often find ourselves explaining something other people have said. Whether it’s a quick recap of some plans we’ve made, or a detailed explanation of some client feedback, it’s very rare we recite things word for word.
In the speaking exam, students may need to paraphrase something they have said, especially if the interlocutor has not understood. The student may also wish to paraphrase a question from the examiner (“Do you mean…?”) to check they’ve understand what they need to answer.
When it comes to assessment, students are marked on their grammatical and lexical range. Paraphrasing can help demonstrate a wider vocabulary and a variety of different grammar structures, improving their grade.
There are lots of reasons why we might want to change register, tone, and vocabulary in order to make it more understandable or appropriate for our audience.
When writing an email, report, blog, or other communication, for example, we often have to transfer information from one source to another – and this requires us to paraphrase.
In section 8 of the exam, the students are tested on their ability to select and explain appropriate information from Task 7 in an email, letter or other form of correspondence – making paraphrasing an essential skill for students to learn and practice.
Moreover, in the listening and reading tasks, students will often find that the answers are paraphrased versions of the original question (especially in the higher levels). It’s therefore very helpful to practice vocabulary building in class – looking especially at synonyms.
How to teach paraphrasing in class
There are lots of different low-preparation games and activities you can do with your students to practice paraphrasing.
- The synonym game
This quick classroom activity helps students widen their vocabulary.
Put students into groups of 3 or 4 and distribute a piece of paper to each person. Tell students to write a sentence at the top of the paper. Note that the complexity of the sentence will vary depending on the level of your group.
Each student should pass their paper to the person to their left. They must rewrite the sentence and replace one of the words with a synonym, underlining the word that they changed.
They should continue passing the papers to the left until they can no longer change the sentences. Students may not change a word that has been changed before. For example:
It was a hot day, so I went to my office by bicycle.
It was a very warm day, so I went to my office by bicycle.
It was a very warm day, so I traveled to my office by bicycle.
It was a very warm day, so I traveled to work by bicycle.
It was a very warm day, so I traveled to work by bike.
The winner of the game is the student whose sentence was paraphrased the most.
At the end of the game have students write all the words and synonyms on the board, so that they can take a note of any new vocabulary.
Monitor students as they work and help them to correct any mistakes. You may wish to allow students to use a thesaurus. For lower level groups model a sentence on the board and demonstrate the activity in open class before you begin the activity.
- Tell it again
This challenging memory activity requires students to listen to, remember, and paraphrase a number of stories.
First, ask your students to think of a short story. It can be something that happened to them or a friend, or they can make it up.
They should write the story on a piece of paper – making sure it is no more than a paragraph in length. Monitor and offer students support during this stage. Once they’ve finished, they should fold the paper.
Next have students stand up and mingle. They should find a partner and tell their story from memory. Students must pay close attention when they are listening to the other person.
When both students have finished telling their stories, they should swap pieces of paper and then find another person to speak to and tell their previous partner’s story from memory, in their own words, without looking at the paper.
Afterwards, students should swap papers again and do the same – telling their next partner their previous partner’s story.
After students have done this three or four times tell them to stop and sit down.
Without looking at the paper, have them write the story they just heard from memory. They should then check the original and see how closely it matches.
Finally, in open class, have students talk about how different their stories were from the original.
- The repetitive party
This think-on-your-feet mingle activity requires students to paraphrase themselves quickly while imagining they are at a party.
Write the following on the board (you can adapt this to suit the level and interests of your class):
- Why you are at the party:
- Your favorite:
Tell students that they are going to a party and they they have to invent a character for themselves. They should think of the answers to the questions on the board, making up the details. They can be as creative as they like: the sillier the answers, the better.
Next tell students to stand up and find people to talk to. They must ask each other questions using the prompts on the board. However, each time someone answers a question, their partner must say “I’m sorry?”, “Could you repeat that?” or “Pardon?”
Students must then paraphrase their answers, giving the same information in a different way.
- Student A: Hi, what’s your favorite food?
- Student B: My favorite food is pizza.
- Student A: I’m sorry, could you repeat that?
- Student B: I said I love eating pizza.
Note: if you have a lower-level group, it is good idea to practice asking the questions before students start to mingle (for example; What’s your name? How old are you? What do you do for a living? Where are you from? Etc.) and have them write down the answers on a piece of paper.
You may want to play music on a low volume during this activity to create a party atmosphere.
If you would like to read more about PTE General exam, there are a number of useful resources on the PTE General website where you will find guides, practice tests and sample exams which you can download for use in your class.