Playful Paraphrasing with a Point

Students will readily try an exercise if they understand its value, are clear about the task, and have enough support to complete all the steps. Be sure to explain the reason(s) behind a paraphrasing task. Do you wish to offer more practice with target vocabulary? Do you want to test students’ ability to manipulate grammar and syntax? Are you teaching a writing course and need to offer an alternative to using direct quotes?

Model the task by sharing your thought process. Invite the students to offer their ideas and ask questions during this demonstration.

Remember that almost any writing activity can be fun and meaningful. Who says the exercise of paraphrasing has to be dry and academic? Here’s one idea:

Quirky Quotes: Select 3-4 interesting quotes for students to read and paraphrase while working in pairs. If needed (and especially if students have had little practice with this skill), prompts can be given in the form of synonymous words and phrases and alternative grammar structures.

Possible sources:

  1. Magazines. I love The Week. Each issue includes the feature Wit & Wisdom, a column of quotes that range from profound to humorous.
  2. Websites, such as and Famous Quotes & Authors, which conveniently organize famous quotes by topic.


Quote 1: “It is possible to live in San Francisco for $35,000 a year. Obviously, that doesn’t include food or lodging.” – Ken Carlson (Source: Famous Quotes & Authors)

  1. Vocabulary prompts: possible = can; possible to live = survive (on); obviously = of course; lodging = shelter, place to stay
  2. Grammar prompts: Sentence 1 = result. Sentence 2 = condition. Rewrite the idea using an “if” statement (conditional).

Quote 2: “A good marriage would be between a blind wife and a deaf husband.” – Michel de Montaigne (Source: Famous Quotes & Authors)

  1. Vocabulary prompts: good = happy, ideal; marriage = marry (v.), married (adj.),
  2. Grammar prompts: (1) Try rewriting the idea using an “if” statement (conditional).  Subject = result, prepositional phrase = condition. (2) Try rewriting the idea using adjective clauses, for example, “a wife who is blind” or “a wife who cannot see”.

Quote 3: “One of my favorite philosophical tenets is that people will agree with you only if they already agree with you. You do not change people’s minds.” – Frank Zappa (Source:

  1. Vocabulary prompts: philosophical tenets = principle, belief, a philosophy; agree with you = share your opinion
  2. Grammar prompts: one of my… = a…of mine; Why do people agree? Explain using “because”.

Note: The prep time will pay off if you recycle the activity with another group of students in the future.


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