Wednesday, March 12, 2014


Paraphrasing with Einstein

Paraphrasing is a key skill for many English language and literature students. It helps them with tests like the IELTS and BULATS, and is an essential skill for writing essays and other reports.

This isn't a full lesson, but it is an idea of how to use Albert Einstein when practicing paraphrasing in class. After all, March 14th is Einstein's birthday!

To start my students and peruse Joseph Ducreux memes (such as the one of the left). This meme is usually a modern phrase translated into archaic English. For example, "YOLO" could "translate" to: One only exists upon a singular occasion.

I show them some examples and we see how the meaning stays the same even though the words change. We usually laugh at the humorous phrasing (if you plan on using these in your class be sure to select appropriately many are NOT appropriate).

Then I show them some I made using Einstein's quotes as a reference. You can go to to make your own. For instance, I made the one on the right. I ask them to try and translate them from archaic English to modern English.

Staying with the example on the right, they may come up with something like: Living is like riding a bike. You have to  keep balance by moving.

When they finish we look at how close they got to the original phrase. Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.

Finally, I explain these are usually NOT good paraphrases. As a class we come up with rules for a good paraphrase.
  • The words are different (Use synonyms, descriptions, etc.)
  • The structure is different (Make long sentences into two shorter sentences, change active to passive, etc.)
  • The meaning is the same.
As we can see by looking through the Joseph Ducreux memes,  normally these memes do not change structure. They simply change the words. This is NOT proper paraphrasing.

Then we look at their "translations" of the earlier memes and see if they ended up being good paraphrases (usually they are pretty good). If not, we make them better. If students has written, Living is like riding a bike. You have to  keep balance by moving, they could try and change the structure more to something like, If you keep moving on a bike you are less likely to fall. This is the same way to stay balanced in life!

Finally I give them some of Einstein's quotes and have them paraphrase them. The worksheet includes the source, so students can practice citations (parenthetical, works cited, etc.) as well as remember how to find good sources.

There we go! As stated earlier, this is NOT a complete lesson. However, since Einstein is often quoted, it is a lesson that is relevant to students and helps them practice paraphrasing.

As a homework assignment you can get them to find their favorite quote by Einstein and paraphrase it! My favorite quote is to the right when he says that, "It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge." You can read the rest of the quote (and more) at the Science Career Magazine blog.

A copy of the quotation worksheet, quizzes and answer key can be purchased on Teacher's Pay Teachers. You can get there by clicking this link.

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