#18 Paraphrasing with Nominalisations

Teach Writing by Paraphrasing … with Nominalizations

Main Idea

Paraphrasing is a reading comprehension and writing skill. Read a sentence or paragraph, ask questions about the text (i.e. what is the main idea?) and then write the same idea in different words. That strategy is called RAP (read-ask-paraphrase).

Here are some characteristics of good paraphrasing:

  1. Communicates the original idea.
  2. Does not add the writer’s opinion.
  3. Uses about the same number of words.
  4. Uses a combination of writing skills including different words and sentence structures.


Why teach paraphrase writing to your ESL students? Two reasons.

First, research suggests that paraphrasing helps students improve reading comprehension, for both native and non-native English speakers.

Second, paraphrasing helps ESL students write better. Paraphrasing, which consists of several different techniques learned through guided practice, expands the number of sentence patterns that students can use in their own writing. This helps students write ideas with more precision, superior word choice and better style with a mix of sentence types.

In other words, paraphrasing improves reading comprehension, expands vocabulary and improves writing.

Types of Paraphrasing

In this series of skills-based writing activities, I will focus on four kinds of paraphrasing:

  1. nominalisations
  2. synonyms
  3. active and passive
  4. combing sentences


Nominalization means changing a word, usually a verb, into a noun. Adjectives (e.g. careless to carelessness) and adverbs (e.g. wordy to wordiness) can nominalized as well.

Nominalization is commonly used in academic textbooks, legal documents and professional or government reports. Its effect is to emphasize the action by adding punch to the end of the sentence (e.g. chemical fertilizers accelerate plant growth). It also creates a noun concept which can be counted (e.g. fatal becomes fatalities).

Nominalization is useful for ESL students because it increases their vocabulary, in general, and their knowledge of collocations, especially phrasal verbs and prepositional phrases.

Here are some examples:

  • The prosecutor’s office investigated the scandal. (verb)
  • The prosecutor’s office conducted an investigation regarding the scandal. (noun)
  • The school board discussed forced early retirement. (verb)
  • The school board held a discussion concerning forced early retirement. (noun)
  • You have to give us your decision by tomorrow. (verb)
  • You have to decide by tomorrow. (noun)

Downloads and Worksheets

  1. Download the nominalization practice worksheet here.

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