#16 Teaching Writing via Paraphrasing with Synonyms

Teach Writing via Paraphrasing with Synonyms

Main Idea

This English writing lesson teaches ESL students how to improve sentence flow and expand their vocabulary range by paraphrasing key words and phrases with synonyms.


With a broader, deeper vocabulary range, ESL students have some of the tools they need to write with greater clarity, variety and productivity. Without a strategy to improve their lexical strength, it is hard for ESL students to improve the quality of their writing.


Find a synonym for the underlined words/phrases. Re-write each sentence using these new words or phrases. For example:

  • More than half of the women who went to the one-day meeting were in business with their husbands.

Possible answer:

  • The majority of the women who attended the one-day meeting were in business with their spouses.
  • Most of the women who showed up for the one-day meeting were in business with their better half.

Download Worksheets: Proofreading Exercises

These worksheet exercises help students improve their writing and vocabulary by substituting key words and phrase with synonyms. The exercises cover five areas of vocabulary development:

  1. collocations
  2. vague nouns
  3. interpretative nouns
  4. enumerative nouns
  5. general vocabulary from the New General Service List


So we might ask the question, improve what sort of vocabulary? Eli Hinkel provides us with one suggestion.

In a comparative analysis of non-native speaker academic writing called Second Language Writer’s Text, Eli Hinkel identified several weaknesses in the quality of non-native speaker (NNS) compositions. She also identified several areas that should be regarded as a top priorities for instructors. These priorities include:

  • use more collocations and idioms
  • use more nominalisations and gerunds
  • reduce the number of vague nouns (e.g. people, world, society)

In addition, Hinkel identified a wide range of specific nouns that were under-used by NNS in their academic text. These include:


They describe the result of thought, experience and analysis. Here is an example:

If you study Korean food consumption data for the past 25 years, the pattern is clear: people are eating more meat than ever before.

Here is a partial list of interpretative nouns from Hinkel’s book (these words also appear in the New General Service List).

  • analysis     cause     doubt     idea
  • influence     knowledge     opinion     pattern
  • picture     quality     sense     source
  • success     theory     thought     view


These nouns are important for writing because they summarize a previously mentioned idea while moving on to a new one. In other words, this category of nouns are great for building flow in a paragraph. Here is an example:

Twenty years ago, students graduating from university in Korea were virtually guaranteed a job after graduation; today the situation is different with high rates of  unemployment and underemployment. This change has caused many social problems and a growing malaise among today’s under-thirty generation.

The University of Gent website has a list of enumerative nouns. Here is a partial list of those words which also appear in the New General Service List:

  • approach     challenge     change     class
  • difficulty     event     experience     fact
  • factor     feature     form     issue
  • item     method     problem     process
  • purpose     reason     result    situation     stage
  • subject     system     task     type     understanding


Teaching English students how to paraphrase text with synonyms can be an effective technique to develop specific writing skills. It introduces new vocabulary, reviews high frequency words, checks knowledge of basic grammar structures, expands student knowledge of different sentence patterns and improves sentence flow.

Based on this knowledge, setting aside class time for paraphrasing exercises can benefit ESL students in many ways.

[do_widget text]

1 thought on “#16 Teaching Writing via Paraphrasing with Synonyms”

Leave a Comment

IMPORTANT! To be able to proceed, you need to solve the following simple math (so we know that you are a human) :-)

What is 13 + 4 ?
Please leave these two fields as-is:

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.