Alcove Activities: First Level: Paraphrasing Short Quotes With Specimen Answers
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First Level: Paraphrasing Short Quotes With Specimen Answers
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, to “paraphrase” is to express the meaning of (a written or spoken passage, or the words of an author or speaker) using different words, esp. to achieve greater clarity. To the extent that you cannot state in our own words the meaning of a word, sentence, or passage, you lack an understanding of that word, sentence, or passage. You bring ideas into your thinking by “thinking them into our thinking.” One of the best ways to do this is to practice paraphrasing — writing in your own words your understanding of an idea, sentence, or passage.

This is easier said than done. To paraphrase a substantive sentence or passage effectively, the writer must come to think, and appreciate, the substantive thought behind the sentence or passage. Without this appreciation, without deeply understanding the thought expressed in the original, one cannot render that thought adequately in different words.

One way to paraphrase quotes is to begin by writing out your initial thoughts. Then paraphrase the quote in the light of your commentary. In your commentary, explain the significance of what is being talked about and what is being said. If there is an important concept at the heart of the quote — a concept such as democracy or power as in the two example quotes below — think through that concept before you paraphrase.

In this section we present you with short quotes based on significant insights. We want you to paraphrase each one. We suggest that you first write out your initial thoughts. When paraphrasing try to use more, rather than less elaboration to unpack the ideas in the quote. But do not add your own thoughts to the original idea. In this section, we provide our specimen answers for the first several quotes, but without initial thoughts. Then we offer some examples without our specimen answers.


1. He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetuate it. — Martin Luther King, Jr.
People who see unethical things being done to others but who fail to intervene (when they are able to intervene) are as unethical as those who are causing harm in the first place.

2. Every effort to confine Americanism to a single pattern, to constrain it to a single formula, is disloyalty to everything that is valid in Americanism. — Henry Steele Commager
There is no one “right way” to be an American. When everyone in America is expected to think within one belief system, when people are ostracized or persecuted for thinking autonomously, when people are labeled “UnAmerican” for independent thinking, the only legitimate definition of “true American” is annulled.

3. Liberty is the only thing you cannot have unless you are willing to give it to others. — William Allen White
If you want to be free, you have to allow others their freedom.

4. I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones. — John Cage
Many of the ideas that have permeated human thinking throughout the years are harmful or dangerous. An old idea is not necessarily a good idea, nor is a new idea necessarily a bad one.

5. The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts as are only injurious to others. — Thomas Jefferson
The only authority government should have is to stop people from harming one another.

6. The propagandist’s purpose is to make one set of people forget that certain other sets of people are human. — Aldous Huxley
The goal of propaganda is to convince people that other groups of people are inhuman, and therefore not worthy of respect and just treatment.

7. The shepherd always tries to persuade the sheep that their interests and his own are the same. — Stendhal
People in control always try to manipulate people into believing that what is good for those in control is good for the people as well.