A Lesson in Paraphrasing from Fortnite

twitter feedSo far this year, all of my writing on Moving Writers has been dedicated to Research Writing. I’m teaching two sections of AP Seminar this year, so I spend lots of time guiding students through research. I know the traditional research paper often gets a bad rap as “boring”, but I think there are lots of ways to make research more relevant and interesting to kids.

Still, there is one area where I’ve always struggled to help students engage: paraphrasing and direct quotation. It seems tiresome and picky to many of them, so they don’t want to be bothered. And, in their defense, as we teach research writing in younger grades, sometimes they get the message that paraphrasing = just change around the wording a bit so that it is your own. That becomes really problematic advice as they get older. Students get the idea that swapping out a word with a synonym here or there is enough to make something paraphrased. It’s not, but there also isn’t a clear-cut rule for how much you need to change something to make it a legit paraphrase. It’s messy and requires practice.

To the Twitter!

Luckily, my Twitter feed stepped up last week and provided a perfect set up for me to practice this with my kids again.  


Fortnite grabbed my attention because it is one of the first things that has captured the attention of both my school kids and my at-home kids. The article details the claim in the lawsuit being brought against Epic Games by a rapper (and more plaintiffs have added since that one! Carlton from Fresh Prince of Bel Air is suing and so is the Backpack Kid!). All those cool dances everyone is doing? Totally stolen.

What’s interesting about the article, though, is how it explains why this claim might win. The article explains that the animation process is what might get Epic Games in trouble:


If it turns out that Epic’s process of creating emotes amounts to tracing, it could get really legally tricky to determine whether infringement has taken place. Tracing over a copyrighted image is generally not an acceptable practice unless all you’re doing is practicing for your own personal improvement (Statt).

The idea of “tracing” work immediately made me think of paraphrasing and how, if done incorrectly, it’s really just tracing over someone else’s words.

Here’s what I did:

Step One:  Read the article and discuss

I was correct in my assumption that the topic would grab their attention. Even kids who don’t play the game have seen the dances. They were quickly intrigued by the idea that these dances originated elsewhere AND that the creators weren’t getting paid. We read the article and had a quick discussion:

  • What do you think?
  • Is this copying?
  • Does Epic Games owe these creators some money?


Step Two: Connect to our writing

Though they could have talked about it all day, this was intended to be a mini lesson so we needed to get moving. I pointed out the section of the article about tracing and asked how that might be similar to paraphrasing. They weren’t really sure, so I showed them this example from the Purdue Online Writing Lab:

Paraphrasing: Purdue Online Writing Lab

We talked about the differences between the plagiarized version and the legitimate paraphrase.  How was the plagiarized version really just “tracing” the original? I saw some light bulbs, so I knew we were ready to practice.

Step Three: Practice!

Students have just begun a new research project so they’ve already started collecting resources. All year I’ve been trying to break my kids of the (in my opinion) horrible habit of dumping random quotes in a Google Doc as they read. I’ve been pushing them to add commentary and it has been working with most of them, but this was a perfect place to add onto that.  I asked students to pull up a quote they’d saved and copy/paste it below the original. Then, I had them go through and “trace” it by swapping out words with synonyms.

Next, I asked them to do a legit paraphrase by changing the structure and zeroing in on the key details.  When they were done, we compared the two–the “traced” and the legitimate–and talked about why the legitimate paraphrase was better for both their writing and their understanding of the material.

We are not done with this skill by any means, but the Fortnite example has given us another way to talk about how paraphrasing can go wrong. And, it gives me an excuse to show off my sweet dance moves in class. Perhaps in the future I can start flossing in a writing conference when I suspect some bad paraphrasing….


How do you address paraphrasing with your students? If they’re good at it, what are you doing??  I’d love to hear what works with your students. Connect with me on Twitter @TeacherHattie or comment below.



  1. Hattie, you are awesome! As I am teaching 8th graders who do not know a world beyond the copy and paste button, this lesson is a huge help! I like this article because it puts it in terms that they can understand why just changing every third word is not enough. Its engaging and informative, and I thank you very much for this post!

  2. Oh, awesome!! Thanks for sharing that 🙂 Always nice to hear that something is useful to someone. And I hear ya on the nightmare days. This week has been brutal!!

  3. My day – it’s only 9:29 – has been a nightmare so far. Your awesome post just saved the day. You are so mart finding that article and linking it in a meaningful way back to writing.

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