Fascinating Facts


Summarizing and Paraphrasing

Summarizing and paraphrasing are two important skills that you'll use throughout your life. In this lesson, we'll use these skills to inform a friend about Algeria.

The chapter on Algeria includes the following paragraph:

Original Text from Fascinating Facts:

Algeria is second in size only to Sudan on the African continent. The French conquered northern Algeria in 1847 and despite fierce resistance, pushed southward until Algeria’s current boundaries were drawn in 1902. Algeria did not gain independence from the French until July 5, 1962. It was a bloody and violent process, partly due to the large number of Europeans (the majority of French origin) who had come to settle there. This produced two economic classes, with the Europeans possessing the principal industrial, commercial, and agricultural enterprises. Although independent, there is still violent unrest in Algeria. Islamic fundamentalists have killed tourists and other foreigners in their attempt to control the country. Islam is the state religion, and Arabic is the national language. The Sahara is the world’s largest desert, and it covers 80% of Algeria. 

How can we include this information in our letter?

The most obvious ways are to summarize it or paraphrase it. Let's take a look at the difference.


To summarize something means to shorten it, while still capturing the main idea. If I were to summarize that paragraph above, I might write something like this:

Algeria was a colony of France for more than 50 years. After a bloody war of independence, Algeria finally gained its independence in 1962.

That would certainly fit nicely in a letter, and it wasn't too hard to write.


To paraphrase something means to simplify it. In today's internet slang, we might say it's an ELI5 ("Explain Like I'm 5").

If I were to paraphrase the paragraph above, I'd look for ways to:

Here is a paraphrase of the paragraph on Algeria.

Algeria is big country. In fact, it's the second largest country in all of Africa. In 1847, the French conquered the northern part of Algeria. It wasn't easy, because the Algerian people fought back fiercely. But after many years of fighting, the French finally managed to conquer the southern part of Algeria, too.

Having conquered the country, many French people moved to Algeria. They started businesses and settled on farms. But the Algerian people didn't like this. They felt that Algeria should belong to Algerians. They didn't want Algeria to be a colony of France. Some Algerians were so angry that they started killing French people, in order to force them to leave.

The French people didn't want to leave. The result was a long and bloody war. The fighting lasted for more than 50 years! Finally, in 1962, the French people gave up. They decided that they weren't going to try to keep Algeria any longer. The French settlers returned to France. The Algerian people had finally achieved their dream of independence!

Unfortunately, the fighting didn't stop. Now, Algerians started fighting amongst themselves. They were fighting over who was going to control the new country.

Most of the people in Algeria are Muslims. (That means that they belong to a religion called Islam). Some of these Muslims are very old fashioned, and they are called Islamic fundamentalists. While most Islamic fundamentalists are peaceful people, some of them are willing to use violence in order to achieve their goals. For example, sometimes they kill foreign tourists. They think that killing foreign tourists is a good way prove how scary and powerful they are. They want people to be afraid of them, so that they can control the country. That's why it's dangerous for foreign tourists to visit Algeria.

In Algeria, most of the people speak Arabic. Algeria is a big country, but much of the land isn't very valuable, because it's covered by sand. The part that is covered by sand cannot be used to raise animals or grow crops.

As you can see, paraphrasing often results in something longer than the original version. In fact, the paraphrased version above is nearly 2½ times longer than the original text!

That's not necessarily a problem. Since you're getting two points for every ten words, paraphrasing a chapter from Fascinating Facts is an easy way to earn points. Also, it's easy to imagine that your friend—the one to whom you are writing—is a younger sibling who may appreciate the longer (but simpler) explanation.

Furthermore, paraphrasing a text is a good way to make sure that you yourself understand it. As the famous scientist Albert Einstein once said, "If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself."

Key point: In your letter to a friend, try to summarize or paraphrase a portion of the text. It's a great way to practice these skills!

Instructions for the Quiz

Answer the Questions.