Vocab activities for your classroom

Paying Attention to Word Choice: One of the 6 + 1 Traits of Writing

According to educator and writer Ruth Culham "precise nouns, descriptive adjectives, and energetic verbs" are all examples of the rich language we should be encouraging students to develop as teachers emphasize "word choice" as one of the "6 + 1 traits of writing."

So how can we effectively communicate this message to our writing students? Simply telling them to use "precise nouns descriptive adjectives and energetic verbs" is surely not enough. Would they even recognize such words if they came across them in their reading?

Let's take the first paragraph from William Golding's Lord of the Flies as a starting point:

The boy with fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and
began to pick his way toward the lagoon. Though he had taken off his
school sweater and trailed it now from one hand, his grey shirt stuck to
him and his hair was plastered to his forehead. All round him the long
scar smashed into the jungle was a bath of heat. He was clambering
heavily among the creepers and broken trunks when a bird, a vision of
red and yellow, flashed upwards with a witch-like cry; and this cry was
echoed by another.

One way to heighten students' awareness of word choice is to have them identify impressive word choice in their reading. Isolate a paragraph such as this one from Golding's novel and instruct pairs of students to highlight especially precise or descriptive nouns, adjectives or verbs in the passage. If students have access to different colored markers or pencils, they could color-code the highlighted words to indicate parts of speech. (In this paragraph, we used the Visual Thesaurus system of representing nouns with red, adjectives with yellow, and verbs with green.)

In 6 + 1 Traits of Writing: The Complete Guide, Culham suggests a way a class can take this mini-lesson on word choice one step further. Students can print the words they discover in their reading on brightly-colored slips of paper (again, color would represent part of speech) and then display the words on the classroom's walls. This collaborative word wall can serve as a support for vocabulary development, word choice and parts of speech awareness. 

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Georgia Scurletis is Director of Curriculum for the Visual Thesaurus and Vocabulary.com. Before coming to Thinkmap, she spent 18 years as a curriculum writer and classroom teacher. Georgia has written curriculum materials for a variety of Web sites (WGBH, The New York Times Learning Network, Edsitement) and various school districts. While teaching high school English in Brooklyn, she was a recipient of the New York State English Council's Educators of Excellence Award, the Brooklyn High Schools' Recognition Award, and The New York Times' Teachers Who Make a Difference Award. Click here to read more articles by Georgia Scurletis.

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Comments from our users:

Saturday November 28th 2009, 12:39 PM
Comment by: Jane B. (Winnipeg Canada)Top 10 Commenter
Very intriguing.

I wondered why the verb 'lowered' wasn't identified as 'went down' would have been the 'easy' non-descriptive verb. Then I noticed the 'down'. Isn't lowered down a bit redundant? Or is the 'down' necessary?

I can't think of what other way one could 'lower' other than 'down'.

Sorry. That happens when I start thinking about words. Sigh!
Saturday December 12th 2009, 2:30 PM
Comment by: Barbara C. (Richmond, TX)
I like this idea, and would like to share it with our readers at www.readingteachersnetwork.org at Neuhaus Education Center. One of our courses, Multisensory Grammar, uses a color coding system to help reluctant students understand the basic functions of words in sentences. This is a step up from that, and would be a useful extension.

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