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Teaching

Word Choice

 

Collect Favorites

Donít you have some words you just love the sound of? Build personal word banks of favorite words. You can do these in journals - but of course, itís nice to post them, too. That way, writers can borrow.

 

Get Rid of Some Oldies

If you ever listen to an oldies radio station, you know there are some words you just cannot bear to hear even one more time (nice, special, fun, great, dude - hey, you know what they are). Make a list of those, too. You can even stuff them into a box and have a formal burial, if you wish.

 

Identify the Heavy Words and Phrases

In any piece of writing, some words and phrases are asked to carry most of the weight, most of the meaning. Poetry - along with many song lyrics - is heavy-language-rich. So is much narrative writing. Shakespeare, of course, is a classic example. Give your students an excerpt from any piece in which you think language is used especially well; you can choose any piece from poetic to technical. Ask students to circle, or otherwise identify the "heavy" words and phrases? Then compare; did you identify the same words?

 

From General to Specific

Draft a short memo or letter in which you use extremely - even annoyingly (go for it) general language: e.g., Letís all do our best and our major goals are likely to be achieved! Give students, in pairs, an opportunity to do some revision, making the language as specific and vivid as possible. You will need to grant some editorial license here since the message in the original is not likely to be clear!

 

Defining Terms

Got a piece of reading coming up that contains some difficult terms? You could make up the usual list or do the usual vocab quiz, but instead, why not ask students themselves to come up with the words they feel are most important to learn in order to understand the passage? Read the passage first: then ask students to identify the words whose meaning is vital to understanding. Never mind for now if students know those meanings. Assign each pair of students one, two, three or more words - depending on how many you have identified. Ask them to create a definition for each challenging word that will be memorable - one that will make it simple for others in the class to learn the word or term - as it is used in the passage. Put all results together to make a glossary of terms; you can print this out or just post it. Part 2: Now, ask students to create a multiple choice test item for each word they have defined. If the glossary has done its job, everyone should do well. You may also wish to read through the passage one more time with the help of the glossary.

 

Curing Thesaurus - itis

Do you have students who think the thesaurus is the answer to brightening up a dull vocabulary? This is a lesson in exploring the nuances of thesaurus definitions. First, group students in teams of three or four. Then, assign each team a word that has multiple thesaurus synonyms. For example, old can be defined as

Elderly          Outdated
Along in years          Wise
Over the hill          Fossilized
Superannuated          Primitive. . . and thatís only thebeginning
Obsolete           

Ask students to choose 6-10 of the most interesting diverse variations on their word theme, and to create a lesson in which they make the nuances of meaning clear. They can do written or oral definitions, give a quiz, dramatize the meanings - or do anything they wish to make the meanings clear, and to make the point that synonyms are not all interchangeable! Each word is slightly different. If you do this activity more than once, and if you save your synonym lists, your students will have lots of fresh ideas from which to borrow.

 

At a Glance

We spend a lot of time assessing student work. Why not let them be the assessors of everyday language? Bring some newspapers, catalogs, junk mail, menus-any writing that is common in everyday life. They can assess it in one of two ways (or both): underline words and phrases that work especially well, and circle those that are vague, unclear, jargonistic, or otherwise ineffective; OR, simply score the piece on the trait of word choice.

 

Here Today - Gone Tomorrow!

Ask each student to identify one word commonly used today that will probably NOT be part of our common vocabulary in 50 years. Create a brief argument for how and why this word will fade from common use.

 

Speak English!

Much of the writing done in the world of business is highly jargonistic. Sometimes - depending on the audience - this actually works. But writing done for a general audience needs to be clear and jargon-free. Begin with a jargonistic sample (technical manuals are a good source or perhaps you have a friend in a technical industry who can provide you with a sample). Then see if your students - perhaps working in pairs - can rewrite the piece to make it more user friendly and less jargonistic. Read revisions aloud to compare. Which ones rate highest for readability? Why?

 

Word Play

Language doesnít have to be serious all the time. Word association games are great poetry starters, for instance. Theyíre easy to do, and they can lead to some wonderful, personal poetry. Think metaphorically . . .

Add to this list. Put your ideas together Ė create a poem!

 

Listen for Whatís Striking

When students work in response groups, ask them to listen for words or phrases that strike them. Jot them down - this is terrific feedback for the writer. This lesson works very well with any professional writing you care to share, too - fiction or nonfiction. When youíve finished reading, have students compare notes to see if they are indeed moved by the same things.

 

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