Writing Lessons: The Power of Words - Room 213

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Writing Lessons: The Power of Words


During a stormy February, I was teaching my Pre-IB class about the power of words. We talked about avoiding tired words and using active, vivid verbs. I did lessons on conno-tation and tone, and on sensory imagery and figurative language. However, I didn't want my students to just be able to identify language techniques and choose effective words when they write; I want them to understand how language choices can affect meaning. I want them to be able to recognize this in the texts they read as well as use it in their own writing, so I designed a series of lessons and activities to teach them how to do so.


After each mini-lesson on word choice, we would read. I instructed the students to get some post-it notes and mark passages that illustrated the author's use of language. For example, one day they looked for strong verbs and another they looked for words with strong connotation.  I ask them to look for one technique only in the beginning, so they can focus without getting over-whelmed. When we finished reading, students did a turn and talk and shared the passages with a partner, explaining the effect of the language choices as well. I was very pleased with the conversations that they had about language -- it was clear they were learning!


Writing Lessons -Word Choice

The students also worked though a series of collaborative activities designed to get them to practice what they had learned.  For the first one, I put different scenarios on the top of chart paper, arranged the students in groups, and instructed them to brainstorm words and images that could describe their assigned scenario. After a few minutes I started handing out "cards" to some of the students.  If their group was working on describing the classroom before a math exam, I gave one student a card that read "you're great at math" and another that said "you have test anxiety; other students received cards that read "tone", "strong verbs" and "imagery." I told them to start adding language that reflected what was on their card -- and not to tell the others what it said.


Writing Lessons -Word Choice
Once they had finished, I asked the "cardless" kids to guess what was written on their group mates' cards. After the guessed (or not) the student adhered it beside the words they had written on the poster. If they were having trouble guessing, I hovered and asked some questions to get them there.

This activity worked really well. First, the kids were given the opportunity to see how their words can change a writer's intended meaning. Someone who is introverted, for example, will describe a busy school hallway very differently than one who is a social butterfly. Their work also provided me with an opportunity to give some formative feedback. One thing I noticed was that most of the students were writing only one word, rather than full phrases.  I reminded  them of our lesson on imagery and figurative language and told them not to forget to use those tools as well.


Writing Lessons -Word Choice

Next up came one of my favourite group exercises. In the past I've had students work in groups to write a descriptive paragraph that captures the essence of a sour key.  I use it to teach the power of brainstorming, by having the students brainstorm words/phrases to describe it in three stages: how it looks, how it feels and  how it tastes. Then they write a group paragraph with the best one winning the remaining candy. Competition is always fierce! 

This time, however, I threw in a twist. After they had done their initial brainstorming, I gave each group a card that instructed them to write from a certain perspective. One group wrote as health enthusiasts and another as sugar addicts. One group wrote as though they were dentists, and another as candy "snobs". The resulting paragraphs were, of course, very different, and the kids got to see, once again, how language shapes meaning.




Finally, I had them do a writing prompt based on this photograph:


Writing Lessons -Word Choice
Before they wrote, I asked them to consider the girl: does she like to be by herself? Does she hate the cold? Is she an explorer? A dreamer? Why is she there? I gave them a few minutes to decide on the perspective from which they would write, then gave them time to complete the task.

The descriptive paragraph was one of the many writing prompts that they had in their journals. The journals had a variety of entries, and not all descriptive. I wanted them to recognize that language is equally as important in expository and persuasive writing, and after each entry, I asked them to go back and underline at least two places where they used language for effect.
Formative assessment tip

When I collected the journals, I did not write a single thing in the margins. Instead, I used a pink and a yellow highlighter. If I saw an example of effectively used language, I highlighted it in yellow; I used the pink one for language that could be more powerful.  I did this twice in each journal entry, and when I passed them back, I told the students to look it over and try to figure out what my color code meant.  They weren't long in doing so -- another sign that they had learned. Next, I had them attempt to use stronger language for their "pink" phrases, and write it in the margin. I'll look at their changes the next time we conference.

I've created two new products that are focused on teaching kids to use their words wisely. If you're interested, you can check them out: Writing Lessons: Word Choice and Writing Challenges

Happy teaching!

9 comments

  1. I love all of these ideas! My brain is already churning with ways I can use this in my class... Thank you so much for sharing all of your teaching wisdom. I know I can always count on you for inspiration and creative-yet-practical ideas.
    Hope :)

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    1. There's nothing I love more than getting someone's brain churning! You are welcome, Hope!

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  2. I love teaching about Word Choice. I feel like kids grow quite a bit as writers after doing activities, such as these!! Your lessons are fantastic...thank you so much for sharing! I went on TpT and downloaded the preview for this packet. I cannot believe how much work has gone into this...wow!! I love that you also include ideas on how to incorporate movement into the lessons. Everything looks like so much fun that the kids don't even realize how much learning is actually taking place here! Also, I really like your pink/yellow highlighter idea and making the kids figure out the meanings behind the marks. You are so thorough...your hard work is MUCH appreciated! Thank you, again!!
    Tara

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    1. You're welcome, Tara! I love building in movement and engaging learning activities. When students say, "is class over already?", I know I've been successful!

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  3. Your posts are vital in improving my own practice; in my busy teaching life I rarely get to observe colleagues, and you (and a few others!) who clearly and thoughtfully detail your approaches are invaluable. I particularly like this one as it highlights methods of creating independence in students, which is an area I'm focusing on in my own lessons. Thank you from across the pond in England.

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    1. Hello, Lucy! How exciting that you're reading all the way from England. Even more exciting is that my posts are able to help another teacher. Teaching kids to be independent thinkers is everything for me. In fact, I aim to make myself unnecessary. Good luck with doing so yourself as well!

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  4. Thanks for sharing. I always look forward to seeing your ideas. I love the chart paper ideas with tones of situations from where they live. I'll be looking for ways to add these ideas into my classroom

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  5. Congrats to Tarafara7! You are the winner. Send me an email to room213custom@gmail.com

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    1. Yippee! Thank you soooo much! I sent my email! Have a great day everyone!!! :-)

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