November 5, 2007

Word Choice Wrap Up: A Weekly Summary

A special thanks to my Co-Facilator Patricia Hutton for compiling this summary of ideas and questions from this week's online edition of Teaching and Assessing Writing with the 6-Traits.

Subject: discussion summary module 5

This week’s discussion highlighted quite a variety of strategies to try to teach word choice. Thanks to all of you who graciously shared resources including numerous books to read to kids across all levels that illustrate wonderfully creative word choices. The level and quality of your contributions remains high. Keep up your phenomenal work!

Main Ideas:

• A word bank is essential for students to have, especially kids that are learning impaired.
• Word choice and voice are the same.
• As teachers we are quick to write a negative comment if there is one to be made on the writing, but are a lot less verbal with our praise
• Praise the student's strengths, and encourage and praise their efforts where they are not as strong or confident and reinforce both messages with frequent writing practice.
• We need to teach students to pick just the right phrases to boost their main idea, not overwhelm it.


• Depending on the grade level, what do you think about short "observation walks", with the goal to just walk slowly, observe their surroundings and come up with similes/metaphors on their own?
• A skit-The librarian was the queen who loved new words. The teacher did not want her students to use any new words. So they had a "battle" in which the queen won and killed the blah words (they focused on said, big, and small). The dead words were buried; they made a tombstone for each. After the skit, the students used a thesaurus to find synonyms for the words, then wrote them on die cut flowers. Throughout the year, more dead words were added to the graveyard and new flowers were grown with the powerful words written on them.
• Try the PPC format for comments -- pluses, potential, and concerns.
• Listen to audio novels rather than always requiring reading.
• O'Henry short stories are full of descriptive words that leave you wanting more.
• Try a writing activity called "Spring Day" using a sensory web - something that can be created in Inspiration or freehand. Each branch off the web is a sense. The students had to sit outside on a spring day and write what they heard, saw etc. Then, they had to transfer that into a paragraph. the key here was to NOT use "I hear...I see”
• Create a bulletin board of vivid verbs and alive adjectives. As a class, we brainstorm "Instead of walk, use _______"
• 100 Trait-Specific Comments: A Quick Guide for Giving Constructive Feedback on Student Writing by Ruth Culham. On one side of a page is the rubric for each trait and across from that are several examples of comment for a 5, 3, or 1 paper.
• With the bulletin board,create a list of "banished words" such as good, nice, beautiful etc. They can not use these "boring" words but must come up with something more specific or colorful.
• Here is an assignment called "The Cut." The idea is that almost every student has an incident as a child when they received a bad cut or scrape, and that the sensory impressions remain vividly in their minds. Ask students to write a couple of paragraphs using vivid imagery and word choice to describe the situation.
• Bury dead words.
• Since we couldn't always write in our library books or borrowed books, we would use highlighter tape to highlight the word/section we wanted to remember or add to our inspiration journal.
• Each student brings an apple from home. First brainstorm words that could be used to describe apples using our senses and students write these on a chart. Next they wrote a description of the apple (had to be very detailed). Then collect the apples, read the papers, and the each student picks out his/her apple. After that, the class writes a paragraph from the apple's point of view, trying to convince a person to eat it. As they wrote this part, they were eating their apples to savor the taste and be better able to describe it in the paragraph.


• Is having the kids copy similes and metaphors out of literature and using them in their writing plagiarism? Any suggestions?
Yes, the right words are used to convey a voice, but how can you separate them?
• Is Spandel just breaking down voice into another piece?
• What do we do when we disagree with how other teachers are teaching (or not teaching) the 6 traits?
When students start using better word choices and more descriptive words, how do you get them to not overdo it?
• Would these books, Harry Potter, be so popular if she had used ordinary words for the characters and their actions?
• Will a child just start adding adjectives or 'vivid' verbs that really don't make sense because he/she thinks that what we want?
• So, how can I teach them when enough is enough?

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