6-Trait Lesson Plans: Word Choice
Teaching and Assessing Writing with the 6-Traits
Word Choice: Show Me, Don't Tell Me!
Mark Twain, a master of Word Choice said, "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug."
Word Choice can be the difference between writing that is alive and writing that is dead on the page. Underlying all is the notion that showing is more powerful than telling. Words that speak to the senses build images. Words that describe sounds, smells, and tastes evoke memories. Flat, dull, boring, or vivid, resonant, and lucid-- how will it be? Where will we find those few well-chosen words to dazzle the mind's eye?
The Showing Hand
This lesson reinforces the link between the five senses and Word Choice. The Showing Hand combines important concepts of Word Choice into a quirky, memorable image. The result is a word bank that becomes a ready reference during Idea generation, drafting and revision.
Extending the Activity
Describing sight, sound, smell, taste or texture may be something new for your students. They may struggle and be at a loss for words. To help your class build vocabulary, provide a word bank of sense words.
With the concept established, practice turning telling statements into showing descriptions. "The pizza was good" becomes a sense drenched ode to bubbling mozzarella and spicy pepperoni.
Showing writing becomes the drumbeat. "Show me! Don't tell me!" is the chant. Return to this concept throughout the year. Pound away. Bang the concept home. In my experience, no other technique has more power to infuse student writing with interest.
Once students get a grip (even a slippery one) on the punch of showing versus telling, they need to practice applying this type of Word Choice to their writing. Every story has essential points of action that provide the drama and tension. Have students mark these moments in their stories. Have them underline the showing words in their sentences. Ask them to seek out the most important moment and MAGNIFY the sense details. The dramatic moment should unfold in slow motion, with each sequential detail described precisely.
This method of elaboration can free student writers from the awful fear of the blank page. With practice, the writer of crippled, one-paragraph "stories" develops the Word Choice tools to construct striking images and longer stories that are more interesting.
There are many ways to approach Word Choice. Word webs, mandalas, a word collage, burying cliches, vivid verbs, specific nouns, are all ways to enhance Word Choice. Providing a variety of experiences helps everyone "get it". The payoff comes when you see, hear, taste, smell, and feel the improvement in your students' writing.
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© 2000 - 2006 Dennis O'Connor