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Word Choice – 5 Ways to Expand Your Students’ Vocabulary

Teaching students to write in an organized, clear way is one thing. Teaching them to use a variety of words and to improve their word choice is another thing. As many teachers can attest, it can be a tad frustrating to read a students’ final copy and realize that while everything is structurally sound and organized, the writing itself is drab and dull, due to poor word choice.

Over the years, I’ve stumbled upon some great strategies and activities to help students make better decisions with word choice. Once your learners have completed a few of these exercises, you will see a positive change in their writing. What was once tiring to read will now be explosive and powerful!

Ready to give it a try? Choose one of these word choice activities:

1.  Be a word collector.  Students are great at collecting things! From baseball cards to rocks to virtual pets, children enjoy collecting and organizing things. Encourage them to start a collection of words. You’ll be surprised at how much they enjoy building their assortment of newSlide2 vocabulary once they get started! Meg from The Teacher Studio wrote a guest blog post at Corkboard Connections on 5 ways to get started with helping your students become word collectors. By creating vocabulary charts as a class and making those charts easily accessible to students, you are creating an environment that encourages students to be word collectors and cultivators.  Students can also create their own mini thesauruses where they keep lists of their newly-found words. Then, when they are writing an essay or paragraph, they can use their charts and notebooks to use words from their collections!

2.  Bury dead words.  Students love creating a cemetery where they put old, tired words, such as “said” or “big” to rest. Hope fromPresentation7 Elementary Shenanigans created a Dead Word Zone using an entire wall of her classroom. Students found synonyms for overused words and added them on yellow paper surrounding the tombstones of the dead words. I love the way her wall looks! Check out her post here.

3.  Highlight Five. This is a strategy I have used in my fifth grade classroom with a great deal of success. After students finish their rough drafts, meet with me to conference, and write a better copy, they begin the “Highlight 5” stage of writing. For this exercise, each student is required to highlight 5 overused, replaceable words on their paper. They then use a thesaurus to find better choices for the words they have highlighted. If the thesaurus is not helpful to them, students also have the option of looking at a word wall or asking a neighbor for suggestions. I love how much this simple action improves each students’ writing!



4.  Use Picture Thesauruses.  Cinnamon’s Synonyms has a ton of great ideas for expanding students’ vocabulary. One method she has found to be very helpful is having her students use picture thesauruses (which she created–SO amazing!). She hangs these handy little thesauruses from rings on a cork board. Young authors are welcome to get up and use the ring they need when they are working on a piece of writing. Perfect!

pic thesaurus blog post corkboard.005

5.  Identify Shades of Meaning.  Just as there are a variety of hues for each color of the rainbow, there are an assortment of synonyms for different words. IMG_2426Each word’s synonyms, however, have a range of strength. One exercise that my students complete is called “Shades of Meaning.” They love this activity, and the end result makes an eye-catching bulletin board display that students can use to continue improving their writing! For the activity, you can either go to your local home improvement store and get a variety of paint chip samples, or you can print out some samples at home or school. I use the ones included in my “Shades of Meaning” packet, but really, any paint strips will work. Simply write a basic word, such as “scary” or “small” on the top box of the strip. Then use a thesaurus to list 8 synonyms. At this point, I have students circle 3 of those words of varying degrees of strength. Students then fill in the bottom 3 boxes of the paint strip using those words. A great activity with powerful results!

IMG_2417 IMG_2421 IMG_2445 IMG_2437

Once you have introduced a few of these strategies to your students and spend some time practicing them, your students will begin making better word choices in their writing without too much prompting. The results are worth the investment! 

Here’s Some More Great Tips for Teaching Writing!

Shelly Rees

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  • Onyinye Onwubiko September 23, 2016 at 4:37 am

    I really love the Highlight Five strategy ,it makes a lot of sense will be trying it out today in my classrooms.

  • Suzi September 9, 2017 at 7:11 am

    These are awesome strategies. I have always done posters and my students just started word jars, thanks to Donovan’s Word Jar. I am especially eager to use the highlighter method!

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    I'm Shelly Rees of Appletastic Learning. First and foremost, I'm a mom of 4 boys, wife of 25 years to Aric, and Wyoming girl at heart. I love being creative, making resources for teachers, baking cookies, Diet Coke, teaching, public speaking, and spreading kindness wherever I can. After teaching in the upper elementary grades for over 23 years, I retired early and focused on creating and helping teachers around the world with my teaching ideas and resources. I also serve as a mentor to hundreds of teacherpreneurs and help them get focused on growing their own successful businesses. With 100% honesty, I LOVE my life! Thanks for visiting! I hope you'll stay awhile and come back often. Read More

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