Teaching the Principles of Effective Word Choice
Correct word usage begins by understanding the rules of usage that governs good writing. Learn it and teach it with these writing tips.
A Word Choice Learning Experience
A colleague e-mailed me the following:
Yo Dawg! Wazzzzzzzup? I’m glad you got all up here and decided to take a looksie at this here worldliest lesson plashizzle plan! The receptacle of knowledge residing in your cranium will halt the enervating effects of lesson plans based on the boring paradigm. It encompasses Mazlow’s hierarchy of differentiated instruction based on learning strands across the curriculum.
I decided it was time to send him the following writing tips on word choice with an accompanying lesson plan.
ELA Common Core Standards
Teaching effective word choice and usage satisfies the following common core standards. This will impress your administrator, but bore your students. I recommend simplifying the language when you write the objective(s) on the board. And yes, it is ironic that the language standards for word choice chooses words that only a walking dictionary could make sense of.
L.9-10.3 Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening. This lesson plan should help.
L.9-10.4b Identify and correctly use patterns of word changes that indicate different meanings or parts of speech (e.g., analyze, analysis, analytical; advocate, advocacy).
L.9-10.4c Consult general and specialized reference materials (e.g., dictionaries, glossaries, thesauruses), both print and digital, to find the pronunciation of a word or determine or clarify its precise meaning, its part of speech, or its etymology.
L.9-10.4d Verify the preliminary determination of the meaning of a word or phrase (e.g., by checking the inferred meaning in context or in a dictionary).
L.9-10.5 Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
W.9-10.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience. (Editing for conventions should demonstrate command of L.9-10.1-3.)
Word Usage Principles
Share and discuss the following principles of correct word usage.
1. Use plain words for easily understood writing.
- The most complex ideas can be explained in simple language.
- Peppering your writing with fancy words will drive readers away.
- Use specific, concrete nouns instead of abstract nouns.
- Use active voice.
- Use specific verbs instead of weak adverb-verb constructions.
- Use adjectives and adverbs only when necessary.
2. Define technical terms and obscure words
3. Use words correctly. If you’re not sure how to use a word correctly, don’t use it.
4. Avoid trite expressions, jargon, and cliches.
5. Edit. Most problems can be corrected with proofreading, a dictionary
You may want to discuss the following.
1. If you want to be judged on your ideas, use Standard Written English. Your ability to use Standard Written English reflects a good education and gives credibility to your ideas.
2. If you have nothing of interest to say and want to dupe the reader, use slang, cliches, mixed metaphors, and regional idioms.
3. Rules are more lax for informal assignments, journals, and narratives in which the author uses incorrect usage for stylistic purposes.
As a teacher it’s difficult to help students distinguish Standard Written English from the language they use normally. Schaum’s Quick Guide to Writing Essays offers the following advice.
1. Listen to reputable television network newspeople.
2. Listen to audio books. Read along with the narrator.
3. Copy well written paragraphs and essays.
4. Use imitation as practice.
Revising for Word Choice Lesson Plan Procedures
The best way for students to improve word choice is to improve their word choice.
1. Instruct students to bring in a draft of a previously written essay.
2. Instruct students to copy the word usage principles stated above.
3. Organize students in groups of four.
4. Instruct students to pass their draft to another group member.
5. Instruct editors to circle all abstract nouns and nouns of generalization. The editor should identify the word, not change it. The decision to change a word lies with the writer.
6. Pass papers to the next group member.
7. Instruct editor 2 to circle all adverbs.
8. Instruct editor 3 to circle any word they don’t understand.
9. Instruct editor 1 to circle cliches, jargon, or trite expressions.
10. Instruct editor 2 to circle any error in mechanics.
11. Instruct each student to examine his or her own draft for nouns and verbs that can be replaced by more specific nouns and verbs.
12. Rewrite the essay.
Revision Lesson Plans
Many of the common core standards for language and writing are best taught by revising essays.
- Lesson Plan for Using Transitions
- Effective Word Choice Lesson Plan
- Active and Passive Voice Lesson Plan
- Use Strong Verbs Lesson Plan
- Replace “to be” Verbs