Thursday, 6 March 2014

Descriptive Language: synonyms for commonly used words

"Today I had pancakes for breakfast. It was good. Then I went to Sarah's house and watched a lot of movies. It was fun. But then I had to go home and do my chores which were not fun but my mom said I did a good job". 

Teachers everywhere recognize this type of writing. After assigning a writing prompt or diary entry they are faced with sentence after sentence of 'good, fun, bad, a lot,' and other 'really, really, really' boring and generic word choices. Though this is obviously fine at certain levels and for certain students, for writing to evolve it is important to encourage colourful and descriptive word choices. But how can we encourage descriptive word use?

-Keep a classroom thesaurus handy and direct students to it when they get stuck in a word rut.

-Use descriptive language while teaching.

-Take a well known passage or book that your class likes and go through it as a group to notice where the author uses descriptive language. How did it make the passage more interesting? Are there areas where students think there should have been more description?

-I'm a big fan of classroom labelling activities. What objects in your classroom can you make more interesting through descriptive language? Are your classroom's curtains 'horrendous' or 'unsightly', is the teacher's desk 'cluttered' or 'disastrous', is the upcoming pizza lunch 'going to be fun' or will it be an 'enjoyable and exciting experience'?

I'm also a fan of desk strips. They serve as a visible reminder for students while they write. When they see a list of words they often use they can make the conscious choice to improve their writing and use a more descriptive word.  I have made a Word Choice Desk Strip: student aid to remember synonyms for commonly used words, you can get it at my TpT store here.

What do you do to encourage descriptive language use in your classroom? Let me know in the comments below and I hope that your future holds more delicious pancakes, hilarious movies, and tedious chores"...

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