For the past several weeks, we’ve been looking at writing issues that plague students and their parents. Writing isn’t a one-size-fits-all subject, but certainly there are overarching principles that apply to many students and situations.
In this series, 10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing, I’ve been focusing on the most common writing hurdles that tend to trip up your children and offering simple and practical suggestions you can use right away. Let’s see what today’s topic has in store for us!
Stumbling Block #4
Problem: Limited writing vocabulary that inhibits ideas and contributes to weak stories, essays, and reports.
Solution: Teach your student to develop and hone vocabulary by using a thesaurus and word banks.
A student who has a growing supply of words at her disposal learns to express herself just as she intends—using the right word at the right time. Not only that, she allows the reader to grasp subtle shades of description and meaning.
On the other hand, a limited vocabulary can cripple a child’s attempts to produce an interesting piece of writing. If he can’t express himself concretely, his stories or essays end up riddled with oft-repeated words and ho-hum vocabulary. From the comments I’ve read in previous “Stumbling Blocks” posts, this might very well be your child!
Here’s some welcome news—this problem has a relatively simple solution! Let’s take a look at some practical ways to boost your student’s writing vocabulary.
1. Start with a Good Thesaurus
Our all-time favorite thesaurus—and the one our students used when we taught WriteShop classes—is The Synonym Finder. (My own dog-eared copy is now splitting at the seams!) Comprehensive yet easy to use, The Synonym Finder puts every other thesaurus to shame. As one mom put it:
“It’s HUGE. We got rid of all the other ones we had in the house (we got tired of not finding the words we were looking for)! A GREAT resource…. We highly recommend it.” –Patty K.
It’s so much fun to watch your kids begin to use new words. There’s nothing like seeing dazzling, jubilant, and thunderous begin to replace vague words like bright, happy, and loud. And your children will find that as their word choices expand, writing becomes more fun!
2. Choose Shorter Words
Teaching kids to use a thesaurus has its drawbacks, especially when they get carried away with the joy of discovering new words. In these enthusiastic moments, they sometimes end up with unwieldy words that weigh down their writing.
There will always be exceptions, but as a rule, long words are often more formal—even stuffy. On the other hand, short words tend to have force and directness. And as language gets more direct, clarity improves. It’s interesting to note that short, familiar words—typically words with fewer syllables—are more easily understood than their longer counterparts. For example:
- grit vs. indomitability
- biased vs. opinionated
- sharp vs. perceptive
- forlorn vs. dispirited
- clutter vs. disarrangement
This doesn’t mean students should never use longer words! On the contrary, it’s great to see their vocabulary blossom. But eagerness to discover new words can result in sentences strung together by too much cumbersome vocabulary. Bottom line: Teach, model, and encourage your children to use more challenging words, but wisely!
3. Use Word Banks
Another excellent source of new vocabulary, word banks provide specific lists of words by category or topic, such as holidays or seasons. When a student is tempted to reuse a familiar word because he can’t think of any others, a word list can remind him of alternative words he already knows but can’t quite reel in from the edges of his mind. It can also provide a wealth of words that will spark ideas in a reluctant writer’s mind. That’s why we’ve include word lists in our WriteShop student books—lists such as textures, colors, and emotions.
So…now that you’ve got some ideas for bolstering vocabulary, get yourself a Synonym Finder, gather a few word banks, and start having fun with words!
Don’t miss next week’s Stumbling Block: Perfectionism. It’s a major hurdle for writers of all ages!
2009 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.
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When looking for a writing curriculum, seek out a program that purposefully teaches children to make stronger word choices. WriteShop Primary helps K-3rd graders develop a meaningful writing vocabulary. For older students, you’ll find that WriteShop I and II include 17 exhaustive word banks that help equip and inspire successful writers!
Sign up for the WriteShop list to get your free 240 printable writing prompt cards.