Mini-Lessons to help students consider WORD CHOICE in their writing:
Ahead of time, write this sentence on a piece of chart paper: I had a good time at your house yesterday.
Tell students you were thinking of writing a note to a friend you visited, but you think this sentence is kind of boring. You are tired of the word "good" and want some other ideas about what you could write that would let your friend know how you felt.
Have students brainstorm words that could be used instead of good. Possible alternatives might include: terrific, fantastic, great, magnificent, exciting, or awesome. The idea is to help students understand that they have many alternatives when they choose the right word to use.
Model your own writing process in front of students. Use your own topic or borrow one from one of the lessons in 4 Blocks. As you write, stop three or four times to consider word choice and ask for suggestions from the students. Since you are the author, you will decide which word to choose.
For example, if you are writing about your pet, you would decide to write, "I have a dog," or "I have a sheep dog," or "I have a big, shaggy monster."
Choose a book that you have read aloud to the class. Write down one sentence from the book. For example, if you were reading A House for Hermit Crab by Eric Carle, you could use the first sentence from the second paragraph:
"But it was frightening out in the open sea without a shell to hide in."
Underline the word "frightening" and tell students that the author could have chosen other words to use instead. Have students give some suggestions for other words. They may suggest scary, terrifying, etc.
The point that you want students to understand is that authors make choices about which words to use and that there are many choices that would fit. The author's job is to choose the best word. Have students talk about whether they think Eric Carle used the best word and why they think that.
Ahead of time, label a poster with the word "Good". Have students brainstorm other words they can use instead of good. List these words on the poster, and then post it in the room so students can use it as a reference when writing.
You can do this with other words, such as bad, sad, mad and said, or any word you think your students overuse.
Use a large or half-size chart tablet as a recording chart. Title it "Word Too Good to Forget," or "Sparkling Words," or something similar.
As you read to your students, identify words and phrases which you love. Read them again, telling students why you love them. Perhaps it is the visual picture it gives when you see "drawers spilly with things." Perhaps it is the preciseness of the words "smashed into the corner like the last bite of birthday cake frosting."
Soon your students will begin to identify excellent word choices and tell you things to write in your book chart.
Encourage your students to use these words and phrases in their own writing. Explain that this isn't plagarism, because you aren't copying an entire body of work. Authors store images and phrases and words in their minds and pull them out to use in just the right spot. Tell students that many authors carry little books around with them for the purpose of recording thoughts and words that come to mind at unusual times.
Look through your students' writing and find an example that has several good examples of Word Choice. Put the writing on an overhead transparency. Read the writing aloud or have the author read it. Let the class find examples of good word choice. As students find examples, underline them.
When holding a writing conference with a student, highlight in yellow marker particular phrasing or word choice which is specific and/or unusual. Helping them identify it in their own writing will help them continue to improve the skill.