The words your child uses to write can make him seem a grade above (or below) where he actually is. Sophisticated words say “mature writer.” Building vocabulary is a primary way to improve the words used in essay writing, but there are other activities you can do to encourage writers to choose the best words.
Brainstorm Word Replacements
There are some words that are dull enough to be on the list of unwanted words:
Banish Boring Words!: , a Scholastic book for grades 4-8, looks like a wonderful resource for building a child’s word sense.
No Boring Words Day
Practice replacing boring words like good and bad with more interesting, more precise words in your daily conversations. Choose an outlawed word for the day. When someone says the banished word, he receives a “punishment.” Or keep points throughout the day to see who is the best at avoiding the forbidden words and replacing them with more colorful ones.
This kind of activity works best after you have done the word replacement activities above. By using the listed synonyms in your daily speech, the words will become a natural part of your vocabulary and will spill into essay writing.
Editing for Word Choice
You really can’t expect superior word choice on a first draft. It takes a devoted reading of the essay to analyze the vocabulary without thinking of anything else. That means that working on word choice is something that happens during the revision stage of writing.
I suggest you give your child a highligher and ask her first to look for any of your word outlaws — those on the list above and any others you have added. Then have her look through the essay for additional words that could be replaced with more mature and precise choices.
One danger with this kind of activity is that your child will go overboard with the thesaurus and turn her essay into something very pedantic sounding. The words need to be natural and flow nicely with the tone of the essay. Do choose words that create mental pictures, that are descriptive and powerful. But don’t make an essay that sounds stilted or awkward. (I just used the word awkward! It is on my daughter’s outlawed word list but not on mine.)
One key rule of thumb is if your child cannot pronounce or express the meaning of a word, he probably should not use it in an essay.
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Kerry @HowToHomeschoolMyChild says
This is such a good idea. I did it with my kids and they kept a chart of “banned words” and replacement words. When I saw they were overusing a word, we came up with a list of replacement words.
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