Word Choice: Simple is Sophisticated

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Writing is a tool for communication, and language is the system of words and the methods of combining them that we use to express our thoughts and feelings to each other.  As teachers, we want our students to think carefully as they select the words they use to covey meaning, but Word Choice can be a tricky discussion. (Don’t worry! I’m here to help.)


Take a look at the following pairs of sentences. What do you notice?

  1. The boys cheered loudly for their team.

  2. The boys clapped, yelled, and stomped for their team.

  3. An unhappy baby cried very loudly tonight.

  4. An unhappy baby wailed tonight.

  5. The tiny green hummingbirds darted quickly around.

  6. The tiny green hummingbirds darted around.

In each of these pairs, could you tell how changing the words a bit affected the clarity of the sentences? Do the words we choose to convey meaning really matter that much? You be the judge.

Throughout my career, I have worked diligently to hone my writing skills. I have come to a conclusion: word choice makes or breaks meaning—every time! Much of my writing from long ago can only be regarded as redundant. I thought that the bigger my words, the longer my sentences, the more clarity I was achieving. Most of the time that was not true. 

Redundancy in writing does not need to happen…nor should we promote it. In the examples above, the second sentence in each pair is not necessarily better. But notice how a change in the word choices makes a huge impact on the sentence clarity—how clear the meaning is.

Can you spot the redundancies in the first set? The culprit here is the use of a weak verb and an adverb that is too predictable. By simply replacing the general verb cheered with three specific, active verbs (clapped, yelled, and stomped), the reader gets a better mental model of what the author is saying. These specific verbs convey what most of us think of as cheering.

How about the second set of sentences? Can you see how the verb wailed in Sentence 4 says exactly the same thing as in Sentence 3, but it does more clearly? This is an example of reducing the number of words but improving the meaning.

Finally, observe how I omitted the adverb quickly in Sentence 5. I ousted the adverb because we don’t need it. If a hummingbird darted, we already understand that the bird moved fast; consequently, there is no need to use the adverb quickly.

When you work with young writers, you will be doing them a big favor if you help them learn how to spot the sentences with too many words, with redundant words or modifiers, and with non-specific verbs. When you equip students with these skills, you will teach them not only the value of making better word and phrase choices, but also the elevated sophistication of writing simply and clearly.

 Note: For an in-depth discussion on Word Choice, I invite you to visit this previous post.

How to develop "Word Choice" in your writing.

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Writing is a tool for communication, and language is the system of words and the methods of combining them that we use to express our thoughts and feelings to each other

Did you know that good writers use certain traits that make their writing more successful?  They’re called the Traits of Effective Writing, and although they take a lot of hard work and practice, they consist of skills that can be learned and mastered. 

I’ve written about Vocabulary, Voice, and Sentence Fluency in previous blogs, but today, I’d like to speak specifically about Writing Trait #3: Word Choice.   

Word Choice is selecting appropriate words to make a writing piece stand out.  Good writers think carefully about words and choose them wisely:  how a word sounds when it’s read out loud, how it looks on the page, how it works with the other words around it, and how precise and unique the word is. They avoid overusing the same words that everyone uses, and they find fun and descriptive synonyms to make their writing unique.

As teachers, we want our students to own the ability to make good word choices, so it’s up to us to provide them with strategies to improve. Shurley English incorporates several strategies, including:

  1. Creating a space in a notebook to write down fun and unique words, expressions, and literary devices for future use.

  2. Teaching students to use a thesaurus to find synonyms and a dictionary to make sure they are using a word correctly and spelling it right.

  3. Teaching students to use “Power Words” to create word pictures in the reader’s mind.  These exercises help students learn to use precise nouns, active verbs, descriptive adjectives, and strong adverbs. These words help show the reader instead of just telling them.

  4. Incorporating activities to expand a student’s vocabulary.

These word choice strategies teach students to think about words and understand that they have word choice options.  As they become skilled writers, they learn to choose their words carefully.

During step two of the writing process, students learn to turn their prewriting into a rough draft. Shurley English provides them with a Rough Draft Checklist to follow to ensure all of the Writing Traits are incorporated. The Word Choice checklist suggestions include the following:

  1. Use precise nouns and verbs to engage the reader’s imagination.

  2. Use vivid adjectives and adverbs to create strong mental pictures.

  3. Use prepositional phrases to add more detail and description.

After the rough draft is complete, students are expected to revise their paper.  During this step of the writing process, students are given a Revising Checklist that instructs them to find ways to improve word choices and sentences in their rough draft.  The Revising Checklist includes these suggestions:

  1. Add or replace any weak words with stronger word choices.

  2. Delete any repeated or unclear words.

To write clearly and effectively, students must learn to find the words that fit their meaning exactly to convey their thoughts and feelings. Why not teach them how to choose powerful, effective words, using Shurley English?

Comment /Source

Jamie Geneva

Jamie Geneva is the Senior National Consultant at Shurley Instructional Materials and is a seasoned subject matter expert in the realm of English Language Arts.  Her career with the company began during the days of the Shurley Method binder, which was pre-1st Edition, and has spanned across three decades.  Over the years, her various roles have included teacher, presenter, state representative, consultant, manager, and most recently, a Shurley English Digital Assistant.  You might not recognize her face, but her voice could certainly sound familar.  That’s because she’s recorded Jingles, Q&A Flow Sentences, and other Shurley English content for many, many years. 

Jamie and her husband, Garret, live in the foothills of eastern Oklahoma. She loves spending quality time with her family, traveling, reading, cooking, and staying connected on social media.

Ms. Geneva received her B.S. degree in Elementary Education and her M.Ed in Public School Administration from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, OK. 

How to develop "sentence fluency" in your writing.

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Some people are born with a natural ability to put their thoughts into words, but the ability to effectively put those words on paper requires a lot of hard work and practice.  Good writing is a skill that develops over time; therefore, consistent instruction to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to write well is imperative. 

That’s where Shurley English makes a huge impact!  Each year, our curriculum teaches and reinforces the Traits of Effective Writing so that students have a better chance to develop a strong foundation in the writing process.  The curriculum is designed to teach students how to communicate their thoughts effectively and write for all purposes with competence and confidence!

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Sentence Fluency

Sentence Fluency is the 5th Trait of Effective Writing.  It is defined as the ability to use various types of sentences and transition words to make writing sound smooth and polished.  The skills required to master Sentence Fluency take time to develop; however, they make a huge difference in the overall effectiveness of a writing piece.

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We encourage you to help your students master the art of sentence fluency. If you need assistance, the Shurley English curriculum is here to help!

Comment /Source

Jamie Geneva

Jamie Geneva is the Senior National Consultant at Shurley Instructional Materials and is a seasoned subject matter expert in the realm of English Language Arts.  Her career with the company began during the days of the Shurley Method binder, which was pre-1st Edition, and has spanned across three decades.  Over the years, her various roles have included teacher, presenter, state representative, consultant, manager, and most recently, a Shurley English Digital Assistant.  You might not recognize her face, but her voice could certainly sound familar.  That’s because she’s recorded Jingles, Q&A Flow Sentences, and other Shurley English content for many, many years. 

Jamie and her husband, Garret, live in the foothills of eastern Oklahoma. She loves spending quality time with her family, traveling, reading, cooking, and staying connected on social media.

Ms. Geneva received her B.S. degree in Elementary Education and her M.Ed in Public School Administration from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, OK.