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.

Grammar & Writing Toolbox: Don't let contractions confuse you!

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A contraction is a word or phrase that’s been formed by combining two words and adding an apostrophe to replace the letter or letters that have been left out.  Since the root word “contract” means to squeeze together, the concept of forming a contraction makes logical sense to most kids. 

When two words are combined to form a contraction, the first word is never changed; it remains intact.  Some of the letters in the second word get left out and replaced by an apostrophe.  Here’s a Contraction Chart to recite with your students. 

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Contractions are used frequently during conversation and informal writing, but they are usually excluded in formal writing pieces.  Experts consider them inappropriate in formal writing because they have a tendency to make the tone of the writing informal. 

Some contractions are known to cause confusion because they sound very similar to certain pronouns.  These contractions must be studied so that students understand the convention rule that applies.  It says: 

Every contraction has an apostrophe to show where letters were removed.

A pronoun never has an apostrophe.

Have your students study these contractions that are often confused with pronouns:

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Writing Folder: New Tools for Writing Success

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The Shurley English Writing Folder will help your students move through the writing process with ease. This foldout, four-pocket folder keeps students organized with a dedicated space for their prewriting, rough draft, revised draft, and edited paper. It is packed with handy references, checklists, and tips to ensure students have exactly what they need to produce a polished piece of writing.

The Shurley English Writing Folder…

  • helps students learn all the steps of the writing process, until it becomes second nature.

  • keeps the most important writing strategies and processes front and center during writing time.

  • provides detailed graphic organizers so students can organize their ideas logically.

  • teaches students how to revise and edit their own writing in a step-by-step manner.

  • develops students’ vocabulary in order to empower them with word choice that is both deep and wide.

  • hones students’ use of accurate academic language in the field of writing.

  • builds confidence and competence as students review each panel systematically throughout the year.

The Writing Folder is rich with content! It provides students quick access to the following reference tools:

  • Graphic organizers

  • Sentence outlines

  • Transition aids

  • Revision strategy checklists

  • Sentence pattern examples

  • Writing process checklists

  • Figurative language definitions and examples

  • Editing tools

  • Homonym lists

  • Capitalization/Punctuation rules with examples

  • Comma usage rules with examples

  • Compound sentence formulas

  • Complex sentence formulas

  • Quotation mark rules and examples

Shurley English Writing Folder:  © Shurley Instructional Materials, Inc.

Shurley English Writing Folder: © Shurley Instructional Materials, Inc.

Shurley English Writing Folder:  ©Shurley Instructional Materials, Inc.

Shurley English Writing Folder: ©Shurley Instructional Materials, Inc.

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Order today!

To add the Shurley English Writing Folder to your ELA classroom, simply call with your credit card, email your School Purchase Order, or visit our online store today!

Writing Folder: 978-1-58561-425-7

Writing Folder (10 pack ): 978-1-58561-426-4

Recommended for Shurley English Levels 3-8. Size: 9“ x 12”