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.

ShurleyEnglishWriting-Folder-cover.png

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”

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. 

Revision Activity: Breathing new life into students' sentences

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One of my favorite things to do is to play with words. I love to figure out how to turn a phrase in just the right way to make my meaning clear. That’s my goal for all students so that they can master the language and control it. Being able to manipulate language to fulfill your own purposes for communication is, in my opinion, an endeavor worth pursuing.

One of the features of Shurley English that I enjoy dabbling with is the Mover and Shaker Sentence. It is the off ramp from the Sentence Blueprints I have discussed in an earlier post. This kind of skill practice can help a student writer take the next important step toward highly refined revision skills. If you can convince a student writer to explore word and phrase arrangements to maximize their impact on a sentence, you have truly helped to elevate their writing. Here’s an example from our text that will show you a basic Mover and Shaker maneuver that you can have student writers begin practicing immediately.

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To get started, guide your students through a Sentence Blueprint to construct a good focus sentence. After that, be sure to have them go through the revision process initially to make sure they have chosen the most effective words to express their thoughts. Then, try a Mover and Shaker strategy like the one in this example. Notice, we have done a little finagling with the verb. (In Shurley English, we teach students early and often about verb forms, so it will be a walk in the park for them to understand a verb form change from the past tense to the progressive tense. We also teach students how to manage affixes with expertise, so in the case of the verb tromped from our example, we drop the –ed past tense ending and replace it with the progressive tense –ing suffix.) Next, we take everything after the verb and, along with the new verb form tromping, we move it to the front of the sentence. Now, all that’s left is to come up with a new past tense verb to replace tromped from the original sentence. In this case, the verb bellowed serves up a great visual. Can’t you just picture it?

When your students have demonstrated their knowledge of basic revision skills and you want them to breathe new life into their sentences, why not try a Mover and Shaker strategy? It’s like word to word resuscitation! Until next time…

Comment /Source

David Lutz

David, a former classroom teacher, administrator, and self-proclaimed grammar nut, considers the oddities of English vocabulary and grammar his playthings! He received his degrees in elementary education, teaching, and curriculum design from CMU in Fayette, MO, and the University of St. Mary, Leavenworth, KS, respectively. His career has been a colorful collage of experiences in education, ranging from Kindergarten to Adult education and parenting classes.

 

He and his wife, Marjorie, have been blessed with 30 years of marriage, three grown sons, a cherished daughter-in-law, and the smartest, cutest grandson on the planet! He’s worked for Shurley Instructional Materials, Inc., for over 11 years and loves to help students and their teachers learn to love language and language learning as much as he does.

Writing Toolbox: The Correlative Conjunction

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Having the right tools in your writing toolbox can make all the difference when it comes time to revise a composition.  Do your students need a creative way to link ideas and show association? Then look no further than the correlative conjunction! First, let's look at this simple definition:

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Today, we will focus on connecting two nouns for the purpose of simplification. Remember, the reason for the correlation determines which pair of correlative conjunctions to use. Here are three examples to model for your students that will show them how to associate two ideas in a logical manner.

Either – or  can show choices.

The dog made a mess in the kitchen. The cat made a mess in the kitchen.

Either the dog or the cat made a mess in the kitchen.

 

Neither – nor  can show the absence of choices.

Maria cannot go to the game tonight. Tammy cannot go to the game tonight.

Neither Maria nor Tammy can go to the game tonight.

 

Both – and  can show a link between two words or phrases.

Henry will be here soon.  His big brother will be here soon.

Both Henry and his big brother will be here soon.

 

Don't forget to mention to your students that both sides of their sentence should be parallel in structure when using correlative conjunctions. Any pronouns or verbs used at the end of the sentence should agree with whatever is mentioned last.

 

As your students grow in their abilities to use correlative conjunctions effectively, they will show an increased level of maturity in their writing. This is a skill that they can take with them into their future college and career adventures!

 

EXTEND THE LESSON: Why not make this a group activity?!? Here's an idea to get you started.

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Comment /Source

Cindy Goeden

Cindy Goeden has enjoyed being involved with Shurley English for the last sixteen of her twenty-six years in the field of education.  Working with various levels of students in elementary, junior, and high schools, in both the private and public arenas, Cindy surely is thankful for the providential day that she was introduced to Shurley English, which changed forever her approach to Language Arts instruction. That has led to her current job of having the joy of sharing about Shurley with other educators.  Her love of learning has prodded her to earn over two hundred and twenty hours, which includes two bachelor degrees in education.

 

Cindy currently lives with her husband, Donald, in Indianapolis, Indiana, where she enjoys puttering in her flowers, changing up her décor with the seasons, and occasionally getting out and traveling with Donald to either explore a new beach or view historic sights and gardens.

Across the Curriculum: Sentence Construction

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Across the Curriculum activities are intended to be purposeful and meaningful, but coming up with a great idea that truly connects content can be tough. Today, let's explore an Across the Curriculum activity that you can utilize during your ELA block using Sentence Blueprints. 

 

What is a Sentence Blueprint?

Sentence Blueprints are a unique feature in Shurley English. Writing Sentence Blueprints helps students make the connection between grammar and the writing process. Writing Sentence Blueprints from grammar labels establishes a foundation for sentence composition. Then, students learn to expand and improve their original sentences, using revision strategies to write improved sentences. In addition, Sentence Blueprints sneak in many other skills, including sentence analyzation and sentence sense work while the student is experiencing the power of revision as they focus on only one sentence.

In our Across the Curriculum activity, your students will use vocabulary from an area of focus to help them build understanding in two ways. First, they will learn to build and revise their writing. Secondly, they will grow in their knowledge of the content area you are exploring.

 

Getting Started:

First, decide on a theme or topic from another subject area. For example, if your school is focusing on the theme of fitness- emphasizing exercise, healthy eating, good sleep habits, and living a balanced life, you can design a lesson with Sentence Blueprints that helps your students focus on the vocabulary related to that emphasis. Here's a quick checklist that you can follow:

  1. Select your area of focus/theme.
  2. List the parts of speech your students have learned.
  3. List the sentence patterns your students have learned.
  4. Model a themed Sentence Blueprint for your students.
  5. Provide your students with a Sentence Blueprint worksheet.
  6. Let your students get focused while being creative!

Here's an example of a completed Across the Curriculum Sentence Blueprint using a fitness theme:

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IMPORTANT REMINDER: Don't forget, an important step in this process is going through the sentence showing the six revision strategies. This will help your students see the power of revising as they participate in the writing process at the sentence level. (We'll dive deeper into the six revisions strategies on another day.)

 

Comment /Source

Cindy Goeden

Cindy Goeden has enjoyed being involved with Shurley English for the last sixteen of her twenty-six years in the field of education.  Working with various levels of students in elementary, junior, and high schools, in both the private and public arenas, Cindy surely is thankful for the providential day that she was introduced to Shurley English, which changed forever her approach to Language Arts instruction. That has led to her current job of having the joy of sharing about Shurley with other educators.  Her love of learning has prodded her to earn over two hundred and twenty hours, which includes two bachelor degrees in education.

 

Cindy currently lives with her husband, Donald, in Indianapolis, Indiana, where she enjoys puttering in her flowers, changing up her décor with the seasons, and occasionally getting out and traveling with Donald to either explore a new beach or view historic sights and gardens.

Grammar Study: How it can develop critical thinkers

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In a previous post, I shared my keen interest in Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences. I discussed how the Shurley English Jingles give the intelligences of Word Smarts, Picture Smarts, and Body Smarts a workout. Now, I would like to take it just a bit deeper into the next level in Shurley English.

After students master the Shurley English Jingles, the jingles become a fertile knowledge base upon which the Question and Answer Flow (Q & A Flow) is built. The Q & A Flow is a simple, pattern-based system of questions that the students learn to ask aloud orally. Yes…Shurley English teaches kids to talk to themselves; rather, to ask themselves questions—questions that elicit logical answers that their brains know to be correct, based upon what they have learned from the jingles. I call this kind of questioning “Thinking Out Loud.”

After much practice and rehearsal, using the Q & A Flow, the students then know how to analyze every word in a sentence. We call this Sentence Classification, but it goes way beyond just determining if the sentence is a statement or a question. Students learn to classify the words in a sentence based upon the specific questions they answer from the Q & A Flow. Compared to the way English grammar was always taught years ago, students learned to classify words, but usually only so that they fit into a static list of seemingly unchanging vocabulary. With the Q& A Flow, something quite different and extraordinary replaces that old system. Instead of grouping words into lists that have parts of speech headings, students learn to evaluate how specific words are actually functioning in a sentence, based on context. You see, by the old system, the word basketball is just one of the words that fits into a Noun list. But with the Q & A Flow, students begin to think in terms of the attributes of a word and its use in the context of a sentence. For example, take a look at the following sentence:

We cheered loudly at the basketball game!

Students, using the Q & A Flow, determine that the word basketball, in this context, is really an adjective. I don’t know about you, but when I am working with students and trying to help them comprehend what they read and to be able speak and to write with expertise, I would prefer their brains be adept at this kind of analysis! Can you see how a student’s Word Smarts and Logic Smarts can benefit from this kind of thinking? I consider it nothing less than brilliant.

Comment /Source

David Lutz

David, a former classroom teacher, administrator, and self-proclaimed grammar nut, considers the oddities of English vocabulary and grammar his playthings! He received his degrees in elementary education, teaching, and curriculum design from CMU in Fayette, MO, and the University of St. Mary, Leavenworth, KS, respectively. His career has been a colorful collage of experiences in education, ranging from Kindergarten to Adult education and parenting classes.

 

He and his wife, Marjorie, have been blessed with 30 years of marriage, three grown sons, a cherished daughter-in-law, and the smartest, cutest grandson on the planet! He’s worked for Shurley Instructional Materials, Inc., for over 11 years and loves to help students and their teachers learn to love language and language learning as much as he does.

What is an idiom?

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If you understand every word in a text and still fail to understand what the text is all about, chances are you are having trouble with the idioms.  This has happened to me on occasion, so my guess is that you’ve been in the same boat.  Let’s attempt to conquer idioms together.

(Note: This blog contains several idioms.  They have been italicized and underlined for clarity.)

 

What is an idiom?

An idiom is an informal expression that cannot be understood simply by understanding its parts.  It is a figure of speech that has a separate meaning of its own, which is figurative and not literal.  When two or more words are expressed together to create a unique meaning that is different from the meaning of each of the individual words, an idiom is created.

One-word idioms can occur when a word is used in a surprisingly different way to express a different meaning from its original one.  For instance, the word lemon can be used to describe a car that has multiple manufacturing defects which affect the safety, value, and use of the vehicle.

American English is considerably idiomatic, and most Americans use these words, phrases, or expressions without much thought during every day conversation.  Idioms seem to make language more colorful, and can help people express something more vividly and sometimes more briefly.  They also help create imagery for the reader or listener. 

Here’s an example:

“When I think about days gone by, I can clearly see beyond a shadow of a doubt that my parents and grandparents used a lot of idiomatic phrases when they chewed the fat or shot the bull.  I was always all ears, so it should come as no surprise that they handed down some of the slang, regional, informal, cliché, and proverbial expressions they used day in and day outIf the truth be told, it would be difficult for me to express myself without using those same idioms now!”

Shurley English teaches the Traits of Effective Writing, and during Trait 3: Word Choice, students learn to incorporate idioms:   

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What are the different types of idioms?

It’s important to know that idioms are usually peculiar to a particular group of people (region, country, etc.), and they may be difficult for people from other parts of the world to comprehend.  Also, non-native speakers of English often have a hard time understanding them at all. 

Idioms can add real flair to students’ writing, so here is a Lexicon for different types of idioms to explore.  Encourage your young scholars to use them as a word choice strategy!

Slang Expression: a type of language that consists of words and phrases that are regarded as very informal, are more common in speech than writing, and are typically restricted to a particular context or group of people.

Regional Expression: of or relating to a particular region, district, area, or part, as of a country; sectional; local.

Informal Expression: suitable to or characteristic of casual and familiar, but educated, speech or writing.

Cliché Expression: a trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea, which has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse, as sadder but wiser, or strong as an ox.

Proverbial Phrase or a Proverbial Expression:  a type of a conventional saying similar to proverbs and transmitted by oral tradition. The difference is that a proverb is a fixed expression, while a proverbial phrase permits alterations to fit the grammar of the context.

 

Extend the Lesson:

Did you know that William Shakespeare coined many of the idiomatic phrases we still use today?  Take a look at the following list of idioms Shakespeare used in his plays.  Look some of them up to understand their meaning.  Also, try to use some of them in a sentence.

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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.