specif ic word Choice

Teaching word choice
Specific Word Choice
Writers are wordsmiths. They create both artful and functional text by the correct
placement of just the right word. The more specific the word choice, the stronger the
images that the reader will read and see in his/her mind. The purpose of this minilesson is to show students the difference between general and precise word choice.
Type of Mini-Lesson: Interactive
Length: 5–8 minutes
Materials: overhead projector and marker or interactive whiteboard and pen
As writers, we want to always be as specific as we can be with our
word choice. By specific, I mean that we want to select the best word
to match what we see in our mind. For instance, a student could
write this sentence: “The toddler held a bug in her hand.”
That bug could be a ladybug, a butterfly, or a wasp. The reader
doesn’t really know and has to guess whether the toddler is in
danger or not. However, if a student wrote, “The toddler held a live
wasp in her hand,” we would immediately be fearful that he or she
might get stung.
Let’s practice thinking of more specific words so, as we write, we
will be aware of the words that we choose.
Please look up here. On the left side, I’m writing “General/
Vague.” I will list words underneath this heading that do not paint
good pictures in the mind of a reader—words like bug. On the right
side, I’m writing “Specific/Precise.” We will list words here that do
paint strong pictures in the mind of a reader—words like ladybug,
tarantula, bumblebee, praying mantis, or wasp.
Your transparency or interactive whiteboard should have a vertical line separating the
two sets of words, and a horizontal line beneath them (see page 36).
Write one general term, such as food on the left side. Provide a sentence using
that word: The boy frowned when he saw the food. Ask the students, “What are
First Lessons for Beginning Writers © 2010 by Lola M. Schaefer, Scholastic Teaching Resources
the names of some specific foods? Name some foods that you dislike.” Write their
responses so all can see. I usually stop after the students have named four or five
specific examples. Continue the process with another two general words. Some of
your general/vague choices can be: bug, car, clothes, worker, place, toy, game, room,
or the choices listed below.
Teacher: Today as you are writing, use words that are specific—that will
paint an exact picture in your reader’s mind.
cheese pizza, pears, lettuce,
tomato soup, baked potato
whale, holler monkey, iguana,
bulldog, chipmunk, grizzly bear
cabin, houseboat, mansion,
mobile home, shack
Accountability Pays Off
Whenever you offer this mini-lesson before students write,
make sure that at the end of writing workshop you say,
“Since today we were all thinking about using specific words,
go back and reread your writing. Circle the two most specific
words that you included.” Some students will be circling, and
other students will be erasing and changing general/vague
words to more specific ones. Ask a few students to share one
of their specific words.
First Lessons for Beginning Writers © 2010 by Lola M. Schaefer, Scholastic Teaching Resources