Have you ever been in the midst of your writing and you have to stop in order to find the perfect word? You can sort of sense what it is you are trying to convey, you know the image you are trying to conjure up for your reader, but the word is just beyond the tip of your tongue? You might leave a blank space and come back to it later. You might temporarily substitute a less suitable word.. Then, all of a sudden, maybe days later… you’ve got it! The perfect word!
This is the lesson we were teaching a group of 5th graders last week. Their teacher wants them to start thinking about word choice. She wants them to be purposeful and thoughtful about the words they choose. She stopped me in the hall last week to chat because what she doesn’t want is them running for a thesaurus simply to find a bigger word. She illustrated this point to them by using an example from her recent read-aloud, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. “And the tree was happy,” Mr. Silverstein wrote. He could have written “and the tree was jubilant” or “and the tree was content” or “and the tree was blissful.” But he didn’t. “Happy” was the perfect word for Shel Silverstein. Perhaps he liked its simplicity.
I shared with the kids some examples from my own writing of when I have stopped and struggled to “find a word.” As I read aloud my sentences, I explained my reasons for choosing certain words. The classroom teacher and I encouraged these young writers to do the same, to find the perfect word when they need it.
We closed by making this chart together:
You can see how they defined the perfect word after our conversation:
- it fits your vocabulary or knowledge level
- it fits your personality (or sounds like something you would say)
- it is a richer word
- it conjures up an image
- it fits the rhythm and flow of your piece
- sometimes it is not a word at all (it may be a picture, diagram, or sketch that you need)
Smart writers, aren’t they?