Smekens Education Solutions, Inc.

Word Choice

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Make "Synonym Rolls" to Encourage Good Word Choice
Wednesday, February 24th, 2013

First-grade teacher Kim Kesler is whipping up some "Synonym Rolls" with her students at Ouabache Elementary (Terre Haute, IN). Young writers then cook up some good decadent word choice. Kim is creating Synonym Roll Chefs! [read more...]


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Spot the Good & the Bad
Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

Strong word choice is as much about using good words as knowing what words to avoid. Liz Shockey from our office couldn't help but take a picture of the stacked adjectives on this can of peas at the grocery! A little redundant, don't you think? [read more...]


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Word Connotations Convey Tone in Reading & Writing
Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

As teachers, many of us have uttered the following when disciplining a student--"It's not what you said; it's how you said it." The power of word choice goes beyond simply sending a message to someone. We also have to consider how that message will be received and interpreted. [read more...]


3D Thesaurus

3D Thesaurus
Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

Second grade teacher Nicole Workman at Reagan Elementary wrote a collection of overused, boring words on the plastic pouches of a hanging shoe organizer. She then wrote stronger synonyms for each word on Popsicle sticks and placed them inside the corresponding pockets. [read more...]


Purple Word Palooza

Purple Word Palooza
Monday, February 13th, 2012

To help her students celebrate purple words in their writing, Meghan Connelly, 6th grade teacher at Mercer Elementary School (Cincinnati, OH), decided to have a Purple Word Palooza Day. She welcomed students to the day and provided different learning stations to help them celebrate good word choice. [read more...]


Can You Read What We Wrote?

Can You Read What We Wrote?
Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

We want our students to be risk takers when it comes to word choice, but young writers often stop taking risks when they discover that there is only one right way to spell a word. Without encouragement, they tend to settle for shorter, simpler words they know how to spell. [read more...]


Descriptive Writing is in Every Genre

Descriptive Writing is in Every Genre
Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

Many of us learned descriptive writing as a specific genre and consequently teach it as a separate unit. However, descriptive writing isn't a genre--it is an element in all genres. You'll find it in all types of narrative, expository, and persuasive writing. [read more...]


Write Thankus (Rhymes with

Write Thankus (Rhymes with "Haikus")
Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

When writing poetry with your students, consider a short writing assignment along the lines of a haiku. But add a twist of thankfulness and try writing "thankus"--remember, it rhymes with haiku and follows the same 3-line, 5-7-5 syllable rules. [read more...]


Purple Word Day

Purple Word Day
Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

For years Kristina Smekens has suggested the idea of using a purple highlighter to celebrate strong word choice in students' writings. Rather than writing lots of time-consuming, word-choice compliments, a teacher can communicate the same message with just a stroke of a purple highlighter. [read more...]


Gotcha! Getting Students to

Gotcha! Getting Students to "Show, and Not Tell" Their Details
Thursday, April 28th, 2011

Trying to get students to describe a moment rather than just tell about it is difficult. We've all said things like "Show, don't tell" or "Paint a picture in my mind with your details" or "Make me feel like I was there." Despite all this instruction, students still tell their readers "The teacher was mad" rather than show [read more...]


Teach Students to Assess Readability of their Own Writing

Teach Students to Assess the Readability of their Own Writing
Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

When you're ready to nudge students to the next level in their writing, you might want to introduce them to the Flesch-Kincaid Grade-Level Test. Microsoft Word has a built-in feature that will give you a score, letting you know the grade-level readability of your document. [read more...]


Strategies for Helping Spelling Perfectionists

Strategies for Helping Spelling Perfectionists
Monday, December 13th, 2010

Some writers are open to sound-stretching and writing out a word using their best spelling. But then there are your perfectionists--those who only want to write words correctly. If they limit their writing to only words they can spell, then their writing vocabulary will be skimpy. [read more...]


Salsa Words Versus Rice Cake Words

Salsa Words Versus Rice Cake Words
Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

6-Traits guru Ruth Culham stresses the importance of using spicy salsa words in place of boring rice cake words. It's a perfect analogy. See what one teacher did to bring this very tasteful idea into her classroom. What a yummy way to encourage good word choice. [read more...]


Target Close-up Details in Descriptive Writing

Target Close-up Details in Descriptive Writing
Thursday, October 14th, 2010

Collecting several postcards from Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia, Topeka Elementary teacher Cathy Strawser displayed them within her classroom. Each postcard included plants and flowers. Some had statues, others depicted various seasons. [read more...]


Dead Words R.I.P.

Dead Words R.I.P.
Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

Check out how Fairview Elementary teacher Deb Conley targets dead and worn out words with her fourth graders in Sherwood, OH. She identifies the overused adjectives and verbs she wants writers to avoid and then encourages students to brainstorm more specific synonyms using this handout. [read more...]


Teach Students How to Omit Clichés

Teach Students How to Omit Clichés
Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

A sign of a more sophisticated writer is one who can write with strong description, interesting similes and metaphors. Unfortunately, in an attempt to include more description and imagery, students often pull from a bank of overused [read more...]


Got Purple Words?

Got Purple Words?
Friday, April 9th, 2010

Providing students regular feedback on their word choice is necessary. If we don't communicate that we noticed their attempts at strong word choice, why would they continue to strive for it. Precise word choice is much more work (e.g., snatch) than just settling for a general word that will do (e.g., get). [read more...]


Teach Students to Read Like Writers

Teach Students to Read Like Writers
Friday, March 5th, 2010

Gifted & Talented teacher Gloria Horn at Bailly Elementary School (Chesterton, IN) has been encouraging the development of her students' incidental vocabulary. First, she set the tone for word collecting. Her students then became word detectives on the lookout for strong word choice. [read more...]


Simple Acrostic Poems

Simple Acrostic Poems
Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

When teaching students new vocabulary words in the content areas or in language arts, one thing you could do, beyond just talking about definitions, is to have students develop an acrostic poem for that term. For example, here is an [read more...]


Using the Smekens

Using the Smekens' Voice Poster to Teach Word Choice
Monday, December 14th, 2009

Take the face labeled "nervous,” for example. Jordana told students that in their writing, instead of saying the character is nervous, they should use descriptive words to show nervous. She brainstormed with students for actions that [read more...]


Strengthen Student Titles

Strengthen Student Titles
Friday, October 30th, 2009

It seems rather insignificant, but there is great power in teaching young writers about titles. For a kindergartner, the title is the first beginning they write. Eventually, as writers develop, a title becomes the attention grabbing words before [read more...]


Developing Core Vocabulary for Each Academic Area

Developing Core Vocabulary for Each Academic Area
Friday, October 23rd, 2009

When most of you attended school, you probably had the same type of vocabulary study I did — a list of 10-20 words a week that each required a dictionary/glossary definition and a sentence using the term. After a little discussion and maybe some matching games, we’d [read more...]


Identify Synonyms for the Basic Color Words

Identify Synonyms for the Basic Color Words
Friday, September 25th, 2009

Consider teaching students that strong word choice is like selecting just the right shade of a word. Compare general words to 8-box crayon words and more specific words to 24- or 64-box crayon words. We want writers to stop using blue [read more...]


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Here's a Great Book for Word Choice
Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

Many teachers utilize Jane O’Connor’s Fancy Nancy to teach word choice and target precise language. It’s a fabulous picture book for the trait of word choice. But many have asked for a "boy book” that targets the same word choice skills but is a little less girly. Found [read more...]


Celebrating Strong Word Choice

Celebrating Strong Word Choice
Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Kimberly Moisan encourages her Minooka Intermediate students (Minooka, IL) to strive for better word choice. She has taken a section of the classroom wall and titled it "Most Valuable Vocabulary.” When she hears students utilize [read more...]


Broaden Word Choice with the Online Thesaurus

Broaden Word Choice with the Online Thesaurus
Friday, January 30th, 2009

A class thesaurus is a great resource, but a more up-to-date resource is the very user-friendly Merriam-Webster website. Not only does it include synonyms (via the thesaurus) and definitions (via the dictionary), but it also [read more...]


Recognizing Footnotes

Recognizing Footnotes
Thursday, January 29th, 2009

To help students understand how to use footnotes, start by teaching them to write their own. Within their next writing, ask students to find their two best words. Have them put a tiny "1″ after the first word and a tiny "2″ after the second. At the bottom of the piece, ask each student to then write the same 1 and [read more...]


Noticing Great Word Choice--Even at Home

Noticing Great Word Choice--Even at Home
Monday, October 27th, 2008

Many of you know that I utilize a purple highlighter to acknowledge great word choice within student writing. Since purple highlighters are a more obscure color to find, I know most students don't have access to them. So I use this to my advantage. [read more...]


Should Kids Look Up Word Spellings in the Dictionary?

Should Kids Look Up Word Spellings in the Dictionary?
Monday, October 27th, 2008

Q: Is it wrong to expect kids to look up word spellings in the dictionary? A: Looking words up is a necessary skill to learn. And when focusing on editing and conventions, then absolutely, the dictionary and other resources should be used. However, it's not necessarily an appropriate first-draft strategy. [read more...]


Fall Walk Sentences

Fall Walk Sentences
Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

The entire class spends time walking the school grounds, gathering inspiration, ideas, details, and words that describe the season of fall. Then, all students submit a single sentence by the pre-determined deadline to be judged by someone outside of the [read more...]


Paper Plate Thesaurus

Paper Plate Thesaurus
Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

As you are building word-smiths and encouraging them to utilize stronger word choice in their writing, consider creating a place for students to log those better words. With a little tape, some staples, and several paper plates, create your own word-popping thesauruses. [read more...]


A Recipe for Action Verbs

A Recipe for Action Verbs
Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

While reading How to Eat Fried Worms, Sweetser Elementary teacher David Henry had his fourth graders make up recipes for their favorite dishes. In the first draft, they had to approximate the ingredient amounts and the cooking procedures. Then [read more...]


Giving the Gift of Words

Giving the Gift of Words
Thursday, May 15th, 2008

In the final days before the holiday break, fourth grade teacher Claudia Jackson led her class in a dynamic activity that not only motivated students to write but also helped them recognize the unique qualities of their classmates. After reading Virginia Fleming's Be Good To Eddie Lee, [read more...]


Weaving Strong Word Choice into Morning Routines

Weaving Strong Word Choice into Morning Routines
Thursday, May 15th, 2008

Second grade teacher Susan Ealing and Title I/language arts teacher Nancy Johnson targeted word choice and tied it to voice! They realized students were overusing words, but it wasn't in their writing. Part of the morning routine has been for the students to place their name sticks [read more...]


Choosing High-Energy Words

Choosing High-Energy Words
Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

Choosing words is kind of like choosing food from the food pyramid; that’s John Stoffel’s (Flint Springs Elementary, Huntington, IN) analogy. Young writers use words from the top of the pyramid like "make," "said," "went," and "happy" out of habit. [read more...]


Building Students' Verb Choice

Building Students' Verb Choice
Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

I’m convinced that stronger verbs produce stronger writing, which, in turn, produces higher test scores. Collect lists of "Great Verbs We Noticed in our Reading.” No student ever says, "'am' is the best verb in that whole story!” They take note of verbs like screeched, alarmed, bloated. [read more...]


Adding Comparisons & Similes to Strengthen Word Choice

Adding Comparisons & Similes to Strengthen Word Choice
Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

Vivid and unique phrasing sometimes comes in figurative language use, like similes. After reading Dr. Seuss’ Many Colored Days or Jane Cabrera’s Cat’s Colors, second grade teacher Linda Rodenbarger (from Portage Schools) then discusses [read more...]


Super Strategies for Stretching Sentences

Super Strategies for Stretching Sentences
Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

First grade teacher Ruth Leman (Hoagland Elementary School) has gotten her students to beef up their writing by challenging them to "supersize” their sentences. First, she acquired a large and small fry holder from three different fast food [read more...]


Supersizing Sentences in the Primary Grades

Supersizing Sentences in the Primary Grades
Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

When her students are ready to beef-up their simple sentences, Elaine uses this as an opportunity to introduce parts of speech laminated into mini-posters. Elaine asks her students to add key word phrases to their original sentences in order to add [read more...]


Focusing on Action Verbs

Focusing on Action Verbs
Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

As students pre-write, encourage them to use nouns and adjectives but also specific verbs they associate with a particular topic. Think of verbs as the engine of the sentence. The more specific and active the verb, the more powerful the sentence. [read more...]


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