Provide students frequent feedback on their word choice. If teachers don’t acknowledge the extra effort the student made in selecting just the right word (e.g., snatch versus get), why would they continue to strive for it. However, all this complimenting on student writing takes time.
Rather than circling strong words, making comments about them in the margins, and adding stickers to student papers, simply stroke them with a purple highlighter. Tell students that all the purple-highlighted words or phrases represent places where they used strong word choice. Watch as students begin counting up and keeping track of how many purple words they had in each writing. They begin comparing with their peers and challenging each other to see who will have more in the next writing.
Explain to students the rationale for the highlighter color to be purple, too. Discuss that yellow, pink, green, orange, and blue highlighters are common. They can be found everywhere. However, the purple highlighter is much more rare. It’s hard to find and rarely seen. Clarify that the specialty of their word choice deserves the special purple highlighter–not a common color. Rare word choice gets the strokes of the rare purple highlighter!
All this lighthearted fun has a greater significance. That is, students are thinking about intentional word choice when composing their first drafts! They are wanting the strokes of purple on their papers. Students are upping the ante on their vocabularies, and the teacher doesn’t have to do anything but read their writing and stroke words that are powerful.