Writing Trait/Strategy: Word choice/Word awareness
Mentor Text Suggestions:
Read aloud one or several of the listed mentor texts. Designate a bulletin board, chart paper, or section of the chalkboard for students to record new, interesting, or unusual words. Set aside a few minutes daily to discuss these words. I especially like to focus on synonyms for overused words. Many of these words surface during read aloud time. I introduce the words naturally in the context of the story: “’Dilemma. That’s an interesting word. Does anyone know what that means? It’s a fancy word for ‘problem’.” We add it to our Fancy Word board, and I encourage students to use the word in context in their speaking and writing throughout the day.
We also keep special lists for words like “said” and “went” that have many more interesting synonyms. The students become very excited about finding these words in their independent reading, during read aloud, and during conversations. A study on word learning in the elementary grades suggests that this intentional focus on words has great impact on students’ overall word learning (Beck, Perfetti, & McKeown, 1982).
I have also used the phrase “rice cake" and "salsa words” to help remind students to be intentional in their word choice. I give each student pieces of bland rice cakes and sample-size cups of mild salsa. As they taste each, we talk about how we want to use salsa words, not rice cake words in their writing. We open up our writer’s notebooks and look for examples of rice cake words and try to replace them with salsa words.