Getting students to stop using those tired, boring words can be a challenge. But word choice is one of the easiest ways to make a ho-hum essay, poem, or story into one that people will want to read. Here are some ideas for helping your students to choose better words:
Make finding synonyms for overused words a class activity.
This is a great way to practice using the thesaurus. One way to do this is to divide your class into small groups and assign each group an overused word. Each group must make a list of at least ten synonyms to replace the overused word. Use the lists to make a class resource in book or bulletin board format, or have the groups each make posters to hang around the classroom.
Provide easy access to synonyms.
Be sure that students have easy access to synonyms for overused words. This could be a list or booklet for each student or in bulletin board format. Make sure students know that part of the writing process includes searching out overused words and replacing them with better words.
Practice whenever you can.
As bell work or when you have a few spare minutes, write a boring sentence on the board, and have your students rewrite it with better words to replace the overused words.
For older students select a piece of published text, possibly from an older work, and have students rewrite the passage replacing overused words with better synonyms.
Encourage students to take the extra time.
Remember that many of those better synonyms are also longer and harder to spell. It is much easier for a second grader to write “big” than “humongous.” You can help encourage students to go for the gold, word-wise by giving them more time to work, by allowing students to type rather than write, and perhaps by being more forgiving for spelling errors, especially when the goal of the assignment is to be creative.
Outlaw overused words.
“Outlaw” one overused word for a day or even a week. During the time that an overused word is outlawed, it may not be used by you or your students in wring or in speech. Instead, students (and you) must use more interesting synonyms.