No More Overused Words

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 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

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, wordwise, by giving them more time to work, allowing students to type rather than write, and perhaps 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.

Synonyms for Overused Words
(in List, Booklet, and Mini-Poster formats)


Nicholas Klacsanszky said...

I love this activity - getting to kids to like reference books is always difficult, but this one seems to do it well. I would say that the type of thesaurus you use can also enhance the experience. There are some thesauruses that find fun ways to look at synonyms. One thesaurus that I have found is the Thinker's Thesaurus. It approaches synonyms at many different angles, and includes words that would not normally be associated with a word.

Rachel Lynette said...

Thanks for the great recommendation, Nicholas!

Ramona said...

As a parent, HOW do you get a teacher to stop over using words. I have found this very frustrating!

My child's homework is always outstanding! But, I don't think that makes a difference, the teacher seems to only know/use two words, alternating comments each week, from "Good work {name} to Neat work {name}" Grrr - I give her a big thumbs down!

Rachel Lynette said...

Good point, Ramona, I hadn't thought of that, but I bet a lot of teachers forget to vary their word choice. Not a great example. And of course, it is much better when a teacher makes comments specific to your child's work.

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