We have taught word referents and using powerful vocabulary in our pieces, but as we started looking at some of our 7th-grade benchmark essays we noticed that not always did the vocabulary or word-referent fit with the idea. Sometimes, students were just sticking in words to make it look good but not listening if it made sense. One example that stood out to me was “It is important for me to keep a jolly attitude when completing my chores, like sweeping the floor.” I began pretending to be jolly as I “swept the floor” around the classroom. The kids all laughed at me, but then noticed places where they had made the same type of mistake in their own piece.
So our next step was to have a mini lesson on choosing the BEST words possible to get your point across to the reader. Students read a paragraph about tigers. All three groups of 7th graders read a different main idea paragraph. After reading, they had to write the main idea sentence for their paragraph. They shared them out loud and I charted them on the poster for all to see.
Then, we made a list of word referents for TIGER.
We discussed how to pair words together to best support the main idea blurb in each paragraph. For example, if the main idea is features or appearance, we want to choose a word-referent that will paint a picture of the tiger in the reader’s mind.
On main idea two, tigers are found all over the world, I asked the students to think about which of the nouns from the list would help the reader to know that tigers are in many places.
Finally, my personal favorite is the idea that tigers are endangered. Students are surprised to learn this, and when I asked why they said, “Because tigers are at the top of the food chain and are powerful and mean.” They made my point for me, and you could literally see the lightbulb go off in their heads!
Notice the first group only changed one word, but the difference in using the word carnivore versus feline made the image you get in your mind drastically change! Not to mention, look at the impact of using stealthy predator, instead of a tiger, to show your surprise in paragraph three.
This was a quick 15-minute lesson that changed the way these 7th graders look at their word-referent charts. They are no longer just pairing up words for no reason, but instead, critically thinking about which words will help get the meaning across to the reader. The before and after sentences are such a game changer for your students’ writing.