Language is the cornerstone of culture. We should encourage our students to create a relationship with language, then literacy, then books. Students should be encouraged to write about what they know and what they don’t know but want to discover and learn.
One of our ongoing goals for our classrooms: to foster curiosity — both external and internal. For example, if I want to learn more about E. B. Lewis, that is an external curiosity. If I want to find out more about the grandfather I never met and never knew, that’s an internal curiosity. Discovering and actively building knowledge about ourselves is an internal curiosity.
Building a love of words can start with a simple list of nouns. We can try to find new ways to describe these words:
Flowers: strong smells, orange or yellow, annuals, love the sunlight, never eaten by rabbits or deer, long-lasting, stay from spring to the first frost, dotting my gardens, outdoor plantings
Foot-wear: athletic, reflective shoelaces, platforms, Velcro straps soft, easy to walk in, best to run in, ultralight comfort, water-resistant, flexible, durable, rubber-soled, with printed logos
Teach your writers how to take the fewest words and make them say the most. Get an image in your head and paint the picture with words. Choose strong nouns and verbs and exact adjectives. Style is all about choosing the words that will carry our ideas and make them meaningful to our readers. Remember, economy of expression is important. There is no need to write, “A really, really tall boy ran down the street quickly!” Instead, we might consider: “A supersized boy zoomed down the street.”
Play word games in your classroom. Here is a simple one to help students start to build original similes.
I see…. It looks like….
I see… a water cooler by the office. It looks like….an oasis in the middle of a scorching desert.
I see… a black suitcase. It looks like…an ancient magician’s trunk.
I see….a snow globe. It looks like….a tiny, Welsh village during King Arthur’s reign.
Here is another way to have fun with words and teach similes, too. Make a word jar filled with nouns written on slips of paper. Ask students to choose two slips and try to list all the ways they can find similarities between them. Here are my examples:
DOG & LAPTOP
- both have an O in them
- people purchase both
- both can be helpful
- both can give the owner pleasure
- they keep you company
- both can die
- both can be purchased at a store
- you could play games with their help
- you cannot live without them
- they are entertaining
My laptop is like my dog. Throughout the day it keeps me entertained, and when I go to bed, it goes to sleep, too.
MIDNIGHT & MUD
- they are dark
- they can be mysterious
- they both begin with the letter M
- they can pull you in (visually and literally!)
- they can appear unexpectedly
- they can heal
- they are mystical
- they are both important in a story that takes place in a swamp
- in a new Cinderella version – they could both be important – if Cinderella loses a glass slipper in the mud instead of on the steps to the palace
Midnight is as sneaky as mud, pulling you in to its dark beauty and not letting go.
The great thing about creating unique similes is the push to think outside the box and write something that, perhaps, no one else has ever written before!
Hypehnated adjectives do the same thing and give a piece of writing a breath of fresh air. They also help the author with economy of expression. What day is show-your-love day? Does the hyphenated adjective conjure up pictures of heart-shaped boxes of chocolate candies and red roses? Students can study examples from mentor texts and set off to find them in their independent reads. Eventually, ask kids to try to write one or two hyphenated adjectives in the pieces they are drafting. Here are a few mentor sentences:
All About Frogs by Jim Arnosky
Note the use of hyphen to create an unusual adjective in plant-climbing lifestyle.
Baseballs, Snakes, and Summer Squash by Donald Graves
Look for the use of hyphen to create sound words or exact adjectives in run-down, long-haired, clickety-click, doe-eyed, ‘no-thank-you’ and orange-bellied.
Talkin’ About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman by Nikki Grimes
Note the interesting use of hyphens in the school teacher’s description of the school that Bessie attended: Bessie would attend the hot-in-summer, cold-in-winter, one-room Colored schoolhouse where I taught in Waxahachie.
Twilight Comes Twice by Ralph Fletcher
Wonderful adjectives are created with hyphens. Some examples are deep-rooted, last-minute, and dew-spangled.
Up North at the Cabin by Marsha Wilson Chall
Use this book to discuss how hyphens are used to create adjectives such as air-bubble balloons and peanut-butter-and-worm sandwiches.
Welcome to the River of Grass by Jane Yolen
Some use of hyphens are white-tailed deer, spear-sharp beak, tuft-eared bobcat and dark-sighted to describe an owl.
Granddaddy’s Gift by Margaret King Mitchell
Note the use of hyphens in black-eyed peas and the powerful feeling created by used-to-be friends.
The Divide by Michael Bedard
Hyphens are used in copper-colored grass, rose-patterned paper, sunflower-bordered road, weather-beaten boards, and fresh-plowed soil. Note the name of a flower, snow-on-the-mountain.
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
“She stared at us. She stared at one face, then another and another. The kind of bold, I’m-looking-at-you stare you almost never get from people, especially strangers.”
Readers and writers are lovers of words. Playing with language is enjoyable and can spark a renewed interest in reading and in writing. Build in some time to experiment in notebooks and guided experiences, to search for new examples, and to transfer new learning to drafts and even pieces of writing that have already been published. Writers become more sophisticated by taking risks and trying new craft moves and strategies. Students enjoy a challenge!
How do you develop a love of words in your classroom?