Finding just the right word

Words matter.

Choosing the right nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs allows the reader to understand the message the writer intends.  This week we discussed the importance of the choices we make in writing and speaking.

We watched this clip called “Word Choice” from an old t.v. show, Friends.  

After watching the clip we visualized the idea of using longer, but not necessarily stronger, words with an exercise involving thread, string, and a rope.   Unravelling a very long piece of thread, a medium piece of string, and a short piece of rope, we realized that although the thread was a lot longer than the string and the rope, it was by no means stronger than the other two.  That was the same lesson Chandler and Monica tried to teach Joey, aka Baby Kangaroo, when Joey wrote his letter.  While we want to “sound smart”, too many long words strung together sometimes confuse the meaning.  More succinctly put, longer doesn’t equal stronger.

Look at the three items below.  Which is the strongest?  Which is the longest?  Just because something is longer, it is not necessarily stronger.  Check out this blog post .

Does longest = strongest?

Does longest = strongest?

We also read this short excerpt from our text books:

As a girl wept under a tree, a woman suddenly appeared.  She waved a magic stick.  A vegetable turned into a vehicle.  With another movement of the woman’s stick, the girl’s torn clothing turned into a beautiful dress.  Overjoyed, the girl thanked the woman and rode to the party in a building.

How long did it take you to realize the lines above relate the story of Cinderella?  It took some of the students in our class until the third sentence; some of us needed even more information than that.  Cinderella becomes very unfamiliar when specific nouns are replaced with general ones.  Word choice is important.

We used more household items to illustrate this point.  Is it better to say eating utensil or fork?  Eating utensil or spoon?  Even though “eating utensil” might feel ‘smart’ (think Joey), these longer words are less precise than spoon or fork.

Other times, we really do need adjectives to help us understand what the writer wants to convey.

Popsicle stick, chopstick, tree stick?, drumstick, yardstick

Popsicle stick, chopstick, tree stick?, drumstick, yardstick

What kind of stick is this?  Picturing the  importance of adjectives and nouns

What kind of stick is this? Picturing the importance of adjectives and nouns

While all the items pictured at right are sticks, they are very different kinds of sticks.  It would be extraordinarily difficult to eat with yardsticks or drumsticks, wouldn’t it?  Likewise, measuring distance with Popsicle sticks or chopsticks is equally tricky.  We listed the items as yardstick, drumstick, chopstick, and Popsicle stick. Guess what some students wanted to call the very last stick I showed them?  A tree stick!  After a little laugh, we realized that changing the noun to branch or twig was a better alternative than using the adjective tree with the noun stick.  We tried the same exercise using a paper cup, a measuring cup, and a coffee cup.  Some of us wanted to use mug rather than coffee cup.

Whether writing a letter of recommendation or a fairy tale about a princess, choosing just the right word is an important skill for an author.

Here are 182 Questions to Write or Talk About from The Learning Network with the Ny Times.  Peruse the list and write a response to one of the questions.

Practice your best writing!  Choose your words carefully.

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27 thoughts on “Finding just the right word

  1. I chose to comment on “Should athletes be stripped of their medals for doping?”
    I think that athletes who use illegal drugs or steroids or any muscle enhancer should be banned from the sport and have their titles taken away from them. I think this because it is cheating in the sport that other athletes have worked very hard for and dedicated their life to.

  2. I think I will for sure save some of my belongings for the future. I have some dolls from when I was little, I ever since I got them, I have planned to save the for my children. They will be valuable by time I am much older, but I think that selling them would be cruel. Some of the other thing I will save are my jewelry and maybe some of my clothing.

  3. I am writing a comment about were would you go if you could go there?
    I been in many countries but one country i would go to Australia because there are many beautiful waterfalls and jungles but its a long flight there but still i hope that i will go there when i grow up.Also they have good food there like meat. So i hope i will go there were would you like to go?

    • Hi Daniel,
      I would also like to go to Australia sometime in the future. What part of Australia has the waterfalls and jungles? What kind of meat does Australia have?
      Good writing, Daniel!
      ~Mrs. Donofrio

  4. I think that a longer school calendar is not a good idea because sometimes you have to have some fun and spend time with your family.

    Do you think it is a good idea to have school all year around?

    • Hi Courtney,
      Do weekends count as time to have fun and spend time with family? What about week long school vacations?
      ~Mrs. Donofrio

  5. I did my comment on should students be able to grade their teachers. Yes, I do know what a good teacher looks like and I’m positive others do to. Yes, I know what a struggling teacher looks like and how they act. You know when a teacher is struggling when they are not always positive with what they say. Also when they don’t know what to say or do.

    • Hi Shane,
      What DOES a good teacher look like? What do you mean exactly by “a teacher is struggling when they are not always positive with what they say and do”? Do you think it’s possible for anyone to ALWAYS be positive about what he/she says and does? Do you think a new teacher might not always know what to say or do? Are all new teachers struggling teachers? Can you be any more specific about what a good teacher/a struggling teacher looks like?
      ~Mrs. Donofrio

  6. I really enjoyed reading your post. I would feel a lot safer with armed guards patrolling our school. I like that this idea can make students and the staff at our schools feel safer and keep us more protected. My one concern is that the armed guards may not be trained enough to patrol our schools. I think that they should be trained police officers. I think that there should be guards at every school in America because it can keep students and staff safe and prevent what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary to not happen at another school. I think that there should be at least two armed guards at each school. They should be located at the front and back of each school. I think that the schools should pay for the armed guards and do not have volunteers come in and patrol the school.

    • Hi Reanne,
      It’s a bit scary to think of armed guards at every school; but then again, it is scary to think about what happened at Sandy Hook. Do you think the atmosphere of the school would change with armed officers on campus? Since their jobs would be pretty quiet, except in the very rare circumstance of a school invasion, do you think many people who trained as police officers would want to spend their days at elementary schools? Do you think the guards need to be actual police officers, or just trained security personnel? It’s interesting to think about!
      ~Mrs. Donofrio

      • Here is my 2 cents…I think there are police officers, deputies and the like who feel it IS there priority to be near schools so I don’t believe we would have a hard time convincing any one of them to work at a school. I feel the most important part of your response is to teach children from a VERY early age that a Law Enforcement Officer is not scary. They are who they should turn to and most often who the parents have to turn to when something is wrong. Unfortunately for years I have heard the words “you better watch out he’s a police officer” be said to our family member. If they only knew what those words are telling their child.

        • Dear Karen,
          I’m sorry; I must not have worded my response clearly. I meant that we live in a scary world where having armed police officers at elementary schools is a real consideration. Not too long ago, no one would consider spending millions and millions of dollars nationwide to have armed police officers at every elementary school in America. I never meant to suggest that police officers themselves are scary. I’m sorry if I made it sound that way. That was absolutely not my intention.
          ~Mrs. Donofrio

          • No, No, I am not saying that you did! I promise! I was just saying that SOME people do feel that way! I just love that we can communicate and share ideas like this! Much respect, Karen

  7. I totally think that woman should be able to fight along side men . Most people think woman can’t do everything that boys can do, but that’s not true. We can do what boys can do. We where created equally. Woman have been earning rights little by little, but men can do everything. That is not right. We might not be as strong as them, but we are just as strong inside. There are still countries that don’t let woman vote! That is just not right. I have been learning about this for years. Woman have been treated not that well, but we have been treated better lately in most places. On the battle field woman can shoot and go against other people just as well as men, especially with today’s technology. If woman were the rulers of the world would there be as many fights?

    • Hi Lizzie,
      You ask an intriguing question at the end of your comment. I sure wish we could test your theory. Do you know much about women who were world leaders? One of the most famous women leaders is Margaret Thatcher; she was the Prime Minister of England a little over 20 years ago. Have you heard of Malala? She is a teenager fighting for the rights of girls to go to school in Afghanistan. She has already been shot for speaking out for this cause.
      ~Mrs. Donofrio

  8. Hi Mrs. Donofrio,
    Great post,I loved the Friends video. The question I chose was what six people living or dead would you invite to dinner.I like Ms.Streisand’s guest list and I would enjoy being at this dinner party.I would invite Harriet Tubman,Nelson Mandela,Maya Angelou,Martin Luther King jr.,Rosa Parks,and Idina Menzel. I chose these people because I respect all of them very much. I would also enjoy just having a conversation with them and hearing their opinions and views on things(and of course hearing Idina sing). I would expect this dinner to go well because even if the people I chose disagree, I think they would be respectful and not argue,some may even become friends.Who would you choose?

    • Hi Sophia,
      What an interesting topic you chose to write about! I will have to go to that link and read about Barbara Streisand’s list. You have a very interesting list, too. I do have to admit, though, that I don’t know who Idina Menzel is, other than the fact that she is a singer, which I gathered from your comment. What does she sing? I really like the way all of the people on your list promoted civil rights, but they were different parts of the world and different eras. Because they have basic similarities as well as differences, I agree with you that this would be a very interesting group to listen to and that some of them, or even all of them, might become friends.
      I would like to invite Jesus, William Shakespeare, George Gershwin, Julia Child, and Robin Williams. We’d have great food (Julia Child), laugh a lot (Robin Williams), listen to good music (George Gershwin), and learn a lot about how to become a better writer (Shakespeare), and a better person (Jesus).
      At dinner tonight, ask your parents whom they would invite. This is a great conversation starter! Do you think they’ll pick any of the same people as your list?
      ~Mrs. Donofrio

  9. This post sounds very intelligent. There were a lot of helpful ideas. It gave us a visual connection to Cinderella and the string you used for the lesson. I now think adjectives are important because they help; without, we would have a lot less description in blogs. Your blog post also showed us that you don’t need to sound smart to get your point across. You don’t have to sound smart to be smart. Quality is always better than quantity.

    • Hello students of Gechter’s class!
      We’re so happy that you found our blog, that you found our post interesting, and that you took the time to comment! Merci and muchas gracias! We agree with you that quality in writing is far superior to quantity. Do you do a lot of writing in your class? What has been your favorite writing assignment?
      ~Mrs. Donofrio

  10. I do not think school years should be extended because, kids should at least have some what of a break. They should have some time to just relax and take a break from all the work that they have to do in the 188 days they are in school.

  11. Hi Mrs. Donofrio,
    I am answering the question, what music inspires you?
    The music that inspires me has to be classical. Classical music has had a huge impact on life with violin, piano, and other instruments. I always feel at ease with soft relaxing music like classical. It helps me remember everything is right with the world. Also, it inspires me to try my hardest every day and to never give up. What music inspires you?

  12. Hi Mrs.Donofrio,
    Really liked the video, it was very funny.The question I chose was should students be able to grade their teachers?

    I agree with grading our teachers, but only kids with an above average or average general grade. The reason I think that is because if kids get a bad grade for goofing around in a teachers class or not studying for a test then they would probably give that teacher a bad grade. I believe that students with good or ok grades will know the difference. I also think that they should be typed and not handwritten. (I know that it didn’t say that but just to clarify) I think that because if anyone recognizes the handwriting, and they disagree with that opinion they might tell that teacher and have said student get in trouble . Over all I think it is a good idea, but just needs a little more clarification on how it all works before I would agree to do it.

  13. Dear Mrs. Donofrio,
    I loved your post! It really got me thinking about word choices.I answered the question with your home in danger, what would you try to save?
    If my home was in danger, I would try to save things that are special to me. I would want to save my favorite stuffed animal from when I was little, and also a little box that has things from when I was a baby in it. I would also want to grab pictures of my friends, family and I. Most of all I would want to make sure that my sister and my parents made it out safely before I went back to grab my other things. What would you want to save if your home was in danger?

  14. I chose “Are you concerned about the climate change in the cooler parts of the world.” Think this this climate change is a BIG DEAL!Cause think of it,all the animals that live in these places won’t really have a place to live after it melts away.I heard on the news that the temperatures in these areas are becoming cooler. So that’s great news. What do you think would happen to the animals if their homes will melt away?

  15. I answered the question, If I could go anywhere, where would i go? If I could go anywhere I wanted, I would to Hawaii because it seems like it would be a good place to go with my family. Also, I would like to see the scenery of Hawaii. If you were going on a trip where would you go, and why would you want to go there?
    ~ Julia

  16. My comment will be on How Well Do You Know Your Pet?I know my pet really well,her name is Maddie.I know she likes to eat popcorn,swim,play,sleep,and eating treats.Thats how well I know my pet,how well do you know your pet?

  17. Hi Mrs. Donofrio,
    I really like this paragraph on how just because words are longer don’t make them stronger. I commented on the blog “Should there be a longer school year calendar.”
    I found this article very interesting. You should read about it! What did you comment on? Was it a good article?

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