Games to Help Students Write More Precisely and Concisely
Part of teaching students how to write effectively is to teach them how to write concisely. There are several reasons students may have difficulty writing concisely, one of which is a vocabulary issue. Students are likely not activating and recalling the more extensive vocabulary that they have learned over the years. Further, students may hesitate to use words they don't use in their everyday language -- often because they are scared of misusing words or don't want to bother with researching a word's meaning to use it correctly. For students to communicate effectively and concisely, they need to have a command of their growing vocabulary and writing skills.
When students are not confident in their writing skills, many students default to passive voice. However, using passive voice usually requires using more words when fewer, more precise words fit.
Here are two games that you can use in your English Language Arts classroom to emphasize the importance of using precise language when writing (and communicating in general). These games can be used as a warm-up, a brain break between lessons, after a test, on a sub day, or any other time that works for your schedule.
Game 1: The Synonym Series
Before the game begins, generate a list of precise, high-level vocabulary words that your students would be familiar with; one word for every two students in your class. Divide students into two groups. Invite one student from each group to face off. Show the first word to the students who are not in the face-off. Make sure face-off students cannot see it. Then, each side will take turns giving one-word clues to their team member. Clues can be synonyms or descriptors like: stronger, weaker, formal, informal, and the like. No rhyming, sound clues, body cues, or other shenanigans. The first person who guesses the correct word scores a point for their team.
Clues: happy, stronger, stoked, formal, euphoric, jubilant, joyous
Benefits: This game enhances vocabulary by recognizing and using synonyms. It also helps students pay attention to connotation (stronger, weaker, angrier, etc.) and audience (formal, informal, jargon, etc.).
Game 2: Least Words
Before the game begins, create long sentences that can be written more concisely. Divide the class into 2-3 teams. Project or write the first sentence on the board. Have students rewrite the sentence using more concise language. The group that writes the shortest sentence using precise language while still maintaining the sentences' meaning scores a point.
Example: The football game was seen by us as a way to suggest the fact that we are not as talented a school as our rival from the other town across the way.
Revisions would omit and reword phrases like "was seen by us as a way", "the fact that", and other overly wordy parts of the sentence.
Benefits: In this game, the teacher overtly places value on concise sentences, reinforcing the revision process. It also allows for several teachable moment grammar mini-lessons when evaluating which condensed sentence best retains the original meaning.
Looking for more resources? Check out 100 Words to Avoid PLUS 400 Synonyms Vivid Verbs to Enhance Writing and Sensory and Color Synonyms Words Lists to help students use more precise vocabulary in their writing!
What strategies do you use to teach precise and concise writing? We'd love to hear from you in the comment section below.