I always seem to have students who believe that effective writing is verbose. If they exceed the page minimum, they expect a high grade. These students tend to applaud themselves for the hard work on essay assignments, and it can be very difficult to convince them that their style of writing is actually quite lazy. As English teachers, we try to teach students that writing should be precise and concise. In order for students to accomplish this goal, they must have an extensive vocabulary and clear command of syntax. In short, we teach the adage:
Below are two games that can be used in the English classroom to emphasize these writing traits. They can be used as a warm-up, brain break between lessons, after test activity, or any other time that works for your instruction.
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. You need 1 word for every two students in your class.
- Divide students into 2 groups.
- Invite 1 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, or other shenanigans.
- The first person who guesses the correct word scores a point for his or her team.
Clues: Happy, Stronger, Stoked, Formal, Euphoric, Jubilant, Joyous, and so on until one member guesses correctly.
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 write 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 re-write the sentence using more concise language.
- The group that writes the shortest sentence, retaining the most precise language 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 cross town rival.
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 them for students. It also allows for several teachable moment grammar mini-lessons when evaluating which condensed sentence best retains the original meaning.
What strategies do you use to teach precise and concise language? We’d love to hear from you in the comment section below.