NYT’s “Thank you, thesaurus.”

I’ve been tutoring this middle-school boy in language arts for the past few months. He’s a super smart kid, but only puts forth an effort if he really wants to. For his class’ poetry unit, he wrote a poem called “Stuff and Things.” The product of a mind taking the day off. I feel like too often he settles for the first word he thinks of, instead of searching for the word, so I’ve been looking for ways to expand his vocabulary, and push him to find the right word to express what he’s thinking. Lucky for me, I stumbled upon this great lesson plan, courtesy of the New York Times.

The New York Times is an invaluable resource, for many reasons. Pillar of the journalistic world. Apparently, they are aware of this as well, and have a rather comprehensive blog which gives teachers ideas of how to incorporate their archives in the classroom. Obviously, a lot of their posts focus on the social sciences and current events, but they have a lot of ideas for language arts teachers, too, including this lesson plan on thesaurus use and overwriting.

The warm-up activity features a paragraph from Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby placed side-by-side an atrociously overwritten version. Students are asked to evaluate and explain why one is superior to the other, citing specific synonyms and the connotations that go with them. Then the students take their own writing samples and transform them into overwritten tripe. Lots of fun. The goal here is not to pick the easiest word, or even the most impressive word, but the right word. There is even an activity included which utilizes peer editing with thesauri, so students can help each other improve their writing.

You will hear me time and again on this blog push the importance of writing. Although I’m pursuing secondary education in foreign languages, I still think writing, and writing well, is one of the most important skills a student can and should develop. Ok, rant over. Enjoy the link.


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