Help Your Students Improve Word Choice

Posted by on October 19th, 2016

Word choice is one of the six traits of writing defined as the vocabulary that a writer chooses to convey a point. Factors influencing word choice include word meaning, specificity, and audience.

Word choice is a significant writing trait because it can impact the audience’s understanding of a text. Tone, attitude, imagery and voice are all affected by word choice. Writers that choose clear, specific and vibrant words create more engaging content for their readers.

Direct attention and instruction should be given to helping your students strengthen their word choice skills. Lessons should be created with the understanding that some students may struggle more than others with the concept. Several activities exist to help students improve their word choice.

Learning Challenges

Difficulty with word choice happens frequently with learners that have a limited background or are English as a Second Language (ESL) learners. For both of these student demographics, their vocabulary may be low.

Limited vocabulary often prohibits students from using language choices that are clear. Other common word choice difficulties are comprised of misused words, unclear pronouns, and unwanted connotations. Wordiness is another challenge that your learners may face. However, this particular issue is not always attributed to students with limited backgrounds and ESL.


Activities for Word Choice Improvement

After teaching about word choice and its significance, choose activities and assessments to address students’ application skills. Engaging activities for word choice improvement include:

Descriptive Setting – Spend time sharing a text and having students identify the sensory language that describes various settings. Follow the initial activity by having students write their own descriptive settings using imagery. The writing assignment can be used as an assessment.


Money Words – Assign values to common adjectives and adverbs. Create a chart that shows increasing values for stronger replacements for each word. See how much “money” writers can earn using some of the variations.

$1 $5 $10 $50
Bad Evil Malicious Heinous
Kind Giving Generous Philanthropic


Self-Questioning – Encourage your writers to ask questions as they read their writing. Some examples include:

  • Are my sentences clear?
  • Am I trying too hard to impress my audience?
  • Do I understand the meaning of all of the words that I have used?
  • Have I found the best word, or just settled for the easiest?
  • Was I repetitive or redundant anywhere in this text?


Option Technique – Help your students develop the habit of brainstorming as they write. Write out 2-3 words or phrases that can be used in place of questionable or confusing text. Replace the confusion with the word or term that best indicates your meaning.


Variety Words – Have students choose 3 -5 words that they use frequently. Create a list of other words that have the same meaning and be intentional about starting to use those words more frequently. A thesaurus and dictionary will be helpful for this activity.


Clear explanation of word choice and direct instruction will help your students improve their word choice and overall writing. Once you understand the difficulties they may be facing, you will be able to choose appropriate activities and interventions to strengthen their weak areas.

Activities such as self-questioning and variety words help to promote the selection of strong word choices. Through strong, appropriate word choices your students will craft texts that are clear and engaging for their readers.

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