Friday, November 14, 2014

Secondary Smorgasbord 'Happy Hour'- "Just Say, "NO!" to Dull Writing"

Two of my teacher friends, Pamela Krantz (  and Darlene Anne Curran (, who I had the sheer pleasure of meeting at the TpT Conference in Vegas this past summer, have started a terrific blog- Secondary Smörgasbord.

Their first endeavor is aptly called, Happy Hour.  Whether teachers are enjoying a face-to-face Happy Hour, on an online one like this collaborative event, we love to share our favorite lessons-those that make the "Aha! I get it!" light sparkle in our our students' eyes. Since my year-long, Just Say, "NO!" to Dull Writing activity has always been one of my go-to middle and high school lesson plan stars that made my students and me, happy, happy, happy. I want to share it with you all for this Happy Hour

On the first day of school, the Taboo Words and Phrases list was always the first handout that I gave to my students immediately after we reviewed the syllabus and classroom rules and expectations ("Responsibility, Reliability, Respect and No Excuses form a two-way street in this classroom.").

Just Say, "No!" to Dull Writing Taboo Words and Phrases
 Not only did I explain to the students that they were required to refer to it for any writing-graded or non-graded - but I made a poster of it to hang in the classroom and I taped a copy of the list to each desk. I never, ever started a writing activity without reminding my students to refer to it.

Although it is a integral part of 'Chapter 2 - The Foundation' in my teacher resource book, The House of Comprehension, I offer it in my TpT store for FREE. The  list and coordinating lessons are crucial for empowering students to write clear, specific sentences instead of those with meaningless word choices and weak structures. 

Here are some suggestions for using this product:

1. The first day of school, hand out the Taboo Words & Phrases sheet to every student. Explain that they are to refer to it every time that they revise a draft of an essay, an original poem or fiction piece, or a narrative article. Mention that even if they only revise for these particular words and phrases, their writing will dramatically improve.
2. Discuss 
- that when they use these weak and clichéd words and phrases, their writing is vague, emotionless, and tells instead of shows.
- that no matter what type of writing they are composing, they should strive to create word pictures; 
- that their writing must show, not tell, and to do this they must use concrete, specific nouns and adjectives, and
- that Verbs form the backbone of writing, and should always show action as well as the emotion of the subject performing the action.
3. Write some sentences on the board that use these weak words and phrases, and have students revise them for strength and clarity.
4. Repeat this information over and over to the students and address it on their final drafts.
The Taboo Words & Phrases List also works as a poster to hang in the classroom. For a poster, add the following information:
Taboo Words & Phrases List

Effective Writing:
• -Shows instead of tells
• -Creates word pictures
• -Uses concrete, specific nouns and adjectives
• -Uses strong verbs to form the writing’s backbone; verbs must show action and emotion

The other day, former student who is now a senior in college asked me to send this list to her. On my Facebook Profile page she said, "Mrs. C- I am tutoring at CNU's writing center and have to do a presentation on making writing "concise and precise." Could you send me a copy of your taboo words list please? It has been and will continue to be the best advice on writing well that I've found " (Olga S). 

When this Taboo Words and Phrases list impacts your students' thinking and writing, their eyes will sparkle with that, "I get it" light that we teachers love like it did-and still does- for Olga. Like with her, it will become a lifelong tool, too.

Download it from

May all of your teaching hours be Happy!.

Happy Teaching,

Note: for another lesson which is also a part of The House of Comprehension's 'Chapter 2 - The Foundation,' try my Primary FreebieLanguage Arts Comprehension Check:Ten Sentence Format.

Language Arts Comprehension Check:Ten Sentence Format