The Power of Words: A Lesson for First Graders
Materials and Preparation
- Choose sentences or phrases that include descriptive words from books in your classroom or use the suggestions below.
- On the top of pieces of writing paper, write one of these words, a different word on each paper: snow, pizza, movie, book bag, popcorn, dog, bed, rabbit, desk, shoes.
- Say, “I am going to read two phrases or sentences to you. I want you to listen carefully and then we will talk about which one you like better.”
- Say, “Lilly loved pencils.” Then say, “Lilly loved pointy pencils.”
- Say, “Which sentence did you like better?” Most likely, they will choose the second version. Why? The word "pointy" helps us to picture the pencils that Lilly loves. We would all rather have a pointy pencil than a dull one.
- Next, say, “The teacher always gave them snacks.” Then say, “The teacher always gave them the most tasty snacks—things that were curly and crunchy and cheesy.” This time the words help us visualize the kind of snacks that were so good.
- Now read, “Fletcher was cold.” Then read, “Fletcher shivered as the chill wind sliced through the forest rattling the bare branches.” What a difference! Now we know why Fletcher was cold.
- Then, “Lilly was sad.” or “Lilly’s stomach lurched. She felt like crying.”
- Say, “Corduroy put on his overalls.” or “Corduroy put on his warm dry overalls” How do you think Corduroy felt in his warm dry overalls? How would he feel if the overalls were cold and wet?
- “Raccoons got under the fence to look for food.” or “Raccoons squeezed underneath the fence looking for leftover grain.”
- Continue this exercise until the students realize how powerful words can be. The words help us to visualize what is happening, how the character feels and often make us want to read more.
Place students in groups of two or three. Give each group one of the papers with a simple word on the top. Instruct the students to think of words that could add power to the simple word on the paper. Write down the ideas. Do your best spelling but do not use up the time by asking the teacher how to spell a word.
For example, let’s say the word was book. You could use words like funny, scary, picture, lost, torn, new, heavy and so on. Each word will impact the way we visualize that book. Would you rather have a funny picture book or an old torn book?
Gather together and share your words. Discuss more ideas.
Return to the groups, pick one of the words and describe how you feel about it. For example, let’s say it was a lost book. You would feel sad or unhappy. If it were a new book, you would be excited or happy.
Throughout the year, take a few minutes to discuss powerful words as you read to the children and encourage them to share words that they happen upon in reading groups or independent reading. All of this builds enthusiasm for reading.