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By: Linda Aragoni | December 29, 2017

Using a long word doesn't make you look smarter. The long word can make you look dumber. In this help wanted ad, for example, unless the employer was offering a virtual position, using figurative instead of the shorter word figure reversed the intended meaning:
FIGURATIVE MODEL needed for sculpture class at Johnson's Sculpture Park, Maryland, NY. 607-638-5544.
What the employer wanted was a literal figure model.
A teacher on Twitter gloried in giving her students a plethora of choices.
Plethora was originally a medical term referring to a fatal blood condition. A plethora is an excess of choices;  a plethora is so many choices that it overwhelms. You may think using plethora may sounds smarter than saying several or many, but giving...

By: Linda Aragoni | December 15, 2017

cover of The Redemption of David Corson by Charles Frederic GossIn our era of fake news, it is useful to introduce students to the way words can be used to deceive. In the 1900 bestselling novel The Redemption of David Corson by Charles Frederic Goss, which I reviewed over on GreatPenformances blog, one funny scene presents a patent-medicine salesman's sales pitch for worthless cures. The snake oil salesman has gathered a clutch of people around and is reading testimonials from satisfied customers:
'Dear Sir: I was wounded in the Mexican war. I have been unable to walk without crutches for many years; but after using your liniment, I ran for office!' Think of it, gentlemen, the day of miracles has not passed. 'I lost my eyesight four years ago, but used a bottle of your "wash" and saw wood.'...

Category: Language & literacy 

Tags: vocabulary 

By: Linda Aragoni | February 17, 2017

Challenge is a challenging word. We in education most often use the singular noun to mean a task that demands special effort or dedication, but which is within the ability of the person who accepts the challenge. We like kids who accept a challenge. By contrast, we typically use the plural form, challenges, to mean things that require more ability than an individual has, as in "that kid has serious challenges." We prefer kids with challenges be in another teacher's classroom. I ran across two items today on Twitter that made me think about those two opposing usages.

Challenged workers

The first is a National Skills Coalition report showing roughly 20 million Americans employed in key service-sector industries lack basic ...

By: Linda Aragoni | August 15, 2014

List of word lists for SAT preparation Words without context Most vocabulary builders work in isolation. VocabGrabber works on vocabulary in the context of reading material that you — or your students — create from assigned reading. By using VocabGrabber, you can develop vocabulary lists from any digitized text.  That means you can build a vocabulary list for your students knowing they will encounter those words in their reading. Words they use are more likely to be remembered than those they merely memorize for a quiz.

VocabGrabber is easy to use

You (or your students) paste a copied passage into the box on the VocabGrabber page and hit the button. (Or if you've installed the program in your browser, you can just click the bookmarklet to start the analysis without copyi...

By: Linda Aragoni | July 19, 2014

Wordnik is a great resource for teaching language as a topic within the English curriculum. The Wordnik website focuses on showing how words are used  by writers—not how they should be used, but how they are used, even if the use is what we might consider substandard. Wordnik is not intended to be used as a dictionary: It is for exploring the evolution of language in real time. Instead of just sentence or phrase, you will often get a whole paragraph to make the context clear. The site is free, but you do have to register to use it. A version of this article originally appeared in Writing Points for July, 2009, © 2009 Linda Aragoni

By: Linda Aragoni | August 11, 2013

Those of us who teach writing know that words are powerful. All too often, however, we slouch into using comfortable terminology rather than exerting ourselves to find words that will clearly communicate to our students ideas and attitudes we want them to adopt. We need to train ourselves to think like marketers and advertisers, using language that conveys precise information to our audience, leading them to believe that being able to write competently is both desirable and achievable. Here are three ways writing teachers can harness word power:

Avoid confusing terms

Many terms in the English/communications teachers' vocabularies have two or more meanings; sometimes the definitions are even contradictory. For example:
  • A thesis can refer...

By: Linda Aragoni | November 25, 2012

Lesson plans for teaching vocabulary to students in the early grades routinely use word-picture associations.  Using such associations teachers can present reading concepts such as how the letter combination a + n becomes imbedded in words such as can, fan, and pan. The strength of word-picture associations can be so strong that they interfere with students developing more sophisticated understanding of vocabulary later.  Let me illustrate.

Vocabulary lesson at the checkout

photo of tower fan Could this be a fan? I was in K-mart one afternoon last summer buying a replacement for my late, lamented tower fan. The cash register in the only open checkout line was operated by a pleasant young man. As there were no other shoppers for him to wait on, we...

Category: Language & literacy 

Tags: vocabulary 

By: Linda Aragoni | January 15, 2012

The local Rotary Club has signs up around town about its winter fundraiser at which it is excepting donations of canned goods for the local food pantry. Confusing  words with similar sounds or similar spellings, such as  except and accept, is an error not limited to Rotarians.  In fact, most of us occasionally fall into the trap. Sometimes we fall  because we aren't sure of the difference between a pair of words. (It took me decades to master the difference between bear and bare.) Sometimes we slip because our fingers are used to typing certain keystrokes when the dictating voice in our heads pronounces a particular set of sounds. Sometimes, though, people are confused about terms that neither sound nor look anythin...

By: Linda Aragoni | May 06, 2011

The website Vocabulary.com has many features that writing teachers can use to bolster their teaching. For example, the section called  Choose your words  gives pairs of word that look or sound similar. It's a good place to find general words to use for yes-no-why collaborative vocabulary work, a technique that addresses several ELA goals simultaneously. For example, one of the Choose your words items begins with this question: "If your teacher offered you a choice between an intense course or an intensive one, which one would you choose?"  That word choice question would slip perfectly into the yes-no-why format. Thanks to my Twitter friends Catherine Hibbard, @WritingTrainer, and Tom Guadagno, @DailyEngHelp, for...
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