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Newsletter for February 2016
February 02, 2016

February 2016

New ideas ~ A good book ~ And, writing appetizers

The Word Diet

Today I have a question for you…

If you’re a teacher, have you ever deducted points for using “banned” words? (If you’re not a teacher, did your teacher ever do this to you?)

Apparently, some teachers do(1).

They call these words … forbidden or dead words. So, what are the forbidden words?

Stuff, thing, like, that, good, bad, fun – essentially words that describe nothing.

Toastmasters also banns words, such as um, kinda, like, and, so, but …

Usually, nervous speakers use them as “filler” words … instead of pausing. To which a helpful “aw counter” dings a little bell.

Toastmasters only bans the use of these words when they don’t add value to the speech.

When I was a Toastmaster, those banned words made me a MILLION times more nervous to speak than before knowing the banned words.

It’s like a word diet.

And, just like a regular diet, when you ban certain foods or words … you think about those things ALL the time! And the next time you can eat them (or use them) again!

Chocolate was particularly difficult for me at one point – during one food diet.

Some readers may know I once banned cooked food from my diet… and ate strictly raw, vegan food for nearly two years. It’s amazing the kind of concoctions I made to eat a chocolate “brownie.”

But that’s what you do when someone else bans you from doing something. You find a way to “get what you want” without breaking the banned rule.

I suspect that students in those classrooms still go to the thesaurus and find all kinds of ways to say “thing” instead of clarifying the meaning of their message. Which, is what the teachers really want them to do… be specific.

According to Hagerty's article(1), teachers ban words to force their students to “think critically.” The problem is… they aren’t thinking critically about the subject matter in the teacher’s lesson. But instead about how to get by with a new word their teacher will like.

When I taught, I never banned words. I enforced the rough draft policy: write one.

Students could say whatever they wanted to say and in the manner in which they wanted to say it. (Keeping it school “clean,” of course!)

Then… I physically showed them how to revise it into something they’d be proud of – and I’d be happy to grade.

When I say physically showed them… I mean, I got out the Elmo projector and projected samples or anonymous student writing so everyone could see. Then I got out my pen and we began revising it as a class. Sometimes, sentence by sentence if needed.

I encouraged students to give visual pictures with their words. To make it a movie in the reader’s head – without focusing on the physical words they wrote.

When you focus on making a word picture, you naturally find words that best show the reader what you see. It gives the reader access to your head space… to see the world as you see it.

I used my favorite word as an example… moist.

Moist is perfect because you can talk about the “moist chocolate cake with a thick layer of smooth chocolate mousse drizzled in caramel sauce.”

Or, you can talk about your “moist and sticky arm pit after a five-mile run on a hot afternoon.”

But all this takes work, of course. Because the whole time you try to teach students, you’re fighting with other things that occupy their attention – and yours. But, that’s what I loved about the “moist example.”

It got a reaction… no matter how challenging the student. Or class. And that’s when students’ pay attention and think critically.

All the best,


(1)Hagerty, J. R. (2015, November 30). Use more expressive words, teachers bark, beseech, implore to encourage lively writing: instructors put certain words to rest; no more ‘fun.’ The Wall Street Journal, pp. A1, A6.

Book Recommendation:
The Givers & The Takers!

By Cris Evatt and Bruce Feld

Teachers are like the tree in the story A Giving Tree. They give and give and give until they have nothing left … and either quit or retire. Or drop dead. (EEEEK!)

That’s because most kids are “takers,” according to this month’s recommended read.

If you’re a teacher, you may want to put this book on your Kindle! Not only is it easy to read, but the message is poignant for teachers – who deal with the “Takers” every day.

According to authors Feld and Evatt, there is nothing wrong with being a “Taker” or a “Giver.” They say we need both for the world to work in balance. But, they also say it’s important to know which one you are and how that affects your interactions with both types in your life.

The book is easy to read and fun – and entertaining. It shows you how to identify if you’re a giver or a taker, which helps you understand yourself – and others who may be the opposite of you.

If you’re looking for something fresh and new – and helpful too, you’ll enjoy this read.

Whet Your Writing Appetite
with these . . .

HOT and FRESH Writing Appetizers –
(AKA: Writing Prompts)

Here are three writing appetizers to get you thinking and writing:

1. Write about your favorite cupcake – and show the reader with visual pictures.

2. If someone tells you to “think critically,” what is your initial reaction? Explain.

3. Imagine: you’re a department store owner, and you need to hire a “Santa” to work Saturday’s and Sundays at your store. Think about the kind of person you’d need, how that person should react (to you, the kids, the stress, etc.). And, why that’s important to you. Then write a script for a job interview with a candidate of your choice (good, bad, indifferent, funny, … you choose).

Note to New Subscribers: The writing prompts can be used in the classroom or for creative free writing. Enjoy and be creative!

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