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Using Word Referents Subjects
by  Barbara Mariconda and Dea Auray

Topic: Language Arts

Skill: Writing

Grade: 2-8

Brief Description: Use word referents to enhance word choice and rich vocabulary.


Students will:

  • use alternative words and phrases for key characters, settings, objects, or topics in narrative stories and expository pieces of writing
  • students will review the use of nouns and adjectives

Keywords: narrative writing, expository writing, word choice, vocabulary development, parts of speech

Materials Needed:

  • a flip chart and markers, overhead projector with transparency and transparency pens, or a simple chalkboard and chalk

The Lesson

Write one of the following paragraphs on the chart, overhead, or board. (Use the first paragraph is your focus will be on narrative writing, use the second for expository writing.)

  1. I stared at the leprechaun in the clearing. He was no more than two feet tall and wore a green suit and small gold shoes with big black buckles. On his head he wore a green velvet top hat. A lilting laugh escaped from the leprechaun’s mouth which brought a smile to my face.
  2. Have you ever seen a horseshoe crab? The horseshoe crab lives in the seashore and saltmarsh. You might see the horseshoe crab’s helmet shaped brown shell on a sandy beach. It has a long spikey tail and many sets of legs! You might be surprised to learn that the horseshoe crab is a relative of the spider!

Read the paragraph to the class, emphasizing the repeated key words - in the First paragraph “leprechaun” and “he”, in the second, “horseshoe crab” and “it”.

Explain that within the context of an entire piece of writing, those key words might be repeated numerous times in redundant fashion. An author might want to vary that redundant word choice to add interest and richness to the writing. Using “word referents” can accomplish this.

Create a chart of “alternative words and phrases” as follows, adjectives in the left column, nouns in the right:

Ex. Leprechaun



Horseshoe Crab
seashore dweller
crusty creature


Ask the class for more suggestions. Now, substitute the word referents for the key words and see how the writing improves!

Finally, have students try creating “word referents” for key words in an existing piece or a new piece of writing. For further practice try the same exercise with the following “key words”: knight, elephant, cell phone, America - or choose some of your own which relate to your curriculum.

Submitted by

Barbara Mariconda and Dea Auray, Empowering Writers

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