Writing With More Powerful Words for Middle School Students

The purpose of this blog is to give examples for you to discuss with your children how they can choose words that are more powerful or appropriate or creative in their writing, instead of using words that are more common but less imaginative.

Because they have lots of words to choose from when writing, it is important to choose those words that most powerfully or creatively or appropriately describe an event or person or thing. Here are some examples that offer a choice between commonly used words and more powerful or appropriate words to use in the situations described by the examples. Read each statement once, speaking the word “blank” where a blank occurs, and then read it again, asking your child to suggest words that fit logically. Then mention the second set of words and explain why they are a better choice.

This exercise offers a great opportunity to teach your child how to combine the use of a thesaurus (online or hard copy) with a dictionary to identify a wider choice of words for use in writing.

Example 1: As I rounded the corner on this country road, I suddenly saw this _______ village ahead.

Commonly used words: attractive, beautiful.

More appropriate word: picturesque.

Attractive is ok, but it is more frequently used when describing a person’s physical appearance, including their physical features and/or the clothing they are wearing, or a quality that makes one want to acquire an item, such as an attractive price for a house or an attractive job offer.

Beautiful is also ok to describe a landscape or village scene, but is very general and leaves it to the imagination of the listener or reader to visualize what it means to them. Picturesque implies worthy of a picture, charming and colorful.

Example 2: I had anticipated a troublesome meeting – one with lots of negative comments and emotions – between the management representative and the union chief (or between the supervisor and the employee, or between the director and the lead actor, or between the long-absent father and the long-neglected son).

But I was pleasantly surprised by the ______ manner with which (name one of the parties in the negotiation or discussion) handled the negotiations, which resulted in a successful meeting.

Commonly used words: nice, mild, cooperative, courteous, gracious

Words more specifically related to negotiations: tactful, diplomatic, civilized, open minded.

Example 3: It started years ago; no one here today was around then, but the hatred between these two groups had survived over the years, and recently had not flared up. But that changed last week when an incident happened, and someone died as a result. Suddenly the still night was interrupted by shouts and gunfire just down the street; the disruption was moving closer, and soon they would be at our house. We locked the doors, turned off the lights and ran to the attic to hide. We were _____.

Commonly used words: scared, nervous, worried, afraid, uneasy.

More appropriate words: petrified, terror-stricken, panic-stricken, horrified.

The commonly used words are too mild for this situation because this situation is very, very scary. The more appropriate words communicate a very high level of fright, of panic, of terror.

Example 4: John grew up in a family whose father earned an average salary and a mother who worked part-time. John loved to build things, and he wanted to become an architect. But the family did not have enough money to send John to college and he did not want to take out a large student loan. Even though he was disappointed, he resigned himself to getting the best grades he could in school and devoting himself to baseball, the sport he loved and for which he had the skills to make the high school varsity team.

His coach knew of John’s desire for college, and convinced John to apply to two colleges that had good baseball teams and offered baseball scholarships.

This raised John’s hopes and he applied. But the weeks went by and fall was approaching and John had not heard from either school. He became discouraged. But then one day two letters arrived, one from each school, offering him baseball scholarships. John was _______. Right away he called his coach to tell him the good news!

Commonly used words: happy, pleased, glad, delighted.

More appropriate words: ecstatic, overjoyed, thrilled, exhilarated, elated.

The commonly used words are not powerful enough for this situation.
After having to accept the sad fact that he would not be able to be an architect, and then having his hopes raised by the coach, and then feeling pessimistic about being accepted on a scholarship, the acceptance letters were like a dam breaking and releasing gallons of water, or in his case, all these pent up feelings, so naturally he was feeling not just happy, but ecstatic and exhilarated.


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George Smith

George Smith

George Smith, a children’s book author and publisher, has been conducting writing workshops at schools since 2004. He is passionate about helping young writers turn their creative story ideas to captivating stories that others would enjoy reading. He has authored two children’s books, a marine life guide book for science teachers and functioned as an editor for several publications. He lives in Lakewood, New Jersey and loves to travel.