Writing Lesson 5 – What a Difference a Word Makes

Choose Writing Words Wisely

Your parents or grandparents might have learned to read using primers featuring characters named Dick, Jane, Sally, Puff and Spot. (Puff and Spot were the cat and dog.) These stories used very basic vocabulary, lots of repetition and some colorful pastel pictures to teach young children how to read. The Dick and Jane books were useful tools for a generation of schoolchildren, but the stories were pretty boring once you’d mastered reading! 

What if these stories were edited to make them more interesting? This exercise will help you think about better ways to say the same old words.

You’ll need to use 2 different color pencils for this exercise.  First, underline all the nouns you find in the story below in one color.  Second, underline all the verbs in a different color.  You’ll then rewrite the story, focusing on the underlined words. 

You’ll want to add some great adjectives to modify some of the nouns. (Choose your nouns carefully, since a few adjectives go a long way toward spicing up your writing. Too many can make your writing feel a little forced or phony.) You may want to also replace some of the basic nouns with more specific ones. For example, “tree” can become “pine”.

Powerful, specific verbs can make your writing leap off the page. Replace many verbs in the story below with more specific, descriptive ones. “Said” can become “whispered”, “stated”, “responded” or “yelled”…just for starters. 

You may have to add some additional sentences or change the word order of the sentences a bit in order to help your revised version make more sense.  By concentrating on the way you use just these 2 parts of speech in your writing, you will end up with more crisp and interesting results. 


 A Ride On Clown 

     Jane saw the boys on the black pony.  “Let me ride, too,” she called.

     Grandfather said, “Not now, Jane.  Three can’t get on Clown.  Let the boys ride now.  You can ride after they come back.” 

     Away went the two boys on Clown.  Dick said, “I like Clown.  This is a good, fast ride.”

     “Look there, Dick!” said Pete.  “There went two rabbits!  Let’s jump down and try to find them.”  The boys got down to find the rabbits.  Soon they saw the rabbits jump out.  Clown saw them, too!  The black pony ran away, and the boys ran after him. 

     “Come back, Clown!” called Dick.  “Come back here!”  But the black pony ran on and on.

     “Oh dear!” said Pete.  “What do we do now?”

     “We walk!” said Dick.  “Come on, my friend.  We have to walk, walk, walk!”

     “Look here, boys,” called Jane.  “Clown came back to get me.  He wanted me to have a ride.  He is my friend.”

     Dick said, “Maybe Clown is your friend.  But he is not my friend, and he is not Pete’s friend.  He ran away, and Pete and I had to walk home.”

From Fun With Our Friends, New Basic Readers Series, published by Scott, Foresman and Co., 1962.


To extend the lesson, try this with a group. Have each person do his or her own revision, then come together to read your edited stories out loud. You’ll be amazed at how each person’s word choices change the tone and meaning of the story!

About Michelle Van Loon

Author Michelle Van Loon home schooled her three children for 13 years. All three graduated from home school and are now young adults. Michelle began teaching groups of home schooled students in her local co:op what the Lord had taught her about writing. Over a decade ago, the success of these classes led to the launch of her home school writing tutorial business (www.homepagewriting.com).

Read more about Michelle.

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