I ask the kids if they've ever read a boring worksheet. The answer will undoubtedly be YES, and in my classroom, as it turns out, it was unanimously, YES. W.5.4 to the rescue! I then question why they think that is. Their answers:
(You) have to be quiet so they make it boring so you don't laugh;
Some (stories) can be long and that's boring;
It's not fun to read when you're forced;
Stories on worksheets are just boring;
They want it to be hard to remember to test you, so they make it not fun to read.
I abbreviate their suggestions on the Smart Board and say, "I'm not sure we can solve the problem, but maybe by improving the words you read in these stories, they'll be more fun to read." My objective is to relate this to the lesson the day before, The Words are Tired...oops...Exhausted in which we practiced W.5.4 and word choice. I want students to write with sophisticated vocabulary, not just words that make sense. The easiest way to bring their writing to life is through interesting and varied word choice!
I put a copy of The Scorpions- Painful Stingers under the document camera and ask for suggestions about how to improve some of the words in its very first sentence. This will work with any reading comprehension page. With their help, I model the activity they'll do next. This is important because when it comes to improving the word choice, it isn't as simple as replacing one word for another. The kids must be sure it makes sense in context and alter the words or phrases around it, if necessary.
As I mention in the reflection, reading comprehension pages at the third or fourth grade level are the key. The vocabulary in the stories is significantly simpler than at fifth grade, and the kids easily find words to improve upon.
I give a choice of five different stories: Woman Chases Thief, Charles Goodyear Inventor, Clues from Eggshells, The King's Curse, and The Scorpions- Painful Stingers. It's my intention to have the kids improve word choice for at least two of them, but the activity takes longer than expected. Absolutely NO ONE's choice is Charles Goodyear Inventor, so I'll replace or assign this one as a check-up on another day.
After picking sticks to form partnerships, the kids select their story and go to work with the thesaurus. They use the synonym pages from the previous lesson The Words are Tired...oops...Exhausted and a thesaurus. There is a lot of chatter as they work, but not much of it is off task (Checking in with another group)
I enjoy watching them find the best words they can, and how they have to manipulate sentences (Finding the perfect words). Word choice is such an important trait and this simple activity really makes that clear. Really into it!
The kids are actually begging to read these new masterpieces out loud. The routine- Partner One reads a sentence in the original, then Partner Two reads the improved version. In addition to appreciating the sometimes huge difference between the two, they also enjoy hearing how each story compares to how they changed their own. With only four stories, they heard multiple interpretations (Another share, though unfinished).
I allowed each pair to read their entire stories at the beginning, but that got old in a hurry. About three pairs in I announced that, "From now on you pick one favorite paragraph to share...
The importance of owning and using a thesaurus may have been the most significant lesson of the day. We discuss the value of the thesaurus, in so many instances. As I reflected on this lesson, I couldn't believe I'd neglected to introduce the synonyms internet search. I mentioned it the next day, and most of them said that's already the way they look for better words.