A line of fifth-grade children holding black carnations solemnly walked up to the coffin that bore the fatally worn-out word “said” at Stevenson Elementary School last week and placed their flowers on the table beside the small casket.
“We should sing ‘Amazing Grace,’” a student said before the class spontaneously joined together in an impromptu version of the old hymn.
Then, the children’s teacher, Mandy Browning, addressed the class from behind a black-draped podium.
“Sadly, ‘said’ is not the only word that is tired and worn out,” Browning said. “’Good is another one.’”
Browning asked the children which words can replace ‘good.”
“Awesome, or great,” one child proclaimed.
The teacher encouraged the children to think of even more “vivid’ alternatives to over-used words when they write, then read them Steven Kellogg’s version of Chicken Little, which doesn’t once use the word “said” behind a quote.
“In his version, Chicken Little and her fowl friends never said ‘the sky is falling,’ but shrieked, cried, and squawked about it,” according to the Reading Rockets website. “Kellogg replaced the often overused word ‘said’ with more descriptive synonyms.”
After reading the story, Browning gave her students the chance to form small groups and come up with interesting alternatives to over-used words.
“Super, splendid, fantastic, amazing,” Madison Hyams used in place of good.
For those struggling to come up with alternatives, Browning recommended a thesaurus.
She came up with the idea for her unique lesson after looking online for ideas about how to help students avoid using worn-out words.
“I had seen the tombstone idea online before and just took it another step and decided to have a funeral,” she said. “When the idea hit me, I immediately grabbed my fifth-grade (teaching) team and asked for help. We brainstormed ideas and the whole thing morphed into more of a production.”
Browning’s goal was to help her students become better writers.
“The whole idea is that proficient writers choose vivid words to engage their readers,” she said. “As part of a revision unit I’m teaching right now, I wanted them to see that some words needed to be buried and forgotten because there are so many other choices available to them.”
Browning’s class will next look at writing pieces they’ve completed and “replace their worn-out words with better vivid choices, particularly removing all evidence of the word ‘said,’” she declared.