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Teaching Students to Rely on Synonyms Teaches Bad Writing, Writer Says

Teaching Students to Rely on Synonyms Teaches Bad Writing, Writer Says

Slate senior editor Gabriel Roth understands why teachers want to expand their students’ vocabulary by encouraging rotating synonyms to replace common words like “said” and “thing’ in their writing.

However, Roth argues that this “reasonable pedagogical technique” that many English teachers use has spawned a movement that is actually encouraging bad writing.

Roth remembers a fourth-grade teacher who banned the use of words like get, nice, very and thing to "elevate our writing above the leaden defaults of a 9-year-old’s communicative needs.”

"Defenders of these restricted-word lists might argue that they’re an intermediate step for writers-in-training: First we’ll teach students to vary their vocabulary, and then to modulate their tone appropriately. The problem is that, on the evidence of all those slush piles, step two never takes place, and [ Banish Boring Words author Leilen Shelton’s students go out into the world commanding and boasting and suggesting in the belief that they’re making their writing 'more sophisticated' rather than less."

Though their heart is in the right place, Roth argues that teachers who “correct” perfectly fine sentences to add pizazz to their student’s essays via unnecessary synonyms are “failing as educators.”

"I once tutored a high school student who had written, in a biographical essay, the blameless clause 'After becoming a teacher.' Her own teacher had ‘corrected' the phrase to 'After achieving success as an educator.’ This person was failing as an educator…” Roth said.

Roth isn’t the first writer to speak out recently against aspects of writing education in K-12. Novelist and professor Michael Laser recently blasted K-12 schools for sending students to higher education without knowing how to properly construct sentences.

Read the full story.

Article by Nicole Gorman, Education World Contributor


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