Here’s a simple word choice lesson you can do with kids while reading FINDING MY PLACE: ONE GIRL’S STRENGTH AT VICKSBURG or really any historical fiction book. Word choice is one of the 6 + 1 Traits of Writing.
One thing about the 6 + 1 Traits of Writing that I love is that these are the terms that professional writers use–from voice to word choice. So, when talking to kids about word choice, using a published book, you can say: “Authors have to make decisions about word choice all the time. Here’s this author’s story.”
When I wrote Finding My Place, it was very hard for me to write from a 13-year-old girl’s point of view during THE CIVIL WAR. I remembered being 13, so it was easy for me to get feelings down. But I kept using contemporary words. My critique group would say, “I don’t think people used the word OKAY or STUPID in 1863 like they do today. That doesn’t sound natural.” My word choice was off, and it messed with the authenticity of my book. So, I had to find words that did make sense during 1863, such as Anna calling James, “a loon,” or saying, “all right” instead of “okay.” I also tried to put a little Southern flavor in my dialogue through word choice instead of writing out how they might have talked. For example, Mrs. Franklin uses “y’all” and the kids refer to the Union Soldiers as “Blue Bellies” and “Yankees.”
Another thing that I had trouble with in dealing with word choice is using the words bomb and shell. First of all, I had to find ways not to repeat bomb or shell a million times during the periods in my book when the characters were experiencing being bombed. And people would argue with me that Vicksburg citizens wouldn’t have said, “BOMB!” Luckily, I read a diary from a woman who lived during 1863, and she used the words “shell” and “bomb” in her entries.
What you can do with children to discuss word choice in a mini-lesson is: pick a line or two out of the book–this can be done in any chapter and with any character and even with narrative. CHANGE some of the word choices to inappropriate ones and see how children think and work to improve the word choice. Then share the original lines from the book with them.
As I said, this can be done with any historical fiction book or really any book with strong word choice. Children LOVE to correct you or the author, and will work hard to find words that are unique and specific in this exercise.