Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler is a quotation often attributed to Einstein, but not definitively linked to him. Often students will attempt to add flair to their writing through the use of words that may not be the best fit, but may appear more scholarly or complex. In this strategy, students are invited to consider:
Is the word I am using the most clear?
Does the word I used convey the specific meaning I intended?
Is this the simplest possible way of expressing this idea?
In this activity the student must explain why s/he chose a specific word in a given situation or why an author chose a specific word. The teacher focuses on one word at a time, and the student provides feedback on that particular word. This might be paired with our Red Pen, Green Pen strategy as a way to seek clarity, simplicity, and specificity.
This activity may be used as part of a longer writing assignment (such as thesis development) or as a quick check for understanding.
As a check for understanding - Does the student know why they used the word, or is s/he just copying the word from somewhere else?
As development of academic vocabulary - This invites students to think about multiple purposes for including words and the dialogic relationship between author and reader.
As a scaffolded step toward longer writing - This activity is particularly useful for writing and refining a thesis or claim.