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From the Classroom: Using Photography to Experiment with Specific Word Choice

 The “From the Classroom” column is back and with a new—and improved—format! This year, we have a new opportunity for PAWLP Fellows—an open invitation to contribute to the “From the Classroom” column and share all the good work that you’re doing in your classrooms.

Below, PAWLP Fellow Jen Greene shares a lesson she uses with her 2nd graders to teach about specific word choice—and right in time for Halloween! And if you feel inspired after reading Jen’s wonderful post, please consider sharing your own favorite lesson here on the blog! To learn more about contributing, please click here.


Shared by Jen Greene


2nd grade, writing


This lesson helps students practice using parts of speech (nouns, verbs, adjectives) to add more detail to their sentences. It addresses both grammar and developing content. In addition, students explore word choice and sophisticated vocabulary in their writing. This lesson uses holiday material (Halloween) but can easily be adapted or modified for other uses and/or topics. The purpose is to think about the best word choice for the topic. Halloween/haunted houses are an easy topic for specific vocabulary. This could also be done with seasonal pictures for schools or children who do not observe Halloween.

Prior to this lesson the following mentor texts can be shared to introduce the parts of speech: In the Haunted House by Eve Bunting, The Halloween House by Erica Silverman, and A Halloween Scare in Pennsylvania by Eric James.


  1. Print or project 5-7 pictures of abandoned or haunted houses (Google images has many options) and display around the room. Underneath each picture leave a piece of paper divided into three columns: nouns, verbs, and adjectives.
  2. Divide students into groups of 3-4. Each group starts at a picture. They have three minutes to write as many nouns, verbs, and adjectives that they can think of based on what they see in the picture. They can also imagine any sounds that they might hear.
  3. After three minutes, have groups rotate to a new picture. They need to add to the list but cannot repeat anything already written. Continue rotating until each group has visited each picture (less time is required as students run out of ideas).
  4. Come together as a class and compile a master list of nouns, verbs, and adjectives that can be used during independent writing. **Depending on the level of independence of your students, you could take the list and do a shared writing about one of the houses.** Here’s a sample.
  5. During independent writing students can use the list to describe a spooky setting, create a story, a Halloween tale, or writing of their own choice. The focus should be on selecting words that best describe their topic. Struggling writers can use one of the printed pictures for inspiration.
  6. Share/Reflect: students highlight the types of words used in their writer’s notebooks and share a sentence or paragraph they think best shows their use of nouns, verbs, and adjectives.


Rotating from picture to picture helps keeps students engaged. They also have to stretch their vocabularies and pay attention to what was already written so as not to repeat. The group aspect helps reluctant or struggling writers, as well as EL students who may not have the range of vocabulary. The lesson also helps get students motivated to write, because most elementary kids (especially the younger ones) LOVE to wrote about anything Halloween-related. Hanging a master list of words and use of the pictures gives students a place to go if they are stuck.


After using the pictures, students could transition to character descriptions using the same approach- nouns, verbs, and adjectives to make the character come alive. For upper elementary students, these quick sketches- a setting and a character could be used for grades. They can also write a description and have a partner try to draw a picture of what they wrote. This informs students of important details they might need to add in so their writing is clear.


While this lesson was used for 2nd grade, I previously used a similar version with 4th grade. It is very adaptable to many different grade levels.

How do you help students with word choice? Or do you have any special plans for Halloween-themed writing? We hope you’ll share in the comments below!

Jen Greene is a 2015 PAWLP Fellow who currently teaches 2nd graders in the West Chester Area School District as well as doctoral student at Widener University. Follow Jen on Twitter @GreeneMachine82.

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Katie McCartney #

    I think this is an amazing idea for a lesson! The first thing I noticed was what a good idea it is to use upcoming holidays as a theme (of course being sure to acknowledge holidays celebrated by other students). Another idea for this lesson could be using different seasons, for example the many colors of the trees during the fall, or the white blanket of snow during wintertime.
    I think this is an activity that could benefit students of all ages, especially since our vocabulary expands as we grow and go through different grade levels. It would be interesting to see what kind of words a classroom of 16 year old students could come up with. I also like the idea of using this activity to help describe a person too. Sticking with your theme, students could go from station to station observing different monsters, for example one station is a mummy, maybe the next one is a zombie, etc.


    October 21, 2017

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