Vocabulary Challenge

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A Power Word Vocabulary List


Dependent on chance.

My scholarship was contingent on my grade point average.


Of two choices: the first and the second

John was given two choices. Pay the fine or go to jail. He couldn’t afford the former so he served the         latter.


To make impossible in advance.

Mack’s rotator cuff injury precluded a major league career at shortstop.


Two positions: the possible and the actual.

In theory, Mary could be a doctor. In reality, her science and math grades precluded entry into med             school.


Necessary or urgent

If you want to write well, it’s imperative to read often and much.


The process of knowing or thinking

The accounting program did not fit Zach’s cognitive style.


To perceive or recognize clearly

To be a good art collector you have to discern the difference between the      authentic and the fake.


An inharmonious combination of sounds. Any lack of harmony or agreement.

The cognitive dissonance between what Jane said and what she did angered her friends.


truly relevant or pertinent

Why you were late is not germane to our discussion of your tardiness.



Please don’t misconstrue my intentions when I say that I think you have beautiful eyes.


Transport or carry

My words may not convey my true meaning.


To think up or devise

My reasons for quitting are not contrived. They are based on facts.


To estimate something unknown on the basis of known facts.

A midwife could easily extrapolate her knowledge of birthing to the animal world.


To prevent or hinder.

The cost of a mink coat is prohibitive to the average wage earner.

Evasion, evasive

Avoiding by deceit or cleverness

Jeremy’s answers were so evasive, I had to conclude he was hiding something.


Offering praise or giving something free /or to make complete.

The teacher complimented the student on a good test.

Rachel had to contact the company for her complimentary prize.

After buying the laptop, Jim couldn’t find the complementary charger.

Articulate – jointed, to bend, distinct speech, to express oneself clearly and well

The crane articulates at three joints.

It’s important to articulate all the consonants in a word.

Barack Obama is very articulate.


Of or about time.

I described my trip in chronological sequence.

Power Word Challenge Worksheet

Find the right word to complete each sentence…

 Extrapolate  Theory  Preclude  Complimentary  Cognitive  Germane  Misconstrue  Contingent  Dissonance Imperative  Convey  Complementary  Former  Contrive  Prohibitive  Discern  Evasive  Chronological  Latter Reality

I was asked to describe my life in _____________________sequence.

My scholarship was __________________________ on my grade point average.

John was given two choices. Pay the fine or go to jail. He couldn’t afford the __________________so he served the________________________________.

In ______________________, Mary could be a doctor. In______________________ , her science and math grades precluded entry into med school.

Mack’s rotator cuff injury _____________________ a major league career at shortstop.

If you want to write well, it’s ___________________________ to read often and much.

The accounting program did not fit Zach’s _________________________________style.

To be a good art collector you have to ___________________ the difference between the authentic and the fake.

The cognitive________________________ between what Jane said and what she did angered her friends.

Why you were late is not __________________________ to our discussion of your tardiness.

Rachel had to contact the company for her _____________________________ prize.

Please don’t ________________________ my intentions when I say that I think you have beautiful eyes.

My words may not ____________________________ my true meaning.

My reasons for quitting are not _________________________. They are based on facts.

After buying the laptop, Jim couldn’t find the ________________________________charger.

A midwife could easily __________________________ her knowledge of birthing to the animal world.

The cost of a mink coat is ____________________________ to the average wage earner.

Jeremy’s answers were so________________________, I had to conclude he was hiding something.

The coach’s remarks to his players were not very __________________________ after they lost.


Grab Bag

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Here are some fillers pulled off the internet for those restless moments when nothing else seems to work…

Visual Humor Quiz


   ————              = man overboard


————        = I understand





  road                  = cross road


cycle                 = tricycle

————        = two degrees below zero


————           = neon light



—————      = six feet underground

feet feet feet feet feet feet

     ecnalg                  = backward glance

     death ….. life     = life after death

English is a Difficult Language

Ask your student to read these sentences aloud. If failure to get every one right doesn’t discourage him or her,  it will at least acknowledge the difficulty they may be having with English usage.

1) The bandage was wound around the wound.
2) The farm is used to produce produce.
3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse
4) We must polish the Polish  furniture.
5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.
6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present .
8) A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
10) I did not object to the object.
11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row
13) They were too close to the door to close it.
14) The buck does funny things when the does are present.
15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.
16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
17) The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
18) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
19) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
20) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

The Value of Writing Clearly

The following are reputed to be actual statements found on insurance claim forms where car drivers attempted to summarize the details of an accident in the fewest possible words. Ask your student to try to untangle these twisted tales and say them more clearly.

  • The guy was all over the road. I had to swerve several times before I hit him.
  • I pulled away from the side of the road, glanced at my mother in law and headed over the embankment.
  • In an attempt to kill a fly, I drove into a telephone pole.
  • I had been driving for 40 years when I fell asleep at the wheel and had an accident.
  • I was on the way to the doctor with rear end trouble when my universal joint gave way causing me      to have an accident and damage my big end.
  • An invisible car came out of nowhere, stuck my car and vanished.
  • I told the police that I was not injured, but on removing my hat I found that I had a fractured skull.
  • I was sure the old fellow would never make it to the other side of the road when I struck him.
  • The pedestrian had no idea which direction to run. So I ran over him.
  • I saw a slow moving, sad faced old gentleman as he bounced off the roof of my car.
  • I was thrown from my car as it left the road. I was later found in a ditch by some stray cows.
  • The telephone pole was approaching. I was attempting to swerve out the way when I struck the front end.
  • The accident was caused by me waving to the man I hit last week.
  • I knocked over a man, he admitted it was his fault as he’d been knocked over before.

From Adventure to Story

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Authors try to remember everything about a trip they have taken. Later on they use the adventure as part of their story. Once I went on a rafting trip on the Snake River near Yellowstone Park.

Our raft

Our guide for the trip.

Author on a float trip. Grand Teton Mountains in the background.

Later, I had my characters take that same trip in my novel, Mountain Rules. Here’s a piece of that story. See if you can write an adventure for a character based on a trip you have taken.

Twenty minutes later, the van made a sharp turn down a rutted road to the landing next to the Snake River. While the boys adjusted their life jackets, the guide talked about safety on the river. “There’s a seven-mile an hour current running out there in about three to four feet of water. If by some chance you happen to fall in, you’ll be tempted to stand up and fight the current. Don’t. If you try to walk, you could catch your feet between some rocks or snag on a branch. Then you’d be in trouble. So, if you go in, curl your legs up and float with the current. We’ll catch you. Got it?”

Worried nods all around.

The Middle Mountain campers carefully climbed over the bulging sides of the inflatable raft and plopped down, facing each other, seven on a side, along the inside edge. The guide, standing in the middle, holding long wooden oars, nodded to a helper who released the tie-rope and soon had them drifting with the current down the center of the river.

At first the ride was very pleasant. But because the raft was made of rubber, it surged and wobbled with every wave and shift in the current. And soon, Lazelle, who could feel the rippling water through the rubber floor, became slightly nauseous.

To take his mind off the motion sickness, Lazelle studied the Teton Mountain Range—snow on top like whipped cream on a giant sundae. He flashed to that game his brother sometimes played when he pulled up to a light and some pretty girl was in the next lane. Jarron would slip the car into reverse and roll backwards till the girl thought she was going forward and you could tell she was slamming on her brakes. They would all point at her and laugh. If she was cool, she would laugh too. Same thing here. Sometimes it seemed as though he were standing still and the mountains were sliding by. Then he would remind himself that it was the raft that was slipping and skimming along to the gurgling current. And then he was sick.

Lazelle made a quick lunge halfway over the side of the raft just as someone up front yelled, “Look, a deer! Over there!”

The guide made a quick cut so others could glimpse the wild animal. The combination of the raft turning and people shifting, sent Lazelle over the side. Tico was the only one to notice. Don’t stand, just float, he thought, hoping Lazelle remembered.

Scooting to the side of the raft he saw Lazelle quickly pop to the surface, struggle to his feet, and stumble along as the current shoved him from behind.

“Hey!” Tico shouted, “man’s in the water!”

Lazelle took three more steps before, as though someone had tripped him, he fell face forward, arms flailing, trying to keep his head above water. The guide started to turn the raft around, to head back upstream. Tico, realizing Lazelle needed help—now—rolled over the side. Standing up, he faced the current which surged against and around his gut and began a slow twenty-foot trudge toward Lazelle.

The rocks under his gym shoes felt jagged and slippery. His ankles slid and wobbled. The water wasn’t as cold as Torre Creek but it was much stronger as it leaned against his legs and hips. It felt like a bad dream where you try to run but something is pulling you back. “Almost there. Hang on, man!” Tico called as he got close to Lazelle who slapped and pushed with his powerful upper body, almost swimming, so his head could clear water long enough for quick ragged gasps of air.

Tico knew better than to grab Lazelle’s arms—he would just drag both of them down in his panic. Instead, he circled behind figuring that he would need to pull backward to free Lazelle from whatever was binding his feet.

As soon as he was in position, Tico braced himself, grabbed the life jacket at the arm holes and heaved till Lazelle’s face was out of the water. While he coughed and gagged, Tico leaned with all his might against the current and dragged backwards. Something under the water released its hold and Tico sprawled on his back. Lazelle floated free, right into the returning raft. Tico tucked up his knees and easily floated to the raft as well.

“Grab Lazelle,” Reese yelled.

“I got him,” Clayton answered. “Someone grab Tico,”

“Gimme your hand, man,” Mimo said

The boys dragged their friends onboard then scooched back to their places to survey their buddies. No bleeding. No broken arms. As soon as it was clear that they were just breathing hard and dripping half the river into their raft, the chirping started.

Dialogue from Drama

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Boys will, as we all do, replay strong emotional scenes over and over in their minds—‘I should have said this’, ‘I could have done that’. Creative writing allows us to mine a personal scene from our life and re-write the dialogue after the fact.  It would be a great gift to introduce your child to this most gratifying way to cope with the after-effects of emotionally upsetting experiences while at the same time honing his or her dialogue writing skills. Who knows, you might have a budding playwright or novelist in front of you.

Telling Stories with Your Children

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Story writing begins with story telling. Here are some ways I encouraged my daughter’s imagination with bedtime storymaking.

             “Your daughter always has something to say whenever I ask for class input,” my daughter’s second grade teacher said. “Sometimes it’s not even true,” she added with a polite, condescending smile, as if we had sent our child to school with unmatched socks.

            No room for imagination. I felt like shaking the woman and explaining that I had spent many bedtime story sessions helping my children exercise their imaginations by playing with words and exploring new ideas.

            When they were toddlers, I would make up stories that recalled familiar people and places we had recently visited. These were not elaborate stories with intricate plots. A common formula would be: “Once there two girls named (Daughter 1) and (Daughter 2) who went with their mom and dad to aunt Betty’s farm…”

Then I’d ask them to remember things that happened.

            The real fun begins with made-up adventure episodes where one child (rotating older and younger children in these roles) gets lost or stuck and the other figures out how to help them. Ask them to brainstorm solutions and build them into the story.

            Another fun variation is to have something silly happen in the middle of an otherwise ordinary event:

“So, Trisha and her mom and dad and her sister Anna stopped for ice cream on the way to the park. Anna had a strawberry cone…

“No, no. I had a chocolate ice cream cone.”

“Right, it was a chocolate cone. And she had just taken one lick when a little dachshund waddled up to her and sat up to beg. Anna bent over to pet the dog and PLOP! Her scoop of chocolate ice cream landed right on the dog’s nose. The poor dog looked at the ice cream kind of cross-eyed. That’s when Anna bent over and took a lick from the top of the scoop and….”

            One favorite theme involves a long line of people, animals and vehicles chasing or being pulled by the lead culprit:

“Anna and Trisha were roasting marshmallows on the beach. Anna reached over to her mother and asked, ‘Mommy is mine done?’ when a feisty little squirrel grabbed the marshmallow and started running. ‘Hey!’ Anna shouted as she grabbed the squirrel’s tail. ‘That’s mine and you can’t have it!’ The squirrel bounded for the trees and as it started to fly through the air Trisha grabbed her sister’s shirt…”

            Maximum involvement comes with ‘and then…’ stories. The parent starts with a premise:

“One spooky, rainy night Trisha kept hearing animal footsteps on the back porch. She got out of bed, turned on the light and looked out the window…and then…”

            The next person would have to keep the story going for a short bit and then pass off to someone else.

             One fun group of stories involves a repeating phrase e.g. ‘It won’t be long now!’ Start with any creature that has a tail – squirrel, dog, snake, salamander – and take him through any number of misadventures where his tail would get caught in – you name it – a, slamming car door, closing window, sliding shower door. Then he would look back at his shortened appendage, ‘And what do you think he said?’ The children answer, ‘It won’t be long now!’

            Funny names help: Snively Sam the snake, Newton Fig the Newt, Teddly Turtell the turtle. The Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals would probably take exception to these stories. But I think they serve the educationally redeeming purpose of alerting children to potential safety hazards around the home.

            An old standby involves stories from the parent’s own childhood. My children responded to the continuity and rooting in time and place that comes with family stories. They especially enjoy any admission of fallibility, mistake or poor judgment on my part which probably lifts expectations of perfection from their shoulders.

            In the end, story telling is a time to stretch imaginations, to look for humor in life around us, to laugh at ourselves and the constraints of literal truth as one old saying would have it…all stories are true and some of them actually happened.

More Sensory Writing

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Poetry and creative writing thrive on sensory language. Sights, smells, tastes, touch and sounds are the pallet of word paintings. It’s imperative to introduce a child to the fun of converting their hyper-awareness of the sensory world around them into words. Here are some exercises that I use with college writing classes that are just as valid for younger students. With each of the following examples ask the student to:

 1. Give a written, objective description of the object or sensory experience. It might help to say, “Pretend to tell a friend what the object or sensation is like over the phone.”

  2. Ask for a written, subjective description. Some prompts…I like/hate this______. It reminds me of_____.

Note: I think it is very important early on in the educational process to establish a clear distinction between personal feelings or associations (subjective) and the reality of that object (objective). An educated person will not conflate subjective feeling with objective reality e.g. I hate broccoli. Broccoli is bad. I love dogs. Dogs are good.

Once we are clear on that distinction we can use subjective feelings and associations to form word-picture metaphors.   

 3. Optional. Use the subjective associations of a sensory experience to describe a situation or person. This is hard. This is the translation of feelings into similes and metaphors.

E.g. I was so scared my mouth wouldn’t work, like right after you bite into a green apple.

Uncle John’s voice was like walking on the gravel in our driveway.


Hold up an ordinary but fairly complex object that requires more than one or two words to describe. I use a Russian nesting doll in class. Then ask the student to go through steps 1,2,3.


Ask your student to close his/her eyes and listen to a simple sound e.g. a squeeze toy or a bouncing ball. Go through steps 1,2,3.


Ask your students to reach into a bag or covered container without looking in and touch the contents. Gravel is good or corn meal etc. Steps 1,2,3.


Pour a distinctive smelling liquid (lemon juice, vinegar, pine cleaner) onto a paper towel and ask your student to go through steps 1,2,3.


Mask the identity of a beverage and ask your student to go through 1,2,3.

Mower Start Sequence

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How do you do that? Following the right sequence to start a motor or any other task is a basic life skill. Knowing the steps and then writing them down is the kind of skill mastery that builds confidence and, who knows, might lead to careers in Process Analysis such as Process Engineers, or authors of books like Ventriloquism for Dummies.

Ask your student to arrange the pictures in proper sequence by number and then write up the process.

Note: Click on the slide sorter icon on the bottom task bar in order to get all the pictures on one page.

Mower start sequence

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