Loaded Words: Vocabulary That Packs a Punch in Persuasive Writing
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Loaded words elicit an emotional response—positive or negative—beyond their literal meaning and can significantly contribute to persuading others to adopt our point of view. For example, the noun plant generates no significant emotional response, but flower inspires a positive feeling and weed a negative feeling. Advertising depends on words meant to generate an emotional response: New, improved, and better than ever make a consumer feel good about a product. Judicious use of loaded words can influence readers' thinking by influencing their emotions. In this lesson, students recognize loaded words when reading and purposefully use them in persuasive writing.
From Theory to Practice
- Persuasive writing is an essential text form for intermediate students to learn.
- Persuasive writing involves choosing a strong opinion, planning support and evidence, researching supporting facts and data, and organizing the information into connected text with persuasive language.
- Persuasive writing follows a process of planning, drafting, revising, editing, and sharing with an audience.
- Loaded words reflect deliberate and purposeful vocabulary choice to help persuade a reader to the writer's point of view.
Common Core Standards
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
- 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
- 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
- 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
- 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
- 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).
Materials and Technology
- Computers with Internet access
- Interactive whiteboard or chart paper
- Familiarize yourself with the concept of loaded words, and try any activities in which you plan to have the students participate.
- Bookmark the website of the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History or gather a collection of brochures and advertisements for local attractions.
- Prepare copies of the Loaded Words Chart or display the list for students to complete in pairs, and complete the task yourself before having the students do it.
- Choose the student writing sample(s) you will use for guided practice, and bookmark the sites or create printouts for students.
- Understand the value of loaded words in persuasive text by defining and identifying examples
- Create an example of persuasive writing by revising a previous assignment to incorporate loaded words
- Remind students that the purpose of persuasive writing is to convince a reader to see the subject from the writer's point of view or to agree with the writer’s opinion. Review with students the importance of considering the audience when writing. Stress that it's important to think about who the reader will be because different arguments will convince different people.
- Introduce the term loaded words. Tell students that when we give reasons for our arguments in persuasive writing, we need to think about the ideas, but we also need to think about the words we use. Explain that certain words can help to make readers feel positive or negative about an idea. For example, using words like healthy or safe cause a positive reaction from most people, but germs or caution might cause a negative reaction. We call words like this loaded words because they are loaded with the potential to generate emotions or feelings. Tell students that in this lesson they are going to learn about using loaded words to make their writing more persuasive.
- With students, examine a piece of advertising or a brochure from a tourist attraction. The website of the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History or a local attraction in your community may also be a good choice for your students. Invite students to identify words that make them want to buy that product or go to that place. When they examine the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History site, students may notice words like excellence, new, award-winning, family, and interactive. Discuss with students whether these words are loaded with positive or negative feeling.
- Remind students that the words and arguments that writers use may be quite different, depending on who the reader is. For example, a brochure meant to persuade someone to visit an amusement park might use words like exciting, wild rides, fastest, highest. Ask students if these words would be more likely to appeal to an adventurous teenager or to a cautious parent. Have students suggest words that might make a more positive emotional impact on an older person. You might suggest the words beautiful, safe, fun, and family friendly.
- Provide students with the Loaded Words Chart or display the material on an overhead. Have students work in pairs to orally sort the words into categories of “positive,” “negative,” and “neither positive nor negative."
- Provide students with a specific topic such as the environment. Invite students to brainstorm some loaded words that they might use in a persuasive piece about the environment. (Some loaded words that might elicit positive feelings are healthy, good for you, safe, and clean. Loaded words that elicit negative feelings might be poison, dangerous, irresponsible, and pollution.)
- Bookmark a piece of published persuasive writing, such as Write Source: “Summer: 15 Days or 2 1/2 Months?” or Write Source: “Adopting a Pet from the Pound.”
- Have students work in pairs to highlight the loaded words. Note that there are no right answers: If a word or phrase evokes emotion for a reader, it’s a loaded word.
Suggest that students highlight any words they consider loaded in a sample of their own persuasive writing. Have them revise the piece to insert additional words intended to evoke emotion in the reader.
Ask students to read or listen to famous speeches on the website American Rhetoric, such as Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream” speech, and highlight the loaded words. (Note that the website has some advertising, but if you bookmark a specific speech, it will download as a PDF without advertising.) This kind of directed close reading teaches students to be critical readers, building awareness of the choices writers—and speakers—make in choosing words that stir our emotions.
Student Assessment / Reflections
- When students examine published persuasive writing, note how they recognize and evaluate the effectiveness of each writer's use of loaded words. Keep anecdotal notes on their explanations of why they have highlighted specific words.
- During writing conferences, ask individual students to point out and explain the loaded words they have used in their own writing.
- Use the Loaded Words in Persuasive Writing Rubric for teacher or student self-assessment of the use of loaded words in persuasive writing.