Do your students struggle using strong word choice in their writing? This post is geared towards the upper elementary or middle school curriculum and uses the term MILLION DOLLAR WORDS when referring to word choice. It is part of the revising stage of the writing process. It is also part of a series of writing mini lessons designed for scaffolding in writing workshop.

Using good WORD CHOICE will make students’ stories more creative and descriptive. Follow these steps to find ways to exchange boring words for MILLION DOLLAR WORDS.


Use anchor charts to teach the lessons.  Place the anchor charts on a smart board and then add them as posters to a bulletin board or writing center.  With the FAAVS, point out that each letter represents a type of million dollar word and they each have a color to represent it.  Students can color-code their sentences. Also explain that many of the sense words can also be adjectives.  They were added as a separate category to help students think of ways to add million dollar words to their sentences.


Explain each of the FAAVS



It is important to use MENTOR TEXT to show students how real authors use that skill.  In my mentor text PDF included in all of the STEP-BY-STEP INTERACTIVE WRITING NOTEBOOKS, these are the books I suggest.  If you aren’t using the suggested mentor text list in your school, you don’t necessarily have to stick by the grade levels below.  If you have one of them in your classroom library already, use it!  I broke it down in grade levels for schools and districts who purchased my writing notebook programs to keep it fresh each year.

(I provided links to some of the books.  I use affiliates solely to keep my blog running so I can provide quality content and ideas for teacher.)

K-  Brave as a Mountain Lion by Ann Herbert Scott
Owl Moon by Jane Yolen

1st-  Quick as a Cricket by Audrey Wood
Same Smug Slug by Pamela Duncan Edwards
Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Conner

2nd-  Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann
Dinorella:  A Prehistoric Fairy Tale by Pamela Duncan Edwards
Tulip Sees America by Cynthia Rylant

3rd-  The Whales by Cynthia Rylant
The Z Was Zapped by Chris Van Allsburg

4th-  The Boy Who Loved Words by Roni Schotter
Amos and Boris by William Steig
Under the Quilt of Night by Deborah Hopkinson

5th-  When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan
Noah Webster and His Words by Jeri Chase Ferris
Caves by Stephen Cramer

6th-  If Not for the Cat by Mary Blount Christian
The Man Who Carried His Heart in a Bucket
Roxaboxen by Barbara Cooney

7th-  The Bunyans by Audrey Wood
Monkey Business by Wallace Edwards
The Cat’s Pajamas by Wallace Edwards

8th-  Tiki Tiki Tembo by Arlene Mosel
Oh the Place You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss

How do you use mentor text?  

Go through the book and pick out places where the author shows good imagery.  As you read the book to the students, stop and point out the words you marked.  Here is an example form I Love You the Purplest by Barbara M. Joossee.  Say to the students, “Close your eyes and make a picture in your mind as I read a few sentences.”

“The lake slowed its thrashing to a soft, even beat.  The mosquitos dipped low to the water and the water bugs skittered on top.  The moon glowed on one side of the lake while the sun shimmered on the other.”


Give examples of each one of the FAAVS using the same sentence to show how to BUILD A SENTENCE.


Also model using FAAVS in a class story as part of the revising step.


Students should take notes to help retain the information and gain ownership of their writing. Here is an example using interactive writing notebooks.


Provide students with copies of some of the information to keep in their writing folder as a reference when writing independently in the future.  Another great idea is to provide a Million Dollar Dictionary with million dollar words and lines to add more.



A great way to provide practice during center time is with task cards that scaffold from choosing the best million dollar word to rewriting sentences with million dollar words.

Another idea is using color.  Have students color areas with that particular FAAVS or add words to a sentence and underline them in color.

color-coding building sentences


Students should then take their rough draft and apply million dollar words.  Use color to see how many times they were able to revise!  Color-code to see if students were able to use all of FAAVS.


When students share their work, it provides them with a deeper understanding and they can gain knowledge from each other.


Write a million dollar sentence, color-code, and illustrate. GREAT IDEA: Walk around the room while students are adding million dollar words to their narrative stories.  When you find someone who created a great example, give him/her something to write on and place it on a MILLION DOLLAR BULLETIN BOARD. Students get so excited to see classmate doing this and start busily doing the same!  It makes an adorable bulletin board.  I actually kept mine up all year and referred back to it and shared examples from it when we were revising a story.  Here are some examples: 



When your students are finished with this lesson, you will see their writing transform into a beautiful descriptive story!





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This lesson can be found:

Grab this Million Dollar Mini Thesaurus to go along with the lesson!

A part of this lesson is also included in the STEP-BY-STEP Writing Program® available for Grades 1-8 designed to scaffold through each type of writing with modeling through every step.  It includes EVERYTHING you need to teach writing for the year:  Anchor charts, mentor text, interactive notebook pages, practice, modeling, tracking charts, students resources, graphic organizers, examples, paragraph writing, narrative writing, opinion writing, informative writing, prompts, checklists, rubrics, etc etc.

“I can’t say enough about how great this resource is. We’ve finished the first unit, and I followed each lesson as written out! The grade three and four aligned, but had different lessons, so I looked like a superstar teacher in the first paragraph writing month. Best thing bought from TpT! Would recommend wholeheartedly from a veteran 22 year teacher!” – Diana