Hope: Define It - writercize #78

One good way to find out if a person understands the concept or thing they are talking about is to ask them to define it in their own words.  Sometimes asking for a definition will direct the listener to a new word the speaker actually means to relate, and sometimes understanding the speaker's definition will clarify and deepen the listener's understanding.

Asking a child to provide a definition in his or her own words can be very beneficial for a parent or teacher in a couple of circumstances.  During a disagreement or emotional outburst, it can help the adult understand what a child is really feeling.  In a school assignment, it can help identify if the child is thinking about the lesson or simply mimicking the original text.

If a child can not define the word, ask them to define what the word is not.  In preliteracy skills, knowing what a word is not can be just as helpful as knowing what it is.  This is one reason books for young children focus heavily on opposites.

Even in a discussion between adults, a pause to clarify any one person's use of a word can help deepen understanding and connection.  

I often find that our individual perception of words, especially non-nouns, are like snowflakes or fingerprints.  No two people will define the same word in the same way.

writing exercise:  Without using a dictionary, define "hope."  Include an antonym.

Click "read more" to see writercizer sample response.
writercizer response:

hope:  a positive association towards the future, often rooted in faith and trust, in which a person envisions his/her wants and needs coming to fruition at a later date
(antonym:  doubt, despair)


  1. This post really made me think. I hadn't thought of the use of opposites in children's books before, but it makes sense. A word like "hope" is hard to define because it is so abstract. I sometimes ask students to write a creative definition of an abstract term that takes it from being general to very specific and personal to them. Thanks!

    -Miss GOP

  2. What a great idea to have someone describe what the word is not. Just like the thesaurus has the antonym. Let's see if I can define "hope" without looking it up. I kind of suck at this stuff, but here goes: To not give up on what the future holds; to believe in a positive outcome, that things will work out. Hmm, describe what "hope" is not: To completely give up because only the worst of the worst is all there is. (Whoa, that's pretty grim, pretty hopeless.) I think I'll stick with hope!

  3. What a great exercise and useful when having a 'communication' barrier with someone.

    Hope = optimism for a better future.

  4. All great responses. Thanks for giving it a go!

    Lynn and Miss GOP - I can't remember where I first heard that describing what something was not is very helpful for young children learning language, but it struck me too. It is certainly a useful tool.


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