Taboo Writing

The Writing Activity

Inspired by the game Taboo, this writing activity is meant to encourage your students to focus on academic language, descriptive terms, and vocabulary terms. This could easily be adapted for multiple writing occasions, but we will focus on the seasons of a North Dakota year to present this idea.

1. Invite students to choose a season, or assign them one. This could be done individually or in groups.

2. Give students time to list all the descriptive words they can come up with for their season. This could be done on sticky notes and shared with classmates.

3. Invite students to write a descriptive paragraph, poem, or list about this season. The trick? They cannot use the words they listed in step 2. It is a higher level of thinking to figure out a way to describe the sun without saying "sun" or "sunshine." Or to describe the winter as "white" without saying "white."


1. Instead of eliminating the brainstormed words, pack them into a paragraph full of imagery and descriptive language.

2. Describe an historical figure, science concept, etc., in the same way that the season is described - without using adjectives and vocabulary terms typically used to describe the figure/concept. For example, how would a student describe a mineral without using the five properties of minerals? Looking for synonyms can deepen a student's understanding of the vocabulary terms used in a unit.

Mentor Text

The season chosen: Spring

Taboo version, first draft: Our closest star marches into winter's territory. Every day, it marches a bit closer, a bit warmer, a bit bolder. The star patiently puts one foot in front of the other, courageously determined to push winter out.

Taboo words allowed, second draft: The sun woke the world up--the sun that had been hiding in the gray winter sky. The sun that had been courageously and patiently determined to push winter out. Winter was not bad, not in trouble, but it was time to move. It was time. It was time. The season had passed.


Link to Standards

 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information. (Writing standard 2)

Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases... (Language standard 4)

Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings (Language standard 5)

Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academics and domain-specific words and phrases; gather vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression (Language standard 6)