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Teacher Tips and Answers

Warm-Up for Definition Essays

Words let you think. When you don't have a word for something, you can't think very effectively about it. For example, you might think very little about the pencils you use, but having terms for different kinds of pencils can awaken your thinking:

  • Hexie: a pencil with six flat sides
  • Rounder: a pencil with a round bore
  • Flatty: a carpenter's pencil, made not to break in a pocket and sharpened by whittling
  • Dentcil: a pencil that has been chewed
  • Penstub: a pencil that has been sharpened too many times; a golf pencil
  • One-shot: a pencil with no eraser
  • Mulligan: a pencil with a large eraser
  • Fakecil: a pencil that won't sharpen correctly, with a tip of wood that doesn't write
  • Lightsee: a #3 pencil that doesn't write darkly enough to be easily read
  • Smudgie: a #1 pencil that writes like a crayon and smears
  • Spock: a mechanical pencil
  • Horseleg: an oversized pencil that doesn't fit in a sharpener

Check your pencils.

Check your backpack or locker to see how many of each type of pencil you can find. How many pencils fit more than one term? (For example, a chewed pencil with no eraser would be a dentcil one-shot.) What other words could you invent for different types of pencils? Which of these made-up terms interests you most and why?

What Is a Definition Essay?

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Writing Definition Essays
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A definition essay deeply explores the meaning of a term. It includes dictionary definitions (denotations), but goes far beyond, providing examples, etymology, synonyms, antonyms, and other details. Instead of defining the term narrowly, a definition essay seeks many connections and applies the term in many contexts.

The poet William Blake once noted that one could "see a world in a grain of sand," which is what you'll be doing when you write your definition essay. One interesting word, like a grain of sand, can lead you to many connections with the much wider world. To warm up your thinking, you can start by explaining a school-appropriate slang term to an older person.

Thinking About a Slang Term

Every generation has its own slang—words used in special ways that are generally not understood by people in the older generation. If you use a slang term in the presence of an older person, you may be asked what the term means. For example, the term "woke" in its modern slang usage has a very specific meaning:

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