The Word Bag: My New Favorite Toy

by Kori Linn, WITS Intern

What’s a word bag and how can it change your writing? I found out just how much impact this simple tool can have last week at Ballard High School.

Rachel Kessler, being the word aficionado that she is, has a brown paper word bag full of high-quality words that she uses when she needs something to jumpstart her writing. For our BHS students, Rachel printed out several extra sheets of words that we then cut into single serving slips of paper.

We gave each student a pile of slips, encouraging them to trade or ask for additional words if need be. We suggested that students arrange and rearrange their words, playing with placement and the impact of word order and/or juxtaposition. We walked around the room, sprinkling supplemental word choices as we went.

Some students were very picky, sorting their word piles into accepted and rejected categories and asking for more words because they had only chosen 7 out of the original pile. Other students utilized their words with what seemed like reckless abandon until a closer look revealed some kind of pattern or plan of action emerging from the chaos. Each student attacked the project in an original way, some creating mini-narratives while others offered meditations or moments of pure lyric. Many of the created works were playful and humorous and a few were even holiday-inspired.

This activity embodied writing at its most fun. It brought out the voracious writer in even the most stoic students. The words themselves anchored and inspired the writing, but that was where the infrastructure of the lesson gave way to the students’ own creativity. And let me tell you, they used it.

Many students pasted their words to white paper or their folders in intriguing patterns, and some even included illustrations to accompany or augment their work. One student surprised even himself upon realizing that all the words he’d selected described the same thing, fire, which he referred to as “dappled sorrow .. leaking and weeping particles.”

A pile of words allowed writing to become tangible, something the students could touch and feel and even taste (the one use of the words that I did not encourage). I know a word bag will be making its way into my life and writing soon, and I genuinely can’t wait to see what I come up with.


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