Great words in graphics and what I learned from kid writers.

Minimalist word poster by Mick WatsonI say this all the time, but teaching writing is one of the shiniest, happiest parts of my life. I work with the wonderful people at The Telling Room, a nonprofit writing center located in downtown Portland, Maine. I haven’t been teaching for too long, but I’m learning quickly how difficult it can be—but also how rewarding.

One of my favorite things about teaching writing is seeing how kids use language. They go crazy with it! They can be free and funny and break all the rules. It’s like how Picasso said it took him four years to paint like an old master, but a lifetime to learn to paint like a child—there’s something to be said about un-learning things, throwing education out the window, and thinking like a child.

But while my students may have a leg-up when it comes to sheer inventiveness, here’s one thing I have on them: Vocabulary. Kids simply haven’t learned all the beautiful, specific, melodious words that English can provide. Which is where these super cool minimalist posters come in. To address the vocabulary question, a graphic designer from Edinburgh named Mick Watson created a series of posters that depict complex words in simple graphics. “I was thinking about my 9-year-old daughter’s expanding vocabulary and wondered that if I made some posters with a visual hook and put them up around the house whether she’d pick them up,” Watson told Slate writer Kristin Hohenadel. “She was being a contrarian at the time so I started there!”

Watson’s list includes some of my favorite words, like petrichor and deasil. And I admit, I learned a few new words looking at his designs! See more of Watson’s Word of the Day project online here.


5 thoughts on “Great words in graphics and what I learned from kid writers.

  1. What a brilliant idea and not only useful for nine-year-olds – I’ve learnt a few new words too! Great fresh design. Bet your students love them.:-)

  2. I think you’re definitely onto something when it comes to looking at how kids use language. Part of the inventiveness and creativity of childhood language use definitely stems from their lack of self-consciousness: they haven’t yet learned how to doubt themselves, how to worry about using the “wrong” words, how to compare themselves to others. That’s definitely something all adult writers should definitely relearn.

    1. Yes! I wish I could strip away all my own self-consciousness because that’s the biggest thing that holds my fiction back. In my nonfiction writing, I’m not nearly as afraid, but when I write fiction I can get consumed with fear. Teaching helps me dispel that and just focus on what I love.

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