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Select a term whose meaning varies from person to person or one for which
you have a personal definition. Some possibilities include:
a liberal
a housewife
affirmative action
Brainstorm with others to identify variations in the term’s meaning. Then
choose a topic to write about together. Decide on purpose and audience.
Develop a topic sentence and write a paragraph about the subject. Each
student should share ideas and write their own paragraph for practice.
Explain why each of the following is an effective or ineffective definition.
Rewrite those you consider ineffective.
Passive aggression is when people show their aggression passively.
A terrorist tries to terrorize people.
Being assertive means knowing how to express your wishes and goals
in a positive, noncombative way.
Pop music refers to music that is popular.
Loyalty is when someone stays by another person during difficult
The following introductory paragraph is from the first draft of an essay
contrasting walking and running as techniques for reducing tension.
Although intended to be a definition paragraph, it actually doesn’t tell us
anything we don’t already know. It also relies on the old-hat “Webster’s
says.” Rewrite the paragraph so it is more imaginative. You might use a
series of anecdotes or one extended example to define tension and introduce
the essay’s thesis more gracefully.
According to Webster’s, tension is “mental or nervous strain, often
accompanied by muscular tightness or tautness.” Everyone feels tense at
one time or another. It may occur when there’s a deadline to meet. Or it
could be caused by the stress of trying to fulfill academic, athletic, or social
goals. Sometimes it comes from criticism by family, bosses, or teachers.
Such tension puts wear and tear on our bodies and on our emotional wellbeing. Although some people run to relieve tension, research has found that
walking is a more effective tension reducer.