Play With Your Words

article by Zoë Disher , photos by Alamy

Learning intention:

I am learning to experiment with language and fictional ideas so that I can use my own creative ideas as a foundation for future story writing.


Success criteria:

  • I can identify techniques authors use to create new words
  • I can brainstorm aspects of my own fictional worlds
  • I can use language techniques to create my own words and apply them to my ideas.


Essential knowledge:

More information about recognizing and applying stylistic devices can be found in the English Textual Concepts video Style.


After reading the article and completing the matching activity, revise some of the ways writers create words in fantasy and sci-fi worlds. Answers should include:


Malapropisms (cattlepiddler, cannybull)

Spoonerisms (porteedo, catasterous disastrophe)

Combining world languages (kan pai – Japanese) and funny sounding words (bananonina)

Using ancient languages (expect patronum – Latin)


Discuss the story features that writers may create different words for in their fictional worlds. Answers may include:


  • Creatures and species (e.g., Ewoks from Star Wars, Hobbits from Lord of the Rings)
  • Buildings and places (Narnia from The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe, Hogwarts from Harry Potter)
  • Games and sports (e.g., Quidditch from Harry Potter, Paresi Squares from Star Trek)
  • Food and drink (Swudge from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Pangalactic Gargleblaster from Hitchikers’ Guide to the Galaxy)


Inform students they are going to be building their own worlds and using their choices of techniques to create different words to exist within their world. Watch the video How to Build a Fictional World and ask students to recall the questions they should ask themselves during this process. This list is simply to help them get started, they don’t need to address every point. Answers may include:


  • What rules are in place?
  • What kind of government does it have?
  • Who has power and who doesn’t?
  • What do people believe in?
  • What does this society value most?
  • What kind of weather does it have?
  • Where do people live, work and go to school?
  • What do they eat?
  • How do they play?
  • How they treat old and young?
  • What are their relationships like with animals and plants?
  • What do those animals and plants look like?
  • What kind of technology exists?


Students may wish to work independently or with a partner or small group for this activity. Explain that working through such a creative process can be approached in many different ways and flexibility should be allowed to facilitate this. For example, they may wish to start with constructing a map to consider the geographical aspects of their world, or they may prefer to begin by writing the laws, designing creatures or making up the language. Once they have started this process, they can begin thinking of words that suit the different aspects of the world they are creating.


All worlds will be different, and students should have the freedom to follow their ideas in whatever direction that takes them. This activity should be considered a creative exploration that may provide stimulus for further lessons, such as a bank of creatures and characters or a basis for further story writing.