Children’s stories illustrates desire to take back control following the pandemic

Data from Oxford University Press in partnership with Writing Legends, the largest story-writing platform in Australia, reveals ‘Power’ as the Oxford Australian Children’s Word of the Year (CWOTY) 2021.

Oxford Australian
Children's Word of the Year 2021:

After another disrupted school year of remote learning and virtual classrooms during the COVID-19 lockdowns and prolonged restrictions, it’s not surprising that Australian students have been preoccupied with reclaiming control of their lives through their writing.

Oxford Children’s Language Australia and children’s language experts analysed more than 76,000 short stories and over 9 million words written by Australian students aged seven to 13 years old. Shortlisted words included ‘love’, ‘kindness’, ‘choice’, ‘dragon’, ‘imagine’, ‘happiness’, ‘humanity’ ‘power’ and ‘environment’. The usage of the word ‘power’ had increased by 61.8 per cent compared to 2020.

Our research highlighted:

  • There was a strong trend towards fantasy themes, such as superpowers and flying. During the pandemic, imagination could be used as escapism. It was fitting, then, that some young writers also reflected on the power of imagination.
  • The use of power also indicates a desire from students to exercise their freedom of choice after a long period of lockdown restrictions. It may also suggest a feeling of disenfranchisement and lack of control on important issues such as climate change.
  • Students wrote about electrical power, the power of nature, and political or social power, reflecting awareness of global issues. In fiction and non-fiction stories, students pondered what it means to have and use power in an unequal world.
  • Other themes that emerged within the large body of writing included a strong feeling of positivity, an appreciation of connection and a degree of introspection following a year of upheaval.
  • Many of the more complex popular verbs used within the students’ writing described thought processes and reflection, such as ‘decide’, ‘believe’, ‘realise’, ‘wonder’, ‘forget’, and ‘remember’. This indicates a level of introspection and reflection perhaps brought about by having less distractions due to lockdowns or by another year of disruption and unfamiliarity.
  • We witnessed a significant change of mindset among students this year, especially when compared to last year, as the usage of the word happiness increased by 280%. Overall there is a distinctly more positive tone within the writing, which is a stark contrast to last year’s sentiment which saw ‘bored’ and ‘boring’ in the top 100 adjectives. This illustrates the surprising resilience our students’ have demonstrated this year, despite another year of continued restrictions and distance learning.

This year’s Oxford Australian Children’s Word of the Year shortlist also included ‘love’, ‘kindness’, ‘choice’, ‘dragon’, ‘imagine’, ‘happiness’, ‘humanity’ and ‘environment’.

Partnering with Writing Legends

The Oxford Australian Children’s Word of the Year is one of the ways Oxford Children’s Language Australia and OUP engages with the ever-changing language of Australian children. We’ve proudly partnered with Writing Legends, Australia's largest online story-writing platform, to help us determine the 2021 Oxford Australian Children’s Word of the Year.

Our experts comments on the Oxford Australian CWOTY:

Anne Bayetto

Anne teaches special education at Flinders University, with a focus on how to teach students with literacy and numeracy difficulties. She has been a disability support coordinator and a founding member of the Learning Difficulties Support Team (SA).

Lee Walker

Lee is Director of Publishing, Editorial and Design at OUP ANZ and is also President of the Australian Publishers Association. She has almost 30 years’ experience in Australian educational publishing and is passionate about digital innovation.

Previous Words of the Year







Explore what we learned from the children's stories

Children from all around Australia wrote 76,000 stories. Here's what we learned.

Theme 1: Positivity

  • ‘Happiness’ was about 280% more frequent this year.

Theme 2: Outdoors & others

  • ‘People’ was the only non-monosyllabic word in the top 10 most used nouns.
  • Third-person pronouns were up to 42% more frequent.
  • ‘Lockdown’ appears only 435 times.
  • Unlike last year, ‘bored’ and ‘boring’ were not in the top 100 adjectives.

Theme 3: Introspection

  • Students wrote more frequently about people whose gender identity was the same as their own.
  • Many of the more complex popular verbs described thought processes and reflection: ‘decide’, ‘believe’, ‘realise’, ‘wonder’, ‘forget’, and ‘remember’.

The top 20 trending words of 2021

2021 Top trending words, 1-10

(Change in use over time)

Word Frequency (2021) Frequency (2020) Change from 2020
You 124,119 23,595 88%
Will 35,763 7,901 62%
Your 29,481 6,066 74%
Would 27,709 6,174 61%
If 26,904 5,333 81%
Make 24,900 6,139 61%
Them 20,983 5,150 46%
Want 20,124 4,960 45%
Dog 12,889 2,568 80%
Ever 11,361 2,532 61%

Top trending words, 11-20

(Change in use over time)

Word Frequency (2021) Frequency (2020) Change from 2020
Also 9,707 2,005 73%
Put 9,479 2,340 45%
Tree 8,674 1,811 72%
Give 8,492 2,081 46%
Always 6,865 1,693 45%
Should 6,788 1,485 64%
Monster 6,390 1,284 78%
Island 5,550 510 290%
Human 5,524 1,082 83%
Book 5,176 945 96%

Read a selection of the children's stories

Please note spelling and grammar has been corrected in the samples presented. Citations are faithful to the original stories.

Sometimes I feel good when I provide rain because it is helpful to some people. I provide water for animals, I provide rainfall for the farmers and their crops and I also fill up the dams to supply the city with water. I can also make plants grow and the grass to look nice and green. I can also provide power via hydro power, like the Snowy Hydro. I wish I could keep everyone happy all the time, but that is not how storm clouds work! Year 4, male

The day animal lovers hoped would never come, the day a ban on poaching will be lifted. The day all power plants would activate and here it was - the day of our end the. The day we say our goodbyes, the day our presidents regret their decisions. This day was here and it was about to happen. Nothing they could say or do would change a thing for we had caused this upon ourselves for we have forgotten how lucky we truly are we have a civilisation and languages. But we chose to kill to cut down trees to hurt things. WHY?! Year 5, female

I had two paths I could take. The two paths were a result of dread. My eyes splintered and shattered into pieces. My heart was trying to lock itself away in the deepest cabins of darkness. The power started taking over me. The power of confusion. If I took this path, I'll feel sorrow for the other. Both choices seemed WRONG. My family was waiting. It had been minutes and hours before I had chosen. But I doubted myself. Was this the right choice? Or was it wrong? The war within me was strong. Both sides revealed their true power. Year 5, male

When faced with two paths to take, should you go right, or should you go left? Even this decision is sometimes hard to make. Both paths leading you ahead look dusty. If I go right, I will be the power of the world and be able to stop all the changes that come to me. If I go left, I will be walking on a long path which will be full of obstacles and danger, but in the end I will have a good life. Year 5, female

Dear people of the world. We dolphins demand power. You humans are doing a terrible job of ruling. Every single day there appears to be more and more rubbish fulling our ocean. Don't forget there are lots of species that live in the water. Year 6, female