How to Teach Students to Use a Thesaurus


#Education #Thesaurus

It’s a lot easier to use a thesaurus with story-writing than it is with essay-writing, but since my blog posts have been pointing toward research papers lately, let’s take a look at the handout I use with research papers and thesaurus use. After you take a look at this document, please scroll down to read about how I use it in the classroom during the “Editing” step in the writing process. Next week I’ll also provide you with the PowerPoint that I use when teaching editing to students.

Several columns with lines for writing words found in a thesaurus

If you print and use any of my graphic organizers or worksheets, please help spread the word about them by liking, posting, pinning, or tweeting about them. Thanks!

Remember that little Hermione Granger in your classroom who is such a fantastic writer than no one can ever find errors in her essays? Well this is how you encourage her to self-edit and revise. Plan to use this handout with all the students in class, (not just the Hermiones), because it really offers a chance for every student in the room to expand his/her vocabulary while learning how to use a thesaurus.

Before the lesson begins, you’ll need to review what a noun is for all the Ron Weasleys and Harry Potters in the classroom. Then have a volunteer student pass out highlighter pens to everyone who doesn’t have their own highlighter. Ask the students to highlight all of the nouns in their own essay.

Now have everyone swap papers. Ask peers to check whether or not nouns have been chosen by trying to use the words “a,” “an,” or “the” in front of each highlighted word. If they can’t make sense with “a,” “an,” or “the” in front of the word, and it doesn’t begin with a capital letter (i.e. proper nouns), then they should cross out that word with their highlighter; it’s most likely NOT a noun.

Students will now swap back. Pass out the handout you see above, and ask your students to transfer their nouns into the left column, using pencil. (It’s a good idea to use pencil on this handout, as they’ll want to change some words as they go.) For students who haven’t finished their essays, have a list of nouns you can just hand them, in order to complete the assignment.

Take a moment to explain the rules of this activity. The most important rule is that no word should appear on their handout twice. For example, if the student writes that a hardhat feels “smooth”, they can’t use the word “smooth” anywhere else on the handout. Instead, they’ve got to use a thesaurus to look up the word “smooth” and find another word for it. It’s a good idea to demonstrate this approach before students begin.

Once the entire worksheet has been filled out, be sure to encourage everyone to apply some of the adjectives they’ve used in the worksheet on their essays. Now Hermione Granger has some changes to her word choice, even though no one else could find any comma splices or misspellings anywhere else in her paper. Not only that, but everyone feels a lot more confident with a thesaurus now  that they’ve had a day of practice!

Want to know where this brilliant idea comes from? I’m Chelly Wood, and although I’ve taught English/language arts for 20+ years, I also moonlight as a YA novelist. My tale of a Latina teen who finds herself pregnant and married to a total stranger (a teenage gabacho her dad picked out for her) will be released in July of 2016 by Reputation Books. It’s called Sunkissed Sodas, and you can see the book trailer on my YouTube channel.


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