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Introducing Synonyms to Early Writers

Lesson Question:

How can students use synonyms to enhance their writing and to expand their vocabularies?

Applicable Grades:


Lesson Overview:

This lesson introduces students to the basic concept of a synonym and how varying vocabulary usage through synonyms can enhance their writing. Students will also synthesize their understanding of synonyms and the Visual Thesaurus by playing "Synonym Charades," a fun guessing game where students will figure out original book or movie titles based on synonym clues.

Length of Lesson:

One hour to one hour and a half

Instructional Objectives:

Students will:
  1. identify synonyms for a common adjective
  2. revise a paragraph using synonyms found through the VT
  3. synthesize their knowledge of synonyms by rewriting original book or movie titles using synonyms found through the VT


  • white board
  • "Using Synonyms in Your Writing" handouts (one per student)
  • computers with Internet access
  • index cards, each with a different movie or book title written on it (one per small group)

Warm Up:

Identifying an overused adjective in the context of a paragraph:
  • Write the following short paragraph on the board in large letters: "The party was great. The magician was great. Even the goody bags were great!"
  • Ask students to identify the adjective or word that is used over and over in the paragraph to describe the party. (If your students are unfamiliar with the terms "noun" and "adjective," briefly define a noun as a "person, place, thing, or idea" and an adjective as "a word that can describe or modify a noun.")
  • After students identify "great" as the repeated adjective in the paragraph, explain that the paragraph would be much more interesting to read if the writer would have used a variety of adjectives instead of just repeating the same vague or "boring" adjective.


Using the VT to identify definitions and synonyms of "great" that are relevant to the warm-up paragraph:
  • Display the Visual Thesaurus word web for "great" on the white board, and point out the nine "meaning" or "definition" bubbles surrounding the word "great."
  • Challenge students to help you identify which three meanings of "great" could apply to the sample paragraph from the warm-up. (Students should recognize that the definitions "very good;" "remarkable or out of the ordinary;" and "of major significance or importance" could all apply to the warm-up paragraph.)
  • Point out that each of these three meaning bubbles lead to words in an outer ring of the web. Explain to students that these words are all related to great and some of them are synonyms that could be used in place of great in the warm-up paragraph.
Revising the warm-up paragraph by using synonyms of "great":
  • Distribute copies of the "Using Synonyms in Your Writing" sheet to each student (please click here to download PDF attachment).
  • Explain to students that they should now work with a partner to choose synonyms of "great" from the displayed word web to revise the paragraph about the party. If students are unsure of the synonyms' definitions, then click on individual synonyms so students can read the meanings of each of the related words they are considering.
  • Have a few partnerships read aloud their revised versions of the warm-up paragraph. If students are hesitant, you could first supply a model:
    The party was outstanding. The food was swell. The magician was neat. Even the goody bags were extraordinary!
Introducing the game "synonym charades":
  • Have partners join up with another set of partners in order to form small groups of four students each.
  • Explain to groups that they will each be receiving the name of a famous movie or book on an index card and that they cannot reveal the title to other groups. They will then be using the Visual Thesaurus to find synonyms to rewrite the movie or book's title. Finally, they will present their rewritten title to the class and have their classmates guess the work's original title.
  • Model the group presentation process by presenting the following imaginary title based on a real title to the class: Small Females. Display the word webs for "small" and "females" and have students guess the original book title Little Women (by Louisa May Alcott). (If your students are not familiar with Little Women, you could model the exercise with a work that is more familiar to your class.)
Using synonyms to rewrite movie or book titles:
  • Distribute an index card to each group, each with a different book or movie title written on it. Here are some sample titles that work well with the exercise since they all follow the same "adjective noun" pattern: Open Season, Happy Feet, Sleeping Beauty, Polar Express, The Iron Giant, The Secret Garden, The Never-ending Story. (NOTE: You can use other book or movie titles for this game to ensure that your students will be familiar with the original titles. However, choose short titles that will not be too time-consuming or difficult to transform with synonyms.)
  • Emphasize to groups that they should first use the Visual Thesaurus to look up the main words contained in their assigned titles. Clarify to students that meanings on the VT are color-coded according to part of speech. When they are looking at the word web of an adjective, they should consider only the synonyms or related words that stem from the gold meaning bubbles. And when they are looking at the word web of a noun, they should consider only the synonyms or related words that stem from the red bubbles. (This should make choosing synonyms for their rewritten titles less complicated.)
  • Have groups write their revised movie or book titles on the reverse side of their index cards, being careful not to allow other groups to see their original titles in the process.


Presenting synonym titles:
  • Have each group stand in front of the class to present its new movie or book title by writing it on the board.
  • After each group's title presentation, the other groups should use the VT to study the word webs for each main word in the revised title to try to determine the words in the original title of the movie or book. For example, a group might write "Dormant Knockout" on the board, and the students in the class could discover with the help of the VT that "dormant" is a synonym for "sleeping" and that "knockout" is another word for "beauty;" thus, the original title must be Sleeping Beauty.
  • If students get "stuck" while trying to guess a title, use the white board to help guide the class as a whole through the possible choices in each word web.

Extending the Lesson:

  • A natural outcome of this lesson is that students will begin to see that writing is a series of individual word choices. Encourage students to use the VT or a traditional dictionary or thesaurus to help them find synonyms or fresh words to use in their writing in order to enhance their descriptions and writing. With this in mind, a good follow-up lesson to this lesson would be to underline particular overused or vague words in your students' writing and then have them revise their work by substituting synonyms for their original word choices.


  • Check each student's "Using Synonyms in Your Writing" sheet to see if he or she chose appropriate synonyms of "great" that fit the context of the warm-up paragraph.
  • Assess each group's synonym charades presentation to see if group members chose appropriate synonyms to represent the original work's title.

Educational Standards:

Language Arts

Standard 1. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process

Level III [Grades 3-5]

7. Understands level-appropriate reading vocabulary (e.g., synonyms, antonyms, homophones, multi-meaning words)

Standard 2. Uses the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing

Level II [Grade: 3-5]

1. Uses descriptive language that clarifies and enhances ideas (e.g., common figures of speech, sensory details)

2. Uses paragraph form in writing (e.g., indents the first word of a paragraph, uses topic sentences, recognizes a paragraph as a group of sentences about one main idea, uses an introductory and concluding paragraph, writes several related paragraphs)

Standard 4. Gathers and uses information for research purposes

Level II [Grade: 3-5]

Benchmark 4. Uses electronic media to gather information (e.g., databases, Internet, CD-ROM, television shows, cassette recordings, videos, pull-down menus, word searches)

Knowledge/skill statements

  1. Uses word searches to gather information
  2. Uses databases to gather information appropriate to grades 3-5
  3. Uses the Internet to gather information appropriate to grades 3-5

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Comments from our users:

Tuesday June 19th 2007, 9:00 PM
Comment by: Guillermo H.
I like the idea! I´m going to use it in one of my classes soon.
Tuesday July 10th 2007, 12:44 AM
Comment by: anna S. (South Africa)Top 10 Commenter
This is a wonderful lesson plan! Thank you so much for sharing it with everyone! This can be used as a team game too to develop the vocabulary of my staff.
Thursday August 9th 2007, 12:02 PM
Comment by: Dakota
This is a great way to teach beginning readers and writers how to use a variety of vocabulary in their speech and writing. I really like it and plan on usin it with my students! Thank you!

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