Lesson Plans

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Say What? Mastering Some Hard-to-Pronounce Words

Lesson Question:

How can students use Visual Thesaurus word maps and the Community Spelling Bee to learn how to pronounce some tricky words?

Applicable Grades:


Lesson Overview:

In this lesson, students grapple with some hard to pronounce words, and master their pronunciations with help from the Visual Thesaurus audio pronunciations. They then review custom-made lists of hard-to-pronounce words with a VT Community Spelling Bee that they produce.

Length of Lesson:

One hour to one hour and a half

Instructional Objectives:

Students will:

  • understand the limits of phonetic analysis in pronouncing certain words
  • use Visual Thesaurus to learn word pronunciations
  • plan and present some words with tricky pronunciations to the class
  • create VT Community Spelling Bees to review word pronunciation and spelling


  • student notebooks
  • white board
  • computers with Internet access
  • "Tricky Words to Pronounce" charts (one per group) [click here to download]


Learning to pronounce pot, depot, and despot:

  • Write the following words on the board, in this order, without pronouncing them:


  • Ask students to turn to a partner and try to say the words in order aloud. If they are unfamiliar with the words, encourage them to guess at their pronunciations --based on the words' spelling or their similarity to words they may know.
  • On the white board, look up all three words in the Visual Thesaurus.  Define each word as you display its word map, and then ask for volunteers to click on the speaker icons to the right of the words to reveal their pronunciations.
  • Discuss the three words' pronunciations. Are students surprised by how they sound? If so, why? Based on their knowledge of how the word pot is pronounced, did they expect the other words' endings to sound similar? Were they able to sound out depot and despot phonetically?


Investigating some tricky pronunciations with the Visual Thesaurus:

  • Explain to students that it's not always possible to sound out words phonetically and get their pronunciations right. Words like depot (derived from the French with a silent "t" at the end) will stump English readers the first time they try to pronounce them as they read them (or to spell them if they are hearing their pronunciations).
  • Organize the class in ten small groups or partnerships and assign each group a different set of words from the "Tricky Words to Pronounce" chart:

Group A


Group B


Group C


Group D


Group E


Group F


Group G


Group H


Group I


Group J


  • Direct groups to look up each of their three assigned words up on the Visual Thesaurus, record its definition, and to then listen to its audio pronunciation by clicking on the speaker icon to the right of the word in its word map display.
  • Explain to groups that it will be their job to teach those three words and their pronunciations to the rest of the class. Beyond explaining to the class the words' definitions, how can they help students to remember their pronunciations? Can they think of a funny rhyme that might make the pronunciation memorable? Should they have the class repeat the words aloud? How can they make their presentation interactive?

Creating VT Community Spelling Bees:

Groups can also create a VT Community Spelling Bee so their classmates can review the words that they are presenting. To create a bee, have students follow these steps:

  • Click on the Spelling Bee, from the Home page or from the Educators page.
  • Scroll down to the Community Spelling Bee and click on the "Create your own Spelling Bee" button.
  • Give your Spelling Bee a Title.
  • List the words to review in the text box at the bottom of the page (separated by commas or each in a separate line).
  • Click the "Add Words" button.
  • Click the "Save this Word List" button.
  • Note the unique URL for your spelling bee; this is how you will share your spelling bee with others.


Group teaching:

  • Invite each group to teach their set of words and pronunciation tips to the class.
  • If groups created Community Spelling Bees, they can share the unique URL of the bees so their classmates can review those words online for homework.
  • Wrap up the lesson with a short discussion about any similarities or patterns students noticed among the tricky words presented. For example, which words contain silent t's? Silent p's? Unexpected syllables?

Extending the Lesson:

  • Have students choose one of the tricky words reviewed in class and research its etymology and how it might relate to its pronunciation. For example: the English noun souvenir comes from the French verb souvenir – meaning "to remember." (A great resource for researching etymology is The Online Etymological Dictionary at etymonline.com.)


  • As an assessment, have students play a Community Spelling Bee that reviews all 30 of the words presented in class:  http://www.visualthesaurus.com/wordlists/40155. They can print out their scores as proof of their mastery of the words.

Educational Standards:

Language Arts

Standard 5. Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process

Level II (Grades 3-5)

4. Uses phonetic and structural analysis techniques, syntactic structure, and semantic context to decode unknown words (e.g., vowel patterns, complex word families, syllabication, root words, affixes)

6. Uses word reference materials (e.g., glossary, dictionary, thesaurus) to determine the meaning, pronunciation, and derivations of unknown words

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

Level III (Grades 6-8)
2. Uses word origins and derivations to understand word meaning (e.g., Latin and Greek roots and affixes, meanings of foreign words frequently used in the English language, historical influences on English word meanings)

3. Uses a variety of strategies to extend reading vocabulary (e.g., uses analogies, idioms, similes, metaphors to infer the meaning of literal and figurative phrases; uses context clues, such as word function and placement; uses definition, restatement, example, comparison and contrast to verify word meanings; identifies shades of meaning; knows denotative and connotative meanings; knows vocabulary related to different content areas and current events; uses rhyming dictionaries, classification books, etymological dictionaries)
Level IV (Grades 9-12)
2. Extends general and specialized reading vocabulary (e.g., interprets the meaning of codes, symbols, abbreviations, and acronyms; uses Latin, Greek, Anglo-Saxon roots and affixes to infer meaning; understands subject-area terminology; understands word relationships, such as analogies or synonyms and antonyms; uses cognates; understands allusions to mythology and other literature; understands connotative and denotative meanings) 

3. Uses a range of automatic monitoring and self-correction methods (e.g., rereading, slowing down, sub-vocalizing, consulting resources, questioning)

See also the Common Core State Standards for ELA and Literacy (PDF, pages 29, 53, and 55)

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Comments from our users:

Friday March 11th 2011, 7:48 AM
Comment by: danny I. (London United Kingdom)
Esoteric - '...ultimately from Greek.......' I am not so sure. Hebrew linguists will recognize a much older root, namely STR, or, due to the vagaries of time, SDR. In Hebrew this root is associated with the idea of 'order'. The Seder(Passover) meal, dishes in the right order, the Sidur, (the Hebrew prayer book), prayers in the right order, and in English, consideration, sidereal, star, and just about every construction you can think of, containing STR, street, stripe, stroke, strip, streak, strap, stirrup (strip of leather), stare, steer, strike, stork (long legs?), storm, stream, strew, stroll and stray. What do these words have in common? Quite simply that one dimension to the meaning is many times the length of the other, and therefor that they infer order in a variety of different contexts. So where does 'esoteric' fit in. It is surely 'ex-soteric', or 'out of order', unusual or unfamiliar.
Any thoughts, anyone?

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