Lesson Plans

Put the VT to work in your classroom

When You Reeeaaallly Want to Say Something

Lesson Question:

How can the Visual Thesaurus help students replace trite words of emphasis with "words strong in themselves"?

Applicable Grades:


Lesson Overview:

In this lesson, students will learn to be more "economical" in their writing by replacing phrases using common intensifiers such as very and really with more precise language. Student partners will use the Visual Thesaurus to revise "intensifier-heavy" dialogues to become more concise and effective.

Length of Lesson:

One hour and a half

Instructional Objectives:

Students will:

  • learn the value of precise and economical language
  • use the Visual Thesaurus as a resource to identify synonyms
  • revise dialogues to be more concise and effective


  • white board
  • computers with Internet access


Interpreting a writing tip from The Elements of Style:

  • Share with students the following "Misused Words and Expressions" entry from Strunk and White's The Elements of Style:

    Very. Use this word sparingly. Where emphasis is necessary, use words strong in themselves.

  • Ask students to join partners and to paraphrase this writing tip in their own words, with the help of the VT if necessary.

  • Elicit partners' interpretations of the writing tip, and then point out that the VT meaning of the adjective sparing is "avoiding waste." Introduce the idea to students that they should be "economical" in their word choices. (In other words: using very in conjunction with another word could be "wasteful" if there is one stronger word that could more effectively replace both words.)


Revising a sample sentence:

  • To demonstrate Strunk and White's advice regarding the use of very, write the following sentence on the board:

    Julie is very pretty.

  • Display the VT word map for pretty on the white board and challenge students to replace the phrase "very pretty" with one word 'strong in itself.' (Students will most likely revise the sentence to read "Julie is beautiful.")

  • In order to show students how the VT can assist them in replacing lackluster phrases such as "very pretty" with more unique or descriptive words, click on the meaning bubble for beautiful that reads "delighting the senses or exciting intellectual or emotional admiration." This display will reveal a whole host of words that could describe Julie (e.g., ravishing, stunning, exquisite, etc.)

Brainstorming other "intensifiers" or words of emphasis:

  • Have students brainstorm a list of other words that they tend to use (in writing or in everyday speech) as words of emphasis and list those words on the board.

  • You could jumpstart students' efforts by displaying the word map for very on the white board and pointing out the adverbs grouped as "intensifiers" related to very: really, real, rattling.

  • Ask students what other adverbs they may use as intensifiers that are not in this group because they may be less common or slang. (For example, many people use the words mad, totally, or way as "slang intensifiers," e.g., mad smart, totally awesome, or way cool.)

Writing "before" and "after" dialogues:

  • Once you have compiled your list of brainstormed intensifiers on the board, direct students to rejoin their partners to compose a short dialogue (eight to ten lines in length) intentionally using as many common or trite "intensifiers" as possible.

  • Explain to partners that the context for their dialogues is open, but they should probably choose a premise where two people are emphatic or excited to describe a subject or event (e.g., a tornado, a celebrity sighting, a sports event, a news event, a concert, etc.).

  • When partners have completed writing their dialogues, have them exchange their papers with other partnerships. It will then be the job of each partnership to revise the other partnership's dialogue with the use of the Visual Thesaurus. Inform students that the revised dialogues may contain no "intensifiers" or trite words of emphasis; they must replace such words and phrases with more powerful and concise language. For example, "I was really happy to see the Hornets win. They totally beat the Giants." could be revised (with the help of the VT) to the more concise and powerful: "I was euphoric to see the Hornets thrash the Giants."


Performing "before" and "after" dialogues:

  • Invite partnerships to read the original and revised versions of their dialogues. After each reading, ask students to identify which words were eliminated and how the words that replaced those intensifiers changed the tone and/or meaning of the dialogue.

  • As you wrap up the lesson, caution students to use a thesaurus carefully when revising their own writing. Although a synonym might be more unique or "sound good" in a thesaurus entry, it could end up being inappropriate in the context of student writing. Therefore, when using the VT, advise students to read the sample sentence(s) provided for each word in order to better understand its usage.

Extending the Lesson:

  • This lesson provides a fun and potentially humorous activity to urge students to use more powerful and concise language, but you could also have students bring in actual writing samples of their own to revise in a similar manner but with more serious intent.


  • Partners' revised dialogues should be assessed to see if students have replaced phrases containing common or trite words of emphasis (e.g., really, very, real, totally, etc.) with more precise and effective language.

Educational Standards:

Language Arts

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

Level III (Grades 6-8)

2.  Drafting and Revising: Uses a variety of strategies to draft and revise written work (e.g., analyzes and clarifies meaning, makes structural and syntactical changes, uses an organizational scheme, uses sensory words and figurative language, rethinks and rewrites for different audiences and purposes, checks for a consistent point of view and for transitions between paragraphs, uses direct feedback to revise compositions)

3. Editing and Publishing: Uses a variety of strategies to edit and publish written work (e.g., eliminates slang; edits for grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and spelling at a developmentally appropriate level; proofreads using reference materials, word processor, and other resources; edits for clarity, word choice, and language usage; uses a word processor or other technology to publish written work)

4. Evaluates own and others? writing (e.g., applies criteria generated by self and others, uses self-assessment to set and achieve goals as a writer, participates in peer response groups)

Level IV (Grades 9-12)

2. Drafting and Revising: Uses a variety of strategies to draft and revise written work (e.g., highlights individual voice; rethinks content, organization, and style; checks accuracy and depth of information; redrafts for readability and needs of readers; reviews writing to ensure that content and linguistic structures are consistent with purpose)

4. Evaluates own and others' writing (e.g., accumulates a body of written work to determine strengths and weaknesses as a writer, makes suggestions to improve writing, responds productively to reviews of own work)

Standard 2. Uses the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing

Level III (Grades 6-8)

1. Uses descriptive language that clarifies and enhances ideas (e.g., establishes tone and mood, uses figurative language, uses sensory images and comparisons, uses a thesaurus to choose effective wording)

 Level IV (Grades 9-12)

1. Uses precise and descriptive language that clarifies and enhances ideas and supports different purposes (e.g., to stimulate the imagination of the reader, to translate concepts into simpler or more easily understood terms, to achieve a specific tone, to explain concepts in literature)

Standard 8. Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes

Level III (Grades 6-8)

1. Plays a variety of roles in group discussions (e.g., active listener, discussion leader, facilitator)

6. Makes oral presentations to the class (e.g., uses notes and outlines; uses organizational pattern that includes preview, introduction, body, transitions, conclusion; uses a clear point of view; uses evidence and arguments to support opinions; uses visual media)

 Level IV (Grades 9-12)

5. Makes formal presentations to the class (e.g., includes definitions for clarity; supports main ideas using anecdotes, examples, statistics, analogies, and other evidence; uses visual aids or technology, such as transparencies, slides, electronic media; cites information sources)

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