Number 1 Trick to Improving a Student’s Writing

There are many effective strategies worth instructing that can improve a student’s writing, but my number one, favorite strategy is teaching the effective use of a thesaurus.

What is a Thesaurus? 
A thesaurus is a book or online site that lists words in groups of synonyms or related concepts.

What are the Benefits of Teaching Students to Use a Thesaurus?
Teaching your students or children to use a thesaurus offers many gains and can be used to:

  1. Expand vocabulary – Using a thesaurus helps students increase their usable word choices.
  2. Avoid repetition – Consulting a thesaurus guides students to alternate word choices when they are concerned with the overuse of a single word within their composition. 
  3. Improve writing quality and sophistication – Utilizing a thesaurus assists students to select more appropriate or mature wording.
  4. Select descriptive words – Consulting a thesaurus helps students find more descriptive words that will enable their audience to better visualize their content.
  5. Impress your readers – Utilizing a thesaurus assists students in finding words that can impress their audience.
  6. Nurture a mindful approach – Using a thesaurus feeds an active, thoughtful and analytical approach to writing.
  7. Find words that are difficult to spell – Consulting a thesaurus assists in finding challenging words to spell when you enter a common synonym to the desired word.
  8. Make the writing process fun – Employing the use of a thesaurus is enjoyable.  I have always enjoyed using a thesaurus and find that it has nurtured a personal love for words.

Are There any Problems with Using a Thesaurus?
When used in a passive or rushed manner, students might select words that don’t make sense in a composition or they may overuse the thesaurus and make documents sound awkward and complex.

What are Some Activities I can Use to Help Students Learn How to Use a Thesaurus?

  1. Provide a passage with a lot of word repetitions.  Ask your students to change the repeated words in the passage by using a thesaurus.  Once the students have rewritten the passage, ask the students to read them aloud and discuss the benefits of using a thesaurus.
  2. Highlight boring, simple words in a passage that are difficult to visualize.  With the use of a thesaurus, ask students to rewrite the passage with synonyms that conjure more visuals in the reader’s mind’s eye.
  3. Give your students a list of simple words and ask them to find other words in a thesaurus that are more descriptive.
  4. Ask students to find words in a thesaurus such as the word, “Kind” and ask them to make a list of all the words that they didn’t know that have the same or similar meaning.  They might come up with words such as philanthropic, benevolent, or one that I just learned by looking at the thesaurus – eleemosynary.
  5. Discuss how mindlessly selecting synonyms can get a writer in trouble because many words have multiple meanings. Then provide a game where your students have to take a mixed up list of words.  Ask them to place these words in order based on similar meaning.  For example, Sad = Down = Under = Lesser = Minor = Young = New.  Once the students are finished with the activity ask them to create their own.

I hope you got some good ideas!  If you have any more activities ideas, please share them below this blog.

Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to &  
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