Mini-Lesson: Using Synonyms to Recreate our Favorite Children’s Stories
Allyson R. Purser
We all have our favorite children’s books, but wouldn’t it be nice if we could use those same stories to teach new lessons? This mini-lesson helps beginning writers and experienced readers to begin to use synonyms and to learn how to use a thesaurus.
Impact for Young Adolescents
This lesson should be taught at the beginning of the year to familiarize students with the term synonym and how they can use it in their own writing. By making use of their favorite children’s books, there is a connection to their childhood. The familiarity that they likely have with the story will help them to find synonyms for words within the story, which might not be the case with a story that they were reading for the first time. Through this activity, adolescents will hopefully broaden their vocabulary and begin to use more synonyms and a thesaurus with their own writing.
National Standards for English Language Arts:
3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
NCSCS: 8th grade
Competency Goal 6: The learner will apply conventions of grammar and language usage.
Objective 6.01: determining the meaning of unfamiliar vocabulary words using…a thesaurus… extending vocabulary knowledge by learning and using new words
Script: “Today, we’re going to use some of our favorite children’s books to review synonyms and how to use them in our own writing. First, I’d like you to take out a clean sheet of paper, tear it in half, and share the half with your neighbor. Then, using your pen or pencil, write your own definition of the word “synonym”.”
Give adequate wait time (2-3 minutes depending on class)
“Now, I’d like for us to come up with a class definition of “synonym”. So, if each person could share with me their definition, I’ll write them on the overhead. (Take student suggestions. Suggestions may consist of “same” “words that mean the same thing”, etc.) Now that we have everyone’s definition, let’s put them together. What do you think would be a good starting point for a definition of “synonym”? (Student may suggest “a word that…”). OK, let’s keep building this until we’re satisfied with our definition.” (Keep taking student input and working with the definition until it is correct and students are satisfied with it.) (approximately 10 minutes)
“We all know what a synonym is now, so what is this? (Hold up thesaurus. Students answer “a thesaurus”.) We can use a thesaurus to find a variety of words with similar meanings. In this particular thesaurus, you can look up a word in the alphabetical portion in the back of the book and then find its’ synonyms in the numbered section in the front. Let’s try finding synonyms for the word “mountain”. Pick up your thesaurus and start looking. If you need help, just raise your hand and I’ll come and help you. I know it can be a bit complicated at first.” (Students look for synonyms of mountain and find some.) “Let’s have a few of those synonyms up on the board. Send one person from your table group up to the board to write one or two of the synonyms you found.” (Students come to the board and write “mount”, “alp”, “peak”, and “earth’s undying monuments” (Hawthorne).) “Do you see how the thesaurus can not only give you a single word, but a quotation or phrase with a similar meaning as the original word?” (approximately 5 minutes)
“Now I want you to take your favorite children’s book that you brought from home or borrowed from the classroom library and choose a key word from each sentence to find a synonym for using the thesaurus. You may use the sticky notes on your tables to rewrite each sentence as you go and then stick it below the original text.” (As students begin working, circulate throughout the room helping students to troubleshoot where necessary.)
“Let’s choose just one story that someone has rewritten to share with the whole class. We’ll share both the original version and then the version you created using synonyms you found in the thesaurus.” (The student may read the story or you might, depending on the student and class.) (approximately 20 minutes)
“How do you think the story changed when synonyms were used?” (It was more exciting, had better details, upper level vocabulary, etc.)
“Did it seem that the meaning changed at all?” (in some places)
“Sometimes synonyms have various shades of meaning, like “peak” and “mountain”, and sometimes not every word the thesaurus suggests can replace the original word. Did you encounter this in this minilesson? What strategies did you use to overcome this to make the meaning what you thought it should be?” (Yes; used the guess and check method by filling it in and rereading it with the new word to see how it sounded.)
“How could you use synonyms in your own writing?” (to make writing more exciting, to be more descriptive, to keep it from getting boring by using the same word a lot)
“How could you use a thesaurus to look up a word you couldn’t think of?” (You could think of a synonym for that meaning and then look up the synonym. In the list of words, the one you couldn’t think of might be there.)
(approximately 5-10 minutes)
Suggestions for Follow-up
To follow up this activity, I would encourage students to use thesauri in writing workshop to make their writing more dynamic and stretch their vocabulary. I might also have them use the thesaurus when they encounter a word they do not recognize in their reading, so that they are using the principles of synonyms to help enhance their understanding of their reading.