Working with Synonyms

How many words that mean ‘…’ can you think of? This a typical question for learners of different levels. It seems to be a good way of helping them expand their lexical range and activate their background knowledge. It can work particularly well if you work with groups. Some individual learners are good at spotting useful words in texts and they can usually tell what they mean by deducing that from the context.

My IELTS students read a text for today’s lesson with words like ‘metamorphosis’ and ‘alteration’. We started talking about the differences between them and brainstormed other words that carry the same meaning. Did you know that the former is of Latin and Greek origin? Well, according to LDCE ‘meta’ comes from either Latin ‘change’ or from Greek ‘among, with, after, change’, while ‘morphe’ means ‘shape’. Looking into the origin of words and finding examples from corpus can help learners tell the difference between them and understand how similar words can be used in different contexts. Obviously, if you want to find out more words and become aware of a wide range of synonyms, it might be worth consulting some coursebooks for higher-levels.

Anyway, I’m sharing the word cloud with the words we came up with today. Can you think of some other ways to talk about changes?

Some typical tasks to help students expand their lexical range are the following:

  • Brainstorm the synonyms and create a mindmap or a classroom poster

This means collaborating and discussing how the words they’ve come up with are different and how they can be used.

  • Make a noun out of a verb, or create a whole word family

E.g. transform, transformer, transformation, form, reform, formlessly, formlessness etc.

  • Create a gap-fill or matching task for your peers

Setting up and making use of student-generated activities can work well for groups of competitive students.

  • Make up some questions on the topic, interview each other, summarise your findings

Move from receptive to productive tasks increasing the level of challenge. Hopefully, if you expose them to the words used in natural context, help them work out how to use them, towards the end of the lesson your students are likely to be able to use new lexical items confidently.

All these activities can be used online if you want. I’d probably use Jamboard, as it is a user-friendly online tool for collaboration and creating posters.  You create a board in advance and share the link to it with your students in the chat box. They can use a tablet, a mobile phone or a laptop to join in and start working together. Just imagine – the whole class can join one board. It is a nice alternative to Miro, which might be easier to start using, especially if you lack experience of this kind. The great thing’s that Jamboard’s free and if you use Google docs, it’ll be relatively painless.

If you like challenges and want to start using a new sophisticated tool, Miro is there for you. It is infinitely zoomable canvas for planning all kinds of projects and collaborating synchronously or asynchronously. By the way, there is a free version of that tool – Miro light – if you are interested in creating a board for a short period of time.