by Becky L. Spivey, M.Ed.
The thesaurus (thi-SOR-us) is one of the oldest and most widely used reference
books, next to the dictionary. A thesaurus is a collection of phrases,
concepts, and related words usually alphabetized like a simple
dictionary. When you know what a certain word means, but
you’re looking for a different word to convey that same
meaning, a thesaurus is the book you need.
The thesaurus is a writer’s best friend. It helps authors
avoid using the same terminology over and over again by
providing words with similar meanings and/or grammatical
function. Most thesauruses closely resemble the layout of a
dictionary; therefore, if a student is familiar and comfortable
using a dictionary, the thesaurus will be easy. The entry words
(the words you are looking for) are in alphabetical order, the
guide words (the “tag” words at the top of the left and right
pages that the target word falls in between alphabetically)
are at the top of the page, and the list of synonyms (words
that mean the same) and antonyms (words that mean the
opposite) follow the entry word.
An Example of Using a Thesaurus
When might a student use a thesaurus? Let’s suppose a young author pens the
|Today’s sunrise was simply beautiful. I watched the beautiful colors of the
morning bathe the sky with beautiful shades of red, yellow, and orange. It was
beautiful! The beautiful morning sun raised the curtains of the night above the
horizon and welcomed the beginning of a beautiful new day.|
YIKES! Did you want to scream before you read the word beautiful for the
sixth time? This example is great for illustrating the need for a writer to vary
his/her word usage.
Teaching students to use the thesaurus helps them find a variety of synonyms
that will transform their sentences, like the ones above, into a more vivid piece of
writing. When a reader tries to envision this author’s view of the sunrise, as is written
above, he/she loses focus quickly. Overusing the word “beautiful” has ruined the
flow and simplicity of the writing. Replacing all but one “beautiful” with a variety
of appropriate synonyms allows the reader to experience the sunrise with a more
detailed and pleasant description.
Let’s try those sentences again replacing all but one beautiful with appropriate
synonyms for the context…
|Today’s sunrise was simply beautiful. I watched the splendid colors of the
morning bathe the sky with exquisite shades of red, yellow, and orange. It was
delightful! The pretty morning sun raised the curtains of the night above the
horizon and welcomed the beginning of a lovely new day.|
Ah! A little better, don’t you think?