Awareness of synonyms for common words allows students to use a more precise word to make their text more effective.

Vocabulary: Is there a better word to use?


Vocabulary development during school years is an important aspect of learning, particularly for EALD students or students from disadvantaged backgrounds, who may start school with a limited vocabulary in English.

Make vocabulary learning part of all KLAs by explicitly teaching new or partially known words.

Students can be provided with texts of the targeted genre (in Word or on paper) and asked to replace specific underlined or bolded words, with a synonym.

Activities to support the strategy

Activity 1: Rewordify

Texts can be pasted or typed into the Rewordify website and instantly rewritten to include synonyms for more difficult vocabulary. Synonym clozes, quizzes and word banks can be produced and students can learn the new words.

Brainstorm words with the same meaning and add to class or individual vocabulary journals (book or digital) or a word wall. Challenge students to use the new vocabulary in their writing. For example, provide praise or points for using the words orally or in writing.

Activity 2: class word jar

While students are reading texts they collect new words on cards to add to the class word jar. The word should be written on one side of the card and the sentence it appears in on the other side.

Activity 3: class dictionary

When students have free time they can add words from the word jar to the class dictionary in a blank scrapbook or online vocabulary journal. The iPad app, Bookcreator, can be used for this purpose. The scrapbook pages can be divided into four sections.

One section has the word and a student friendly definition (the type of word could also be identified for example noun, verb, adjective), one section has the sentence from the text, one section is an illustration of the word, one section includes the student’s own sentence.

Activity 4: vocabulary revision

Keep a list of new vocabulary introduced and regularly revise during whole-class lesson breaks or literacy activities in small groups. For example:

  • Tic/Tac/Toe on the IWB, Pictionary-like games, concentration or memory games, bingo games.

Activity 5: vocabulary bingo

Students choose 10 words from a list of about 20 words previously studied on the board and write them down on a grid. The teacher provides clues for words and students tick the word or cover it with a counter. For example:

  • this word is a synonym for ‘ran’. It means ‘run very fast in a race’. (sprint)

Activity 6: pair prompts

Students pair up. One student from each pair faces the whiteboard. Teacher writes a short list of words previously studied on the board. The student facing the whiteboard gives a clue for each word for the other person to guess. For example:

  • this is another word for 'look' that means 'looked at someone quickly’. (glance)


Australian curriculum

ACELA1484: Expressing and developing ideas: Learn extended and technical vocabulary and ways of expressing opinion including modal verbs and adverbs.

NSW syllabus

EN2-9B: Outcome 9: uses effective and accurate sentence structure, grammatical features, punctuation conventions and vocabulary relevant to the type of text when responding to and composing texts (EN2-9B) - Understand and apply knowledge of vocabulary: learn extended and technical vocabulary and ways of expressing opinion including modal verbs and adverbs

NSW literacy continuum

VOCC9M1: Vocabulary knowledge, Cluster 9, Marker 1: Uses synonyms for a range of common words.

Teacher resources

  • Beck, I., McKeown, M. & Kucan, L. (2002) Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction. New York: The Guildford Press Montgomery, J. K. (2007). The Bridge of Vocabulary. USA: Pearson


Student resources

  • Picture Books: Dahl, M. (2007) If You Were a Synonym. Minnesota: Picture Window Books


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