Vocabulary instruction typically includes multiple layers of understanding. Explanation, definitions, pictorial representations, word parts, and sentence writing are all common strategies to support students in their growing knowledge of a new concept. Relating terms to synonyms can also be a powerful tool.

By connecting an unfamiliar word to an already known word, students can begin to understand the meaning of the new term. For example:

  • monetary: money, currency
  • vertex: corner

However, to really deepen students’ grasp of a vocabulary term, eventually students must be able to distinguish its meaning from the synonyms they have been aligning it with.

A word is classified as a synonym if it shares a similar or general meaning. However, synonyms are NOT words that mean the same thing. A word may partially overlap the meaning of another (e.g., motivate and bribe), but none have the exact same definitions or use. Each word has its own distinctly different application, not to mention unique connotation. (Motivate conjures a more positive definition, while bribe ignites a more negative nuance.)

As students’ knowledge deepens, challenge them to write sentences for each term and its synonyms. See examples below.

Synonym ExampleSynonym Example

TIP! It’s likely that students will need support in writing such sentences. They won’t truly grasp the subtle differences among all the words. Use this as the perfect opportunity to drive students into their glossaries and dictionaries to study the specific definitions and explanations of each word.

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