Writer resources: dictionary and thesaurus

It’s that time again. The time when I help the teacher-trainees in our program get more comfortable with the concept of writing. One of the ways I do this is by doing a session on the benefits of combing a dictionary with a thesaurus (Lesson Planning Flow – Thesaurus PoetryHow Do You Create Smoother Transitions?). I’m often fascinated by the fact that many of my teacher-traineess have barely used a thesaurus. I thought maybe they weren’t alone, and that the email I just sent them could be of use to someone else out there.

The Oxford Learner's Dictionary is another great option (picture courtesy of ELTpics)
The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary is another great option (picture courtesy of ELTpics)

Dear KIETT Writers,

Tomorrow we’ll be writing our narratives. I thought this would be a great opportunity to introduce you to some online resources.

As we get deeper into our writing practice, I’ll be introducing tools that I think are valuable to writers. There are two resources that all writers have by their side when writing: a dictionary and a thesaurus. As we talked about before, if you are interested in developing your vocabulary knowledge, it’s helpful to use English dictionaries that are specially developed for language learners. The one I recommended to you is http://www.ldoceonline.com

I also recommend using a thesaurus http://thesaurus.com/ with your dictionary. When you find a synonym in the thesaurus, but aren’t sure if the word is appropriate for the sentence you are writing, check the definition in the Longman online dictionary. The combination of the thesaurus and the English learner’s dictionary will help you catch the subtle differences between words that a Korean-English dictionary might not be able to do.

When you are writing, I suggest keeping these websites open and available as a writing reference.



7 thoughts on “Writer resources: dictionary and thesaurus

  1. Hi Josette,

    Great advice. I think it’s also important to get students thinking about the stage in their writing process when using a dictionary or thesaurus is going to be most productive for them as a writer. Personally, I find that hitting the reference books as I’m struggling to get out a very rough first draft can get in the way of developing flow. Even when I wrote in Japanese, I’ll just throw in an English word so I can push on and push on. But as soon as I hit my second draft, I’m all about my dictionary, but not so much my thesaurus. I don’t really start searching for the perfect word until later in the process. This is just what works for me. But our learners have to experiment for themselves and see when flipping open a dictionary/thesaurus is going to help them move forward, and when it’s going to get in the way of wrestling with an idea.

    Will be thinking more about dictionary/thesaurus use this semester thanks to your timely post.




    1. Hey Kevin,

      And your comment is also timely. I think that’s what I’m going to add to the reflection period tomorrow. Once they’ve gone through the peer review and then their final draft, we should have time to discuss how the process flowed. I’ll be adding this to the batch of reflection questions: does using a dictionary and thesaurus help or hinder your writing during the first, second, final draft? Or something along those lines.

      My process is a bit different from yours, and perhaps maybe why the question above did not come to me until you shared your process. I tend to use both these references throughout the process. Not sure why. There’s some safety there. That being said, it does take me a while to get these blog posts written! :)

      So my friend, thank you for helping making tomorrow’s lesson that much richer! I’ll let you know how they responded!



  2. Good advice! It’s great that you point out that all writers have these resources by their sides when writing. Those who are less confident about their writing often express the feeling that they are not good writers unless they can write without referring to a dictionary or thesaurus, so it will always be reassuring to read that good writers use these too.

    I like to recommend http://www.macmillandictionary.com/ which combines a dictionary and a thesaurus.



    1. That’s a great point Carol. I’ve heard a few teachers mention in the past how useless they feel because they don’t know all the words they read, or see in the dictionary. Today I shared my story that I always have these resources by my side, and that don’t know all the words I see. I’m not sure if this damaged my image (the all knowing teacher… Korean cultural moment), but I saw a few nods of what I interepreted as relief or understanding.

      Thank you for the recommendation! I’ll check it out and see if I can add it to their list… hmmm…this just got me thinking. I think I need to add a resources page for new writers my blog. Thanks for the inspiration!


  3. Nice post :) As a lexicographer, I’m a big fan of both dictionaries and thesauruses. Have you come across the Oxford Learner’s Thesaurus? It’s a thesaurus specifically aimed at learners, with definitions and explanations to help distinguish between synonyms. Sadly, not available for free online, but a great resource for the classroom, especially with higher level learners or teacher trainees like yours, I suspect.


    1. I did not know of this little gem. I’ll have to get my hands on one somehow. Thanks for the link and info Julie! It would be a great resource for this group. Maybe we’ll see it online someday. Fingers crossed. :)

      I also appreciate you reading and commenting. I think it’s our first introduction as well. Happy to meet you!

      See you on Twitter and the blogosphere!

      Happy wording! ;-)


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