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.



Lesson Planning Flow – Thesaurus Poetry

Sometimes lessons create themselves; they flow on your students’ creative energy. This is what happened to the following lesson sequences.

Between the first and second sessions during the fall 2010 semester, I introduced periphery verbs for the core verb, to walk. I used the visual representations found in the book Lexicarry to elicit periphery verbs such as crawl, skip, tiptoe, march, and weave, to name a few. Most of these words were new to my trainees.

I then wanted to help them understand the importance of thesaurus and English learner’s dictionary usage. I assigned each group two of the periphery words. One of the members in the group looked up the definition in the dictionary, and another found synonyms in the thesaurus. They also wrote a sentence with the initial assigned word. The next step was to replace that word with the synonym that most closely resembled the word in the sentence. Of course not all of the synonyms they found could work in the sentence they created, so they had to use the English dictionary to find the word with the closest definition. After they were done, they wrote their sentences on the board to share their work with the other groups.

We ended the class by reflecting on the benefits and shortcomings of using the thesaurus and English learner’s dictionary. One of the benefits mentioned was that by using this method, they could find the subtle meaning of the synonyms, whereas when they use an English-Korean dictionary, the meaning is not as obvious. A shortcoming was that they were not used to this type of word search, and that reading definitions in English can be tiring. They did admit that the English learner’s dictionary was much more comprehensible than typical dictionaries.   

From one session to the next (usually 6 weeks each), trainees switch homerooms, and also have to face new course challenges. As the semester progresses, so does the curriculum’s difficulty. As a way to help trainees transition into their new homerooms and session, I asked trainees to work in groups to create diamante poems. Their task was to use Session 1 and Session 2 as different points of the diamante. I also asked them to use the walking verbs learned in the previous lesson for verb line of their diamante poem. These verbs worked as metaphors for their feelings. You can see that each group had a unique take on the transition between sessions.

Then just when I thought I had exhausted all the work we could do with these words, my trainee wrote this in her dialogue journal.

Where have you gone

Im Myung Sook

With my staggering mind,
Leaving empty vessel behind,
Where have you vanished?
With my confidence:
My self-confidence
Trudging across the field,
I followed you with vanished mind,
Stumbled constantly,
Twisted an ankle and a hand,
Walked on knees and a hand
To find you
While you racing,
I toddled and paced.
With your confident walk
where have you gone,

She was inspired by the poem below. Reading this poem was a powerful learning moment for me. It reminded me of the importance of making language your own. By playing with language in a way that you enjoy, you are more apt to internalize and use it. I am grateful to my trainee, Im Myung Sook, for allowing me to post her poem. It was a great joy to read it and share it with you.

As you can imagine I received a lot of satisfaction with the lessons around these “walking” periphery verbs. When a lesson goes beyond your expectations, it is extremely rewarding. I look forward to teaching these lessons again.


Where have you gone

Mari Evans

With your confident
walk with
your crooked smile
Why did you leave me
when you took your
laughter and departed
are you aware that
with you went the sun
all light
and what few stars
there were?
Where have you gone
with your confident
walk your
crooked smile the
rent money
in one pocket and
my heart in another…