What Does it Mean: Using Synonyms to Figure Out the Meaning of New Words

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SWBAT replace a word with a synonym in order to understand a sentence.

Big Idea

One strategy to use when students come across a new word is to replace it with one they know.


10 minutes

What happens when you get to a word you don’t understand? Strong readers try to figure it out really quickly and move on so that they don’t lose the meaning of the text. 

In this lesson, I teach students that sometimes when we read a sentence with a word we don’t understand we can just replace it with a similar word that we do understand.

I start by showing them a few sentences I copied from a book they started in class the previous day. The sentences I chose had a few multisyllabic words in them that I thought would be either difficult for the students to pronounce, recognize or understand.

I ask students how they currently deal with tricky words when they read them in their reading books. If students suggest effective strategies, I will reinforce them and suggest that other students use the same strategy.

Modeling how to notice the tricky words, I read the sentence to them and show them how I think through the process of replacing the tricky word with one that makes sense. I explain that when we replace a word with a similar word, that similar word is called a synonym. A synonym is a word that has a similar meaning with another word.

Guided Practice

10 minutes

With another sentence from the same book, I ask students to turn and talk with their partners about how to use the strategy and what word they would replace the tricky word with.

I read the sentence out loud and tell them which word is supposed to be considered “tricky”. I then ask them to turn and talk with their neighbor about what word they could replace it with and why they chose that word.

When they are done, I call on a few students to share how they decided on a synonym for the new word.

Independent Practice

35 minutes

After the lesson, I ask students to read their independent “just-right” book and look for tricky words. If they find any, they need to write the sentence that contains the word in their learning journal, circle the tricky word, and write down a possible synonym that could help them understand the word and the sentence the word was in.

After they have read for about 30 minutes, I stop them and ask for a few volunteers to share. This gives students a chance to see and hear how other students do it. It validates individual student’s experiences