Standard Lesson

Using Word Webs to Teach Synonyms for Commonly Used Words

4 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Seven 50-minute sessions
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"I feel good." "It was nice." "That was bad." Students respond to teachers' questions with these generic descriptions all the time, leaving teachers to dig deeper to figure out what students are really trying to say. Second-language learners also struggle to use descriptive words in written and oral language and tend to overuse common words, such as good, bad, and nice, due to their lack of knowledge of specific synonyms. In this multisession lesson, word webs are used to expose students to synonyms for common words, to help students choose synonyms that are appropriate for a given context, and to encourage students to use more descriptive words in their speech and writing. Student pairs then use words from the web in a skit they present to the class.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • Vocabulary development can be challenging for second language learners. Students are expected to comprehend content vocabulary, idioms, words with multiple meanings, as well as everyday functional vocabulary.

  • Vocabulary instruction for second language learners should help them use familiar words to make connections to unfamiliar words. Instruction should also teach students how the words should be used. A word web is one tool that can facilitate this type of instruction.


Semantic maps are useful when teaching a key word or concept in depth. Students can help brainstorm words that relate to the key word or concepts and, with the teacher's help, categorize the words.

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 10. Students whose first language is not English make use of their first language to develop competency in the English language arts and to develop understanding of content across the curriculum.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Conversation Cards

  • Dictionaries (print and online version)

  • Thesauri (print and online version)

  • Transparencies and overhead projector, or chart paper




1. Prior to the lesson, make a transparency of "The Good, the Bad, and the Nice" Word Webs (or you can copy them onto large chart paper). You will also need copies of the webs for students to use during the lesson.

2. Prepare for Session 1 by writing two descriptions of an object (such as a hamburger), one containing the words good, bad, and nice several times throughout and the other containing more descriptive synonyms in place of the overused adjectives.

3. Prepare several excerpts of writing that include the overused words good, bad, and nice. The excerpts can be a letter from you to the students, a paragraph describing a movie or famous person, an advertisement for a popular product, or anonymous selections from students' writing. Copy the excerpts onto transparencies or make copies for distribution.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Increase their knowledge of synonyms for common words

  • Expand their written and oral vocabularies

  • Identify clues in context for more specific word choices

  • Answer questions in English using complete, complex sentences

Session 1

1. Begin the class by reading the description of an object, which you prepared in advance, containing the words good, bad, and nice several times. Then read the description of the same object that uses descriptive synonyms in place of the overused adjectives. Ask students to identify the description that was more interesting and give the reasons for their selection. Explain to students that writers use specific, descriptive language to appeal to readers' senses and to help readers "see" a product, place, or person. Discuss situations in which specific adjectives are useful (e.g., a travel brochure, an advertisement for a car).

2. Distribute the partially completed "The Good, the Bad, and the Nice" Word Webs. Explain that these words are adjectives that are used frequently in students' writing and speaking, but there are other, more specific words that they should learn to use.

3. After reviewing the word webs with the class, brainstorm other synonyms that they already know and discuss which categories these words fit into. Brainstorm examples of how the words would be used in sentences. At this time, ESL students can also think of words in their native language to determine if there are similar words in English.

4. Tell students that they will be using several resources to research more synonyms to add to the word webs. Divide the class into groups of three to four students each. Assign each group two categories from the word web. For example, one group can find good, bad, and nice words for food and weather, another group can find words for appearance and behavior, and so on. Each group should be given a thesaurus, a dictionary, and access to the Internet to search for words on and Again, ESL students can look for English words that have similar roots or spellings as words in their native language.

Session 2

1. Briefly review the partially completed word webs from the previous session.

2. Have each group present to the class the words found during their search. Help students determine which words should be included in the word webs and in which category (e.g., food, weather, behavior, movies). As students discuss the different words, have them add them to their copies of the word webs. You can also model how words are added to the word webs using a transparency or large chart paper.

3. After students finalize the word webs, make a clean final copy to distribute to students.

4. As homework or a practice exercise, have students complete the "Synonyms for Good, Bad, and Nice" puzzle. They can either complete the puzzle online using the Crossword Puzzles tool (select Play One of Ours and the 6-8 tab; the puzzle appears in the drop-down menu) or you can print the puzzle off for them to complete. For more information about the puzzle see Playing Puzzles: A Guide for Teachers. You can also have students complete short journal entries in which they use synonyms from the word webs.

Sessions 3–6

1. Begin each session with a brief warm-up using the Conversation Cards. For this activity, randomly draw a card from a bag or hat. Ask a student the question. Direct the student to answer the question in a complete sentence using a word from the word webs instead of good, bad, or nice. Have the student also give a reason for his or her answer. You may want to model how to answer in complete sentences. For example, if you ask, "How is the weather today?" the student could answer, "The weather is pleasant today because the sun is shining." This conversation warm-up should be repeated daily at the beginning of each class for the duration of the lesson.

2. After the conversation card warm-up, show students the writing excerpts that you prepared in advance for this lesson. Direct students to use appropriate synonyms from their word webs to revise the sentences. You can use the overhead and revise the sentences as a class, or distribute paper copies of the excerpts for students to revise individually or in pairs. This activity can be repeated daily for the duration of the lesson.

3. For the next activity, distribute the Synonym Skit handout and explain that students will demonstrate their abilities to correctly use the synonyms they have learned by working in pairs to write skits using five or more synonyms from each word web. When writing, students must make sure that they are using the words in the correct context. Before students begin working on their skits, review the Synonym Skit Rubric with them.

4. After students have written their skits, they should practice reading them with their partners. It may take three to four class periods for students to draft, revise, and practice their skits.

Session 7

1. During the last session, students can present their skits to the class for additional conversation practice. After each skit is presented, have the class discuss the synonyms used in the skit and determine if they were used in the correct context.

2. Encourage students to keep their copies of the word webs to use as a resource for other classes and assignments.


  • Develop new word webs for other commonly used words (such as the verbs go, do, get, and say). Students can use a dictionary, thesaurus, and online resources to find synonyms and discuss in groups which categories to use for the word webs.

  • Have students incorporate words from their completed word webs into future writing assignments. You can include this expectation as part of the grading criteria for those assignments.

  • Help students create word games using the words from their word webs. (Games can be variations of common games such as Go Fish or Bingo.) Students can rotate through the games as a review activity.

  • Direct students to proofread sentences or short stories in which some synonyms are used in the wrong context (e.g., "That hamburger sure tasted handsome."). After students determine which words are used incorrectly, they can revise the sentences by replacing the words with appropriate synonyms.

  • Create additional crosswords or other puzzles using words from the word webs.

  • Have students complete similar activities using idioms instead of synonyms. Students can categorize the idioms according to usage and use the idioms to write skits.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Review students' written work to evaluate their use of the synonyms for good, bad, and nice.

  • Keep anecdotal notes and observe students' use of synonyms during classroom conversations and discussions.

  • Create a cloze passage that requires students to insert appropriate synonyms into a story. A sample cloze passage is included, but it is highly recommended that you create an original cloze passage that is relevant to the level, needs, and interests of your students and to your curriculum.

  • Use the Synonym Skit Rubric to evaluate students' written and oral presentation of their skit.

Tina Ash
Is there an answer key for this crossword?
Tina Ash
Is there an answer key for this crossword?
Tina Ash
Is there an answer key for this crossword?

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