Yesterday I worked with a group of teachers thinking about developing children’s inference skills. As we talked about the range of strategies that we needed to offer in our classrooms, I was reminded once again of the power of synonyms in reading. I quite often see synonyms being taught for writing purposes, e.g. other words for ‘said’ but rarely for reading purposes.
Coherence inference looks at how we make sense of a text as we move through it; how pronouns link back to nouns and how we use anaphoric reference, in other words how we use synonyms to refer to objects or people throughout a text so that we don’t repeat the same word or phrase. For instance the text might mention ‘the ship’ towards the beginning and then move onto ‘this vessel’, we might have tigers, big cats and these animals. In both these instances as we move through the text the synonym becomes less precise or more generic. This can also be linked to antonyms which are opposites. I remember my class sitting an end of KS2 reading test and thinking if only they understood the title of the reading paper ‘Friend or Foe’ they would get so much more understanding out of it.
So, how can we help children extend their understanding of synonyms?
- One of the first places I would explore with children is a thesaurus. Have a look at the synonyms for the noun ship in the concept thesarus
- collect synonyms and order them along a continuum. These could then be recorded on those paint sample cards to show degrees of intensity. What order would you put these synonyms for cold; arctic, bitter, chilly, brisk, nippy?
- There are several games that are worthwhile for children to play try here and here
- for a get up and go game give each child a piece of paper with a word at the top. Everyone writes one synonym for that word on their piece of paper and then on the say so all move seats and write a synonym on the piece of paper they are now sitting at. Keep going for as many moves as possible. Go back to original word and share the synonyms with a partner.
- Using non-chronological reports, text mark all words used to refer to the object that the report is about. For example on this great website there are several synonyms for lions in the first snippet of information. However in the longer text, which you can see as you scroll down, the word lions is used each time they are referred to. For me as a reader it feels a bit clunky.