Teach Synonyms Using Concept Mapping In English

Build your students’ vocabulary with concept maps.

Through the study of synonyms, students can build their vocabulary and better their understanding of words that they encounter daily. While the study of these same-meaning words can take on many forms, one useful way to structure your synonym study is to use concept maps. A concept map is a visual representation of information that shows how concepts are related. By providing your students with this visual tool, you can make this abstract topic more complete and allow your students to create visual representations of their vocabulary-related mental processes.


1. Define the term “synonym” with your students. Write the definition on your chalkboard if this is the first time you have presented this term to them. If your students have previous experience with this term, discuss it with them, reviewing that a synonym is the word that means the same thing. Remind them that both “synonym” and “same” start with an “s.”

2. Write a word on the the chalkboard. Select a word that your students are familiar with to ensure that it doesn’t present too much of a challenge. For example, you may want to select a word like “hot” when teaching elementary students or a word that represents an abstract concept like “happiness” when teaching middle school students.

3. Allow students to come up to the chalkboard and add synonyms radiating from this central word. Either allow student volunteers to draw lines off of this central word, writing words that are synonyms, or ask students to volunteer words and place them on the concept map yourself.

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4. Explain to students that the cluster you have created is called a concept map and that it provides a visual representation of information.

5. Divide students into groups and give each a different word as a synonym mapping challenge. Write out different words with many synonyms on sheets of construction paper, placing one word in the center of each sheet. Give each group a sheet. Allow students to begin the task without reference materials, asking them to come up with words that could serve as synonyms for the listed words using only their existing word knowledge. If students become stuck, give them thesauruses to use in completing the task, parlaying this lesson into a review of the uses for a thesaurus.

6. Allow students to practice by engaging them in synonym mapping races. Ask each student to get out a sheet of paper. Write a word on the board and instruct students to write the term on their papers. Give the students a set amount of time, likely between a minute to two minutes, to add as many synonyms as they can. Reward the student who lists the largest number of correct synonyms.