A thesaurus is an essential piece of kit for all school children. These treasure troves of synonyms and sometimes antonyms should be required reading in themselves for building and storing words. They help children express their ideas more effectively and descriptively.
They can broaden vocabulary and help children find the word that suits the genre, purpose, intended audience and context of what they are writing. They also help children communicate with greater confidence. Why say ‘sad’ when you can say ‘crestfallen’? Some new editions of thesauruses have just been published by Oxford University Press and they make excellent companions for exploring language and investigating the wonderful world of words.
The 2012 edition of Oxford First Thesaurus is great for early years children who are taking their first steps to writing independently. It contains 100 age-appropriate words in alphabetical order and has 1000 synonyms with word opposites, word families and plenty of 3D artwork that is bound to appeal. Navigation has been made easy with coloured tabs and the alphabet included on every page – with the relevant letter highlighted. A full index is included.
This is a book to dip into and enjoy and will help children to start investing in their own personal word banks to build some word wealth for the future.
The Oxford Junior Illustrated Thesaurus is next. It is very clear and colourful with some great pictures and photographs throughout, which makes it ideal for 7-9 year olds. The alphabet is divided into four coloured sections to aid navigation – although two of the colours are quite similar - and there’s a ‘How to use this thesaurus’ page. This shows children what they can expect to find on a typical page and details everything from headwords, word class, synonyms, antonyms, and short example sentences. Peppered throughout this thesaurus you will find pages that contain special panels that give extra help and tips when it comes to overused words, writing tips and word webs.
For children in Y5 and beyond there’s the Oxford Primary Thesaurus, although I can see no reason why lots of Y3 and Y4 children wouldn’t be able to use it. It’s not cheap at £10.99, but it is simple to use with straightforward signposting to help children find words easily. The thesaurus contains the same format of panels as the junior version so there is plenty of help at hand. Any criticisms? Well, it is light on illustrations with only 31 in the whole book and some of these don’t serve much purpose. But I suppose most 9 year olds will know what a penguin looks like.
What I like about this thesaurus is the example sentences to show a word being used in context and the special synonyms shown that teach children about words similar in meaning to a headword, but can only be used in special cases. The alphabet is printed vertically down every page and highlighted accordingly, so moving from A – Z is not too onerous.
At the back of the thesaurus there are separate sections for helping children understand more about similes, idioms, special effects, word building, writing stories, writing non-fiction and writing letters. On top of this, you can go online to access lots of free games, puzzles and activities. Come to think of it, £10.99 doesn’t seem too bad now.
The more in-depth Oxford School Thesaurus is £1 dearer and has been written for Y6 and above, but again could be accessed by younger learners depending on their literacy skills. This thesaurus does feel a lot more grown up and presents its contents in more of a business-like manner. There is also more in it with over 100,000 synonyms to select from and antonyms given to extend vocabulary further. There are sample sentences, topic panels that list word families, usage tips, labels to encourage the accurate use of language, and different meanings are clearly numbered. There are no illustrations in this more mature thesaurus, which is a shame because there are more words that are likely to be unknown and the subject of curiosity. Still, the progression from primary thesaurus to ‘school’ thesaurus is obvious and won’t be lost on some children who will desire to use one over the other given the choice.
Of all the books in the world that aid the learning process, a thesaurus is one of the most useful and every child should have one on their desk. I think the Oxford thesauruses would make a great choice.