Using a thesaurus

Learning focus

To learn how to use a thesaurus to develop your vocabulary.

This lesson includes:

  • one video to show you how to use a thesaurus

  • three activities


Sometimes you might want to find a different way of saying something.
A thesaurus can help you with this.

Watch this short clip to see how.

Learn how to use a thesaurus.

If you look up a word in a thesaurus it will show you a list of synonyms. These are other words that mean the same thing or something similar to the word you have looked for.

One of these synonyms might be a better way of saying what you want and you could use it instead.

For example: ‘Starving’ describes how the man in the video is feeling better than ‘hungry’.

How to use a thesaurus

A thesaurus is set out in alphabetical order, like a dictionary, so you look up words in the same way.

For example: If you wanted to find another word for ‘nice’ in a thesaurus:

  • You start by finding the words beginning with ‘n’, then ‘n-i’, then ‘n-i-c’ until you eventually narrow it down to ‘n-i-c-e’.

  • You'll then see lots of other words that mean the same as 'nice' that you can use in your writing.

  • Choose one, such as 'lovely' or 'pleasant'.

Instead of saying 'The man has a nice smile', you could use a thesaurus to find some more descriptive words. For example, 'The man has a pleasant smile' paints a clearer picture for your reader.


You may need paper and a pen or pencil for some of these activities.

Activity 1

Show how well you understood the video above by completing this activity.

You need to fill in the gaps in the sentences.

Activity 2

Watch this video about baby animals in spring and complete the activity below.

Now write five sentences about what you saw in the video.

Try and include an adjective (describing word) or adverb (describes a verb) in each sentence.

For example: The delicate birds sang beautifully.

Activity 3

Look back at your five sentences from Activity 2. Underline an adjective or adverb in each sentence.

Now use a thesaurus to find a synonym for each of your underlined words. If you don't have a thesaurus, there are lots online - just search for one to help you.

Write the word in a different colour above or below your original word.

For example:

The delicate birds sang beautifully.

The delicate birds sang delightfully.

Top tip!

You may need to look for the root word when searching in a thesaurus.

For example: ‘Beautifully’ might not be there, but ‘beautiful’ will be. You can then change the synonyms you find into adverbs if you need to by adding -ly.

Where next?

In this lesson you have learnt about using a thesaurus to make your writing more varied.

There are other useful articles on Bitesize to help you use reference tools.

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