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11/10/2010 10:38:11 AM
Home School Legal Defense Association
HSLDA's Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner Newsletter--November 2010

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HSLDA's Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner Newsletter
November 2010 -- The Thesaurus: A Dictionary Cousin
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by Betty Statnick, M. Ed.
HSLDA Special Needs Coordinator

"One of the most important skills students can learn in school is the
ability to use language in an effective way.... The single most
important tool in the educational process of acquiring language skills
is a dictionary that meets the needs of the student." Award yourself
an "A" in long-term memory skills if you recall reading that quote
from the introduction to my "Primer on Using the Dictionary"
newsletter. http://www.hslda.org/elink.asp?id=9400

The thesaurus is another book that belongs in the toolbox to help
students acquire language skills. I call the thesaurus "a dictionary
cousin," because the two resources are in the same family. The word
thesaurus from Latin signifies "treasure, collection, storehouse," and
from the Greek: "a book of words and their synonyms." (Note: A
thesaurus may also contain antonyms).

A thesaurus can be especially valuable for parents who are concerned
about their child's language skills. If you are such a parent, you can
further assess your child's language skills with specific tests.

One of these is the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, a test of
receptive language. In this evaluation students must answer the
examiner's questions (such as "Which is 'car'?") by pointing to or
giving the number of one of four pictures on the page. This provides
a measure of understanding what is said to the student.

The Expressive One Word Picture Vocabulary Test, on the other hand, is
a test of expressive language used to assess vocabulary production. In
this evaluation the person being tested is required to state what a
particular picture is. It requires precise naming, so the person
being tested cannot name the category. (For example, he cannot call a
bear "an animal" or a banana "a fruit.") (Note: The aforementioned
tests are just two of many formal tests uses to assess receptive and
expressive language.)

Whether or not your child has been formally tested, many of you have
called me and have expressed concerns about these issues: Your child
employs imprecise words, both in his speaking and in his writing. He
consistently uses vague words and phrases like "stuff, good, nice,
whatchamacallit, that thing over there, or you know what I mean."
When you ask him what he ate for lunch, he may respond, "I ate some
food." You probe and he murmurs, "I ate a hamburger and an apple."
Or, he might have stated it this way: "I ate a good hamburger and a
good apple." You would be elated if he were to describe "the
delicious hamburger" and "the juicy apple."

You try to refrain from speaking vaguely yourself, and you also read
to your child to further enlarge his store of vocabulary words. Now
you want resources designed specifically for helping students enlarge
both their speaking and written vocabularies. (Someone has said that
"writing is just talk written down.")

I own and can recommend these resources:

1. "Webster's New World Children's Dictionary--Second Edition,"
Revised 2006 (for children ages 8 and up)
http://www.hslda.org/elink.asp?id=9401

On pages 884-906 you will find an "Introduction to the Thesaurus" by
Modern Curriculum Press. The preface to that thesaurus states: "It is
useful to be able to express ideas and thoughts in more than one way.
Your writing will be interesting and colorful if you don't use the
same words all the time. One way to give variety
to your writing is to substitute a synonym--a word that has the same
or almost the same meaning as another word--for a word you have
already used." This thesaurus includes the meaning for each entry
word and a sample sentence for each synonym.

2. "The American Heritage Children's Thesaurus" (2010) by Paul
Hellweg, ISBN 978-0-547-21599-0 is especially for children grades 3-7,
ages 8-12. http://www.hslda.org/elink.asp?id=9402

The entries are in alphabetical order and are easily located through
use of the guide words at the top of each page. In the front of the
book there is the easy-to-understand section: "How to Use This
Thesaurus." I especially like its answer to the question: "Why Use a
Thesaurus? Another way to think of a thesaurus is a book of word
choices. Sometimes, especially when you are writing, you might feel
that the word you were about to use isn't quite right.... For example,
maybe you were about to describe a book as funny, but that word seemed
too ordinary. You could look up the entry for funny in this thesaurus
and choose a more interesting word such as 'amusing, comical,
hilarious, or humorous.' Or perhaps your teacher has told you that
you use the word 'weird' too often in your writing. Looking up
'weird' would provide you with 'bizarre, eerie, odd, peculiar,
strange, and unnatural' as words you could use instead."

3. "Scholastic Student Thesaurus" (2007) by John K. Bollard,
ISBN 100-0-439-02588-5 is for ages 10 and up.
http://www.hslda.org/elink.asp?id=9403

The introduction to this book talks about The Web of Words: "Imagine a
large, beautiful spiderweb. Its strands run from point to point
creating...fascinating patterns wherever you look. The English
language is...a web of words. Many words are connected to other
similar words called synonyms...How can you find your way around this
web of words? How can you find just the right word when you need
it?...The Scholastic Student Thesaurus is designed to move you around
in the web of words. If you start with a word you know, your
thesaurus will help you find synonyms to choose from."

The introduction also raises the question "Why Use a Thesaurus?" Its
answers (with discussions about each point) are: To avoid repetition,
To make your meaning clear and precise, To avoid overused terms, and
To achieve the proper tone (For example: "chicken" and "yellow" are
informal synonyms of cowardly.)

Some of the main entries will direct you to other main entries. For
instance, the main entry "alert" (adj.) lists other adjectives:
"attentive, wide-awake, watchful, vigilant, aware, conscious." It
also directs you to the adjectives "awake, smart" and to the verb
"warn." The description has accurately stated that this thesaurus
"gives you a choice and helps you choose."

The three main features of this thesaurus--main entries,
cross-references, and the on-the-page index--are explained in the easy
to understand How to Use This Book section in the front of the book.

An Important Reminder is found on page 14 in the front of the book:
"Teachers have one common complaint about the way thesauruses are
used. They complain that often students will pick an unfamiliar
synonym without realizing that is does not fit properly into the
sentence where they put it...Anytime you are not certain whether a
synonym is just the one you want, or if you are not sure what it
means, look it up in a dictionary..." (I told you they were cousins!)

My next newsletter will delve into using a concordance and also
include some tips for using the thesaurus and dictionary.
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More reasons to join HSLDA...
http://www.hslda.org/elink.asp?id=1104

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