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English - Thesaurus bigs up T-rex

A lesson in liberating the grandiloquence of your pupils

A lesson in liberating the grandiloquence of your pupils

His lip quivered and his eyes watered. Disappointment was writ large across his anguished face. Or it could have been non-fulfilment that flashed across his countenance.

Blaydn had been expecting an enormously proportioned creature, reptilian in appearance and ferocious in intent, to rumble out of the Upper Cretaceous period and into our literacy period. What he had not anticipated was a modestly proportioned textbook straight from the reference shelf of our class library.

"You said we were going to get a thesaurus," he grumbled.

"This is a thesaurus. Look, the-saur-us." I tap out the syllables.

"Yeah, well, it looks like a boring book to me."

"Well, you should never judge a book by its cover. A thesaurus is no ordinary book. It is a treasure trove of terminology; a secret storehouse of synonyms; a vast volume of vocabulary."

He did not look convinced. Neither did the rest of the class.

I took a deep breath and reminded the children that the day's learning objective (it's important to tell children what they are going to learn to prevent them learning something interesting by default) was to "up-level" a piece of descriptive writing.

"You do know what up-level means, Blaydn, we've been doing it all year. It means letting me tick another box towards the aspirational national curriculum sub-level you must achieve within a ridiculously short time frame in order to prevent our school from going into special measures. Now let's get on with it."

By then I was desperate to up-level the mood of anti-climax. "Right, children, today we are going to make boring words extinct. This very morning we will do to dull vocabulary what a 65-million-year-old asteroid did to the age of the Terrible Lizard."

After five minutes spent finding alternatives to the words "big" and "fierce" the rumblings of excitement could be felt. The boring sentence was revealed - "The big tyrannosaurus rex with his fierce bite killed the shy hadrosaur" - and the thesaurus released.

Before long a competitive edge had introduced itself. Pages were flicked, letter counts made, the air was punched and the dinosaur from the bookshelf began to get dangerously out of control.

"'The immense, colossal and gargantuan tyrannosaurus rex' is great, Blaydn. I just think 'His uncontrollably passionate oral-mastication technique mortally penetrated the obligingly submissive hadrosaur' might be a bit over the top."

Steve Eddison is a KS2 teacher in Sheffield


For a gigantic gathering of dinosaur sources, check out sarahlouiseharris's termly plan. From fossil finding to extinction exploring, thematic thesaurus tasks to dinosaur ditties, there are plenty of activities to improve literary skills.

Want an interactive way to teach synonyms? Try TES partner NGfLCymru's online resource pack. It's fun and easy to use, and there's no chance for pupils to judge any book by its cover.

Pupils can create "super, splendid, scintillating sentences" with dillsage's aptly named resource, a two-player game that uses VCOP (vocabulary, connectives, openers and punctuation) to "up-level" written work.

Find all links and resources at

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