3 ways to help weak writers build a strong writing vocabulary

by | Sep 20, 2021 | Struggling Writers, Teaching Homeschool Writing

Problem: Your children’s limited writing vocabulary inhibits ideas and contributes to weak stories, essays, and reports.

Solution: Teach them to develop and fine-tune their word choices by using a thesaurus and word banks.


Although a weak writing vocabulary is yet another common stumbling block that trips up young writers, I have welcome news—this problem has a simple solution that guarantees results!

Let’s look at three practical ways to boost your kids’ word choices.

1. Start with a Top-Notch Thesaurus

Students who have a growing supply of words at hand can express themselves exactly as they intend by using the right word at the right time. On the other hand, kids who can’t express themselves concretely end up with stories or essays riddled with overly repeated words and ho-hum vocabulary.

That’s where a thesaurus comes in. This reference helps your kids find fresh new words to replace tired or overused ones. It’s a necessary tool for every writer and should hold a place of honor on your writing table.

It’s so much fun to watch your kids begin to use new words. There’s nothing like seeing dazzling, jubilant, and thunderous begin to replace vague words like bright, happy, and loud. And your children will find that as their word choices expand, writing becomes more fun!

✏️ Best Thesaurus for Ages 6-10

“Such a great resource for kids! Every family should have this on their shelf! My 8 year old went from writing adjectives like big and little to using deep, salty, and vibrant.”

Elementary-age kids love Usborne's Not Your Everyday Illustrated Thesaurus

Children in grades 1-5 often struggle with word choice because their writing vocabulary is still emerging. Usborne’s Not Your Everyday Illustrated Thesaurus is a visually appealing and fun tool for primary-age writers.

Most of the book is organized by topic. It’s ideal for children who need help thinking of thematic words such as jungle, pirate, adventure, ocean, or color words. It’s also useful when they want to replace overused or vague words like good, nice, and said.

At 128 pages, it’s not meant to be a comprehensive reference. But it will definitely light a fire under young writers whose reluctance is rooted in a fear of choosing (and correctly spelling) new words.

✏️ Best Thesaurus for Ages 8-12

“The layout is eyepopping and beautiful, and the words are a stretch for kids but not out of reach. I love how the book tries to illustrate the differences between similar words by means of pictures; it’s so much more helpful than a simple list of words.”

DK Illustrated Children's Thesaurus improves a weak writing vocabulary

Having interesting, relevant words at their disposal boosts children’s confidence when they face a new writing lesson.

The well-organized DK Children’s Illustrated Thesaurus includes over 4,000 word entries to help upper-elementary kids find stronger synonyms for repeated or weak word choices.

You’ll be happy that entries are alphabetical, and your kids will love the engaging illustrations. This thesaurus also includes thematic text boxes for different emotion words, exclamations, weather phenomena, and more. Although it’s not exhaustive like The Synonym Finder below, it’s a fantastic entry-level thesaurus for middle grades.

✏️ Best Thesaurus for Ages 12-Adult

“Once you’ve used THIS thesaurus, you’ll never go back to anything else. It is a valuable tool on any writer’s bookshelf, particularly students. With this essential reference tool, finding the perfect word is like embarking on a treasure hunt!”

The Synonym Finder is our favorite thesaurus for grades 6 to adult!

A thesaurus is a workhorse of a reference tool! It inspires teens whose limited vocabulary contributes to weak writing, but it becomes an even greater asset as their writing skills mature and they need more specific or nuanced word choices.

My all-time favorite (and the one my students used when I taught WriteShop I and II classes) is The Synonym Finder. I’m on my second copy, as my first dog-eared book finally split at the seams.

With 1361 pages containing more than one million synonyms, The Synonym Finder puts every other thesaurus to shame. At the same time, it’s alphabetical and super easy for middle and high school teens to use.

✏️ More Writing Tools to Inspire Both Struggling and Eager Writers

There is the thesaurus—and then there’s the specialty thesaurus!

Fresh resources can inspire even the most resistant writer, but kids who love words and writing will be smitten as well. Here’s a short, curated list of writer’s tools to add to your homeschool bookshelf.

Do your homeschool kids have a weak writing vocabulary? Here are three solid, easy-to-implement ideas to strengthen their word usage.

2. Choose Shorter Words

Teaching kids to use a thesaurus has its drawbacks, especially when they get carried away with the joy of discovering new words. In these enthusiastic moments, they sometimes end up with unwieldy words that weigh down their writing.

Long words can often sound too formal or stuffy for a particular piece of writing. On the other hand, short words tend to have force and directness. As language gets more direct, clarity improves.

Short, familiar words—typically words with fewer syllables—are usually easier to understand than their longer counterparts. For example:

  • grit vs. indomitability
  • biased vs. opinionated
  • sharp vs. perceptive
  • forlorn vs. dispirited
  • clutter vs. disarrangement

Use long words wisely.

This doesn’t mean students should never use longer words! On the contrary, it’s great to see their vocabulary blossom. But in their eagerness to find new words, they can end up with wordy compositions strung together by clunky vocabulary.

Bottom line: Teach, model, and encourage your children to use more challenging words—but wisely!

3. Use Word Banks

Another excellent source of new vocabulary, word banks provide specific lists of words by category or topic, such as word banks about nature or holidays and seasons.

When kids with a weak writing vocabulary are tempted to reuse a familiar word because they can’t think of any others, a word list can remind them of alternative words they already know but can’t quite reel in from the edges of their minds.

Word banks can also provide a wealth of words that will spark ideas in a reluctant writer’s mind. That’s why we’ve include word lists in our teen-level WriteShop I & II books—lists such as textures, colors, and emotions. Young children can make a pocket word bank or create a Willy Worm Wall of interesting adjectives.


So…now that you’ve got some ideas for bolstering vocabulary, get yourself a thesaurus or two, gather a few word banks, and start having fun with words!

When looking for a homeschool writing curriculum, choose a program that intentionally teaches children to make stronger word choices. It’s one of many ways WriteShop equips and inspires successful writers!

WriteShop Primary and WriteShop Junior help elementary-age kids develop a meaningful writing vocabulary. For teens, you’ll love how WriteShop I and II include 17 comprehensive word banks along with engaging lessons that teach concrete writing.

This post contains affiliate links for products we’re confident your family will love! We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and may earn a small commission for recommendations or links to any products or services from Amazon.com.

8 Comments

  1. Shanice White

    so i am doing a course in college called Improve Methods in Teaching and Assessing Writing in Secondary Schools and this helped me…. thank you kim.

    Reply
    • Kim Kautzer

      Wonderful, Shanice! I’m so glad the article was useful to you. Thanks for letting me know!

      Reply
  2. Amy

    I’m anxious to find out what your word bank is! We use something we call a word bank for missed spelling words 🙂 I’m sure my kids would enjoy your type of word bank better than the one in current use 😉 Also, I’m looking at ordering the Synonym Finder… I can’t wait to have look at it!

    Amy in Peru
    http://fisheracademy.blogspot.com

    Reply
    • Kim

      In WriteShop Primary (Books B and C), we do have spelling word banks called Super Spellers! Like yours, they’re created from the children’s misspelled words. It’s one of many ways to use word lists/banks.

      And you will adore your new Synonym Finder!

      Reply
  3. Kim

    Isn’t the Synonym Finder fabulous, Diane? It’s such a great tool for writers of all ages, but it’s especially helpful for our teens who need help developing a more mature writing vocabulary. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  4. Diane

    I purchased the synonym finder and love it! It has also helped me to stretch my thinking. Using word banks have also helped my older son to have a larger vocabulary to draw from for his writing.

    Reply
  5. Tammy

    Thank you for this mini seminar. It has been the answer I needed to get my struggling writers going again.

    Reply
  6. Diane Allen

    I LOVE the word banks with WriteShop. They do help my daughter find new words to use.

    I copied them and put then in sheet protectors which I bound in a flexible binder. This serves as a ‘reference’ for writing projects. She can take only the papers out of the larger notebook she needs to work on in a week and place them in this binder as well. That way there is one thin “book” we need for writing and it can be easily transported if we have to take school on the road.

    Diane Allen

    Reply

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