Teaching Word Choice in the Library

Check out Eloquent Silence, posted last Saturday on Shaun Usher’s Lists of Note. This is a beautiful example of the complexity and art of word choice that more students need to have time learning and practicing. There was a time when, as library media specialists, we regularly taught the thesaurus, helping students to navigate through keywords and indices. Search engines have diminished shortened the navigational learning curve, and generally we’ve tucked little lessons on specific resource types into our archives, rarely pulling them out within the scope of teaching information research. I wonder, though, if we are missing an opportunity here.  Teaching students word choice is more than a writing skill.  Focusing in on synonyms and antonyms–those thesaurus skills–broaden’s their search scope.  Teaches them that in a largely unorganized and certainly uncataloged web of open information, different contributors will classifiy and refer to a topic in a myraid of ways.  Being able to identify related keywords may be all the difference there is between finding some information and finding the best information.

Below are a few online thesaurus worth our time considering…how can we incorporate these into our lessons?

  • Have students cut-and-paste in text from a found resource into the VocabGrabber in order to expand their search to related subjects. Cut and paste text into this tool and it generates an analysis that includes a useful list of vocabulary along with how those words are used in context.  Select a word on the list and a snapshot of that word will pop up in the Visual Thesaurus, along with definitions and sample uses.
  • Help students understand how choice of keyword can drive (and even bias) research by using WordNet, a scholarly
    “lexical database for the English language.” Word Net groups words into sets of synonyms  along with short, general definitions, enabling text analysis and artificial intelligence applications by professional researchers. However, the resulting dictionary and thesaurus are more intuitive for many users.  Two projects stemming from the research will be helpful to your students:

Snappy Words
Based on WordNet, Snappy Words is a free online visual dictionary/thesaurus that clearly and visually denotes ALOT of information about the word and it’s association to other words.

WordVis
Also built on Wordnet, WordVis is meant “for exploring synonyms in a flexible web of words & meanings.

  • Encourage students to explore language more widely by providing ways for them to connect the slang they encounter outside of school to a broader vocabulary.   “The Double-tongued Dictionary records undocumented or under-documented words from the fringes of English, with a focus on slang, jargon, and new words. This site strives to record terms and expressions that are absent from, or are poorly covered in, mainstream dictionaries.”

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