Search the Thesaurus Visually

Apr 18, 2006 by

For those that read the forum, you’ve probably noticed the recent entry about the Visual Thesaurus by Steve, one of our active new members that attended the MACUL session.

Thanks Steve (aka falconphysics) for providing the link to this wonderful tool. I played with the thesaurus all day yesterday before school, during breaks, and after my tutoring session in the afternoon. Although my experience with the thesaurus is limited, several thoughts on how to use this tool in the classroom came to mind. The simplest use is perhaps just having the ability for learning or struggling readers to be able to hear words pronounced by clicking on them. However, a lot of the power of this tool comes from not just the ability to easily find synonyms, but also to explore other relationships and associations between the words.

Visual Thesaurus - SmartThe connected “web” design allows words to be connected based on their similar meanings. Rather than seeing the long list of words in a paper thesaurus or the groupings of similarly themed synonyms on a site like, you can easily see how words are clustered by similar meanings. This allows the student to find a certain meaning or definition quickly rather than having to look up each word for its meaning. Each cluster for a given entry is broken up into its respective part of speech, so the word smart has adjective-based clusters which are separate from the noun and verb-based clusters. For students still struggling with the difference between verbs and adverbs having a quick visual reference of the words sorted by type would be quite handy.

By far the best feature is the seamless navigation of the thesaurus. Clicking on one of the synonyms for your chosen word takes you to a completely new web. In other words, look up the word smart and then click on its synonym “hurt” as in my arm smarts from the fall I took, and your instantly presented with the full web of synonyms for the word hurt. Students benefit from seeing how words are almost endlessly connected. A fun game might be to play “six degrees of” and see how many links on the web it takes them to make their way back to the starting word without back tracking over any word. Web browser like navigation allows you to quickly move back, forward, print, and even view the history to see how you got to where you are.

In all, a pretty powerful tool, and cheap to boot (I know, not free, but close). For just 2.95 a month you can gain access to the online version to use with your entire class. I was hard pressed to purchase a decent hard-bound thesaurus for my classroom for less than 14.95, so paying 36 dollars a year for a thesaurus that all of my students can use at the same time (provided they all have a computer) is smart classroom economics too!
As Steve suggest, give the free trial a spin, and if it tries to stop you, just close the site and re-open it to start the trial over again.

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