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Synonym Scramble


  • Arts & Humanities
    --Language Arts


  • K-2
  • 3-5
  • 6-8
  • 9-12

Brief Description

A fun activity reinforces synonyms and builds vocabulary skills.


Students will

  • follow directions.
  • reinforce awareness and knowledge of synonyms.
  • build vocabulary skills.


synonym, vocabulary, game, antonym, opposite, foreign language

Materials Needed

  • index cards
  • synonym word lists (see below)

Lesson Plan

Before the Lesson
This fun activity requires advance preparation of a deck of cards. You'll need one card for each student and one for yourself. The prep is simple:

  • Make a list of synonym word pairs that are appropriate for your grade level. Examples:
    sad and unhappy
    mistake and error
    sleepy and drowsy
    perhaps and maybe
    A thesaurus is a great and easy source for finding grade-appropriate synonym pairs.
    You'll find two lists below, one for use with students in grades 2 to 4 and the other for use in grades 5 and up.
  • Use a blue marker to write on blank index cards or 3- x 5 paper the first word in one of the synonym pairs. (For example, write sad on the first card, mistake on the second card, sleepy on the third card) Keep the cards in order.
  • Use a red marker to write on the back of the first card the second word in the second synonym pair on your list (error). Continue by writing, in sequence, the second words in each synonym pair. So, on the back of mistake is drowsy; on the back of sleepy is maybe. On the last card, write the second synonym in the first word pair on the list -- in the example above, it would be unhappy.

Now you're ready to play the game!

The Lesson
Mix up the cards and distribute them to students, one card per student -- don't forget one for yourself. Have students look at the blue word on the card they hold. Start the game by showing and calling out the red word on your card. The students must look at their cards to see who has the blue word that is a synonym for the word you call out. That student should call out the synonym.

For example, if you show and call out the word error, the student who is holding the blue word that is a synonym for error -- in this example, mistake -- must call out that word.

Then, the student holding the card on which was written the synonym for your card (mistake) flips over his or her card and reads the red word (drowsy) on the back. Students look at their cards to see if they hold the blue word that is a synonym for drowsy. The game continues until you have gone all the way through the deck of cards.

Variations on the Game

  • Time students to see how long it takes them to complete the game. When the game is finished, collect the cards and redistribute them so students have a different card than the one they held in the first game. Play the game again. Try to beat the time it took to play the first round.
  • Prepare several decks of cards and play the game with different sets of synonyms.
  • Make the game more challenging by selecting difficult synonym pairs.
  • Play the same game using antonyms (opposites).
  • Play the game using words and their definitions.
  • Play the game using foreign language synonyms; or foreign language verbs and their English meanings.

Sample Synonym Pairs Use a thesaurus to create a grade-appropriate list of synonyms.

You might use an online thesaurus. In addition, some versions of Microsoft Word have their own easy-to-use thesaurus. Simply click Tools in the menu bar, then choose Spelling and Grammar, and Language.

I used a thesaurus to create the synonym lists below. The first list might be appropriate to use at grades 2-4.

center, middle damp, wet hurry, rush
gaze, stare hear, listen lost, missing
lump, chunk odd, strange stop, halt
paw, foot paste, glue present, gift
quick, fast get, receive funny, silly
sad, unhappy small, little smile, grin
stay, wait stream, creek tow, pull
pick, choose lid, cover neighborhood, community
big, large harm, hurt fire, blaze
fight, battle hate, dislike crash, smash

This list might be appropriate to use at grades 5 and up.

disappear, vanish caution, care petty, unimportant
copy, duplicate danger, hazard distribute, dispense
divide, separate hesitant, indecisive inappropriate, improper
poison, toxin ponder, contemplate prison, penitentiary
substitute, replacement sudden, unexpected tough, rugged
weaken, undermine veer, swerve natural, organic
inspect, examine insult, offend clench, squeeze
unprotected, vulnerable courageous, valiant categorize, classify
mission, assignment liberty, freedom restriction, limitation
traditional, customary exaggerate, magnify alternative, option


Students will correctly identify the synonym word pairs.

Lesson Plan Source

Education World

Submitted By

Gary Hopkins


Click to return to this week's lesson planning theme page, Teaching Grammar Without the Hammer: Five Fun Activities.