Exploring synonyms: Collins IGCSE ESL

Last year, I got to work on a really interesting short project. It was contributing a section to the workbook to accompany a new edition of an IGCSE English as a Second Language course for Collins.


Feedback from teachers on previous editions had asked for more work on synonyms, so my brief was to design and write a new 25-page section focusing on synonyms. We came up with a simple format that involved selecting three sets of 3-5 synonyms linked to the topic/vocabulary of each unit of the student’s book. We started off with definitions of each word, adapted from a Collins COBUILD dictionary, followed by two activities. The activities vary, depending on the nature of the synonym set, but generally the first is a set of questions that try to get at the similarties and differences between the words. For example, in the set below – prevent, avoid, stop – the questions focus on whether or not the event actually happens. The second exercise is a more conventional practice activity; a gap-fill, matching activity, etc.

It was interesting to think about what the differences were between each set of words and how to convey those differences as simply as possible. Inevitably, even though it wasn’t strictly in the brief, I ended up doing some corpus searches for each set to identify typical contexts, collocations and patterns of usage for each word. This fed into the example sentences and also led to exercises and tip boxes that focused on things like collocation, lexicogrammar (e.g. countable and uncountable nouns), colligation (grammar patterns) and register.

It was one of those short but fun writing projects and as exciting as ever to get a shiny new book in the post!

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