When students are too young to use a thesaurus, they still should be encouraged to find synonyms for words they rely on all the time, such as “see,” “nice,” “thing,” “go” and “a lot.”
One way to do this is to collect synonyms for words children overuse, and make a booklet of them which children can refer to when they are writing. Such word lists are readily available on the internet. If you search for “words kids overuse in writing,” you’ll find many websites listing synonyms which you can download.
Recently I was working with a second grader whose first grade teacher had made an eight-page booklet of synonyms. My student was about to use “biggest” to describe an a pumpkin patch when I asked her to consider synonyms. She consulted her word bank and chose “massive” instead.
Unless words are used as parts of idioms, or are versions of the verb “to be,” they can usually be replaced with more specific words with little rewriting.
If you know students will be writing about an upcoming event, you can prepare a page of substitute words. For Halloween, the word “ghost” could be replaced with specter, spirit, demon, spook, phantom, shadow or apparition. At Thanksgiving, the word “turkey” could be replaced with poultry, fowl, rooster or bird. In the winter, “snow” could be replaced with flurries, blizzard, squall, crystals, flakes, powder and dust.
Replacing weak or overused vocabulary words with fresh, specific ones, especially verbs, is one of the best ways to improve writing.