I often have students who rely too heavily on the thesaurus as they craft their essays, resulting in overwrought sentences that block, rather than illuminate, the writer’s meaning. Using a little humor, I built a mini-lesson to help students see what happens when one abuses the thesaurus. This handout, which can be completed as a solo or team activity/race/game, requires students to match up a series of well-known proverbs and sayings with their overwritten versions.
Once students have completed this challenging handout, it’s best to review the answers together, as I’ve found that some of my students have not heard of all of these common proverbs/sayings. Non-native English speakers will definitely need special assistance, as the vocabulary is intentionally convoluted and these students probably are not familiar with many of the original sayings. The worksheet provides a valuable exercise to help everyone understand these proverbs and the effect appropriate word choice has on tone and meaning.
When I have extra time, I also assign the students to rewrite the original proverbs/sayings into new language to give them practice on taking a cliched idea and making it fresh.
To add an extra little bump of fun to this lesson, be sure to check out this charming clip from Friends: