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Choosing a Thesaurus

A thesaurus can improve children's writing by helping them use a wider range of words. But many of those words have more than one meaning and this can make a thesaurus difficult to use unless it is very well designed.
(with thanks to Karen, Andrew, Maddie and Jos) 

A First Thesaurus
Ruth Thomson
(Belitha Press)
Even a thesaurus written for children can be daunting for weak readers because of the sheer number of words it contains. To avoid this, Ruth Thomson has limited the content to allow each featured word take a whole page or, in some cases, a complete double spread. This allows the information to be well spread out with plenty of illustrations to give visual clues. The featured words are the easy to spell ones children tend to overuse (big, nice, good, said, etc) so the wide range of alternatives the book provides can help make their writing more interesting and imaginative. This thesaurus is ideal for younger readers and for older ones who find reading difficult.
Ages 7-12 and special needs
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The Usborne Illustrated Thesaurus      
This is without doubt the best children's thesaurus I have seen. It's also better than some adult ones - so much so that I plan to keep the review copy to use myself. The large pages are attractively laid out and the illustrations break up the text to make it look less daunting. For each meaning of a word, there is a sentence showing it in use followed by a list of alternative words and, where appropriate, some with the opposite meaning. But the best feature of the book is the way some words are picked out for special attention. These are carefully chosen to reflect children's interests and common problems with vocabulary and each one has an extensive list of alternate or related words provided in a box separated from the main text. For instance, there are 100 alternatives for the dreaded word nice and the list for space includes what you might see there, what you might do and what aliens might be like. An excellent book for the whole family packed with ideas to improve creative writing.
Ages 10 to adult 
Click for Sample page

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The Oxford Children's Thesaurus
(Oxford University Press)
This is another well-written thesaurus which uses sentences to illustrate the meanings of words. Its layout is simple and easy to use but borders on the utilitarian and is unlikely to tempt a child to dip into it for fun. Although it lacks the flair of the Usborne Thesaurus, it has smaller pages so may fit better into a school bag.  
Ages 9-12
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