Do you like synonym rolls? I do. Especially when they’re handmade, still warm, and everyone within earshot wants a bite. I like mine with some verbal tea, usually in the morning, as their delightful flavors tends to bring me wide awake.
Wait, you’re not thinking of those round, gooey things that come from an oven, are you? Those are cinnamon rolls and—tasty though they are—contain hundreds of calories which are not necessarily to the liking of this artist/writer. No, that of which I write is a little lighter.
Synonym rolls are quotations, well-known phrases, poems, titles of movies or books, or even nursery rhymes (my favorites) that are “rolled” in a generous smattering of substitute words and served up to often unsuspecting individuals. And speaking of unsuspecting individuals…
Yo, diddle, diddle,
The feline and the violin;
The bovine leapt over the lunar body.
The wee canine chortled
To witness such athleticism,
And the platter left home at a quick pace with the scoop-style silverware.
Sound familiar? Sort of? The previous paragraph began life sometime around 1700-1800 (sources are unclear) as Hey Diddle Diddle, a Mother Goose Nursery Rhyme. I did, however, take some license with it; sorry Mom Goose. And I’m sure you seen the movie (actually a trilogy of movies) that tells the story of Frodo Baggins and his quest… you know, The Potentate of the Metallic Circular Enclosure?
Are you lost yet? Well, allow me to help you find your way back to something that makes sense and perhaps provides a teaching moment. The synonym rolls of which I speak are familiar phrases, song titles, etc., where I’ve taken most of the major words and switched them with words that have nearly the same meaning as the original word. In short, take something that is well-known, “roll” it in synonyms, and see what sticks. Here’s how to have some fun with it in the classroom:
Have your students think of a movie title, name of a book or song (the simplest ones are best at first), then ask them to roll it in synonyms. A pencil and paper will come in handy as will a dictionary or thesaurus. Ask them to choose some of the more obvious words within the phrase, and then begin looking for words to substitute. Once they’ve managed to come up with something vaguely recognizable, have them write it out on a clean piece of paper, along with a clue (current movie, or book about a dog, etc.) Ask them to hand it to another student to see if that person can guess what the original phrase was.
Not all movie and book titles, poems, quotations and such will lend themselves to being rolled in alternative words, and some will only be partially successful (Harry Potter and the Chalice of Combustion for example). Check around and make sure your pupils arrive at something workable. If they find it entertaining, ask them to kick it up a notch by “rolling” the opening sentence of a famous book, or the first few lines of a familiar poem…
“Whose gatherings of trees these are I believe I know
His residence is in the hamlet though;
He will not witness me pausing here
To watch his forest fill up with frozen white flakes.”
My apologies to Robert Frost of course, but anything that expands your students vocabulary is a good thing. And just to point out how easy it is these days to use an online thesaurus, I just Googled “largest thesaurus,” looking for the heaviest volume of synonyms (I was curious), and it returned about two million results for other words meaning “largest.” Nice try Google.
Instruct. Absorb. Take Pleasure In!