It might be a good idea to help your learners notice that synonyms are CONTEXT-dependent.

After a RECEPTIVE skill lesson (i.e. reading or listening), consider giving them an exercise such as the following.


Look at the words from the audio below, and match each one with a more general synonym.


1) ranking

2) over-reliance

3) erroneous

4) compress

5) deprived of

6) harmful


A) wrong

B) list

C) following of

D) doesn’t have

E) put

F) bad


When they have finished, ask them to come up with different contexts where these pairs would NOT work as synonyms.



1) B

2) C

3) A

4) E

5) D

6) F


Sample answers

A) ‘ranking’ vs ‘list’: any context where ‘list’ is used only to mean a collection of items, without an implied hierarchy, e.g. a ‘shopping list’

B) ‘over-reliance’ vs ‘following (of)’: any context where there is a pejorative connotation associated with the (excessive) following of something, e.g. ‘over-reliance on social media as part of a company’s marketing strategy’

C) ‘erroneous’ vs ‘wrong’: any context where ‘wrong’ is used to mean that something is e.g. ‘morally wrong’

D) ‘compress’ vs ‘put’: any context where the idea of ‘squeezing’ and ‘making something smaller to fit something else’ is missing, e.g. ‘He put the keys on the table’.

E) ‘deprived of’ vs ‘doesn’t have’: any context where the idea of ‘not having’ is not negative, e.g. ‘not having a certain disease’

F) ‘harmful’ vs ‘bad’: any context where something, albeit ‘bad’ is not also ‘harmful’ per se; e.g. ‘a bad movie’)

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Hi. I’m Fatime. I’m an IELTS Teacher Trainer, helping CELTA-qualified English language teachers become better at teaching SKILLS, as opposed to just testing them. 

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