by Becky L. Spivey, M.Ed.
Helping students broaden their vocabulary skills should
begin very early by exposing them to words with more than
one meaning. Recognizing and understanding more than one
meaning for a word demonstrates the depth of a student’s
vocabulary, while knowing when and how to use multiple
meaning words defines the quality. Having quick recall of
multiple meanings for words also enables us to laugh at and
appreciate the wittiness of puns and other common forms of
humorous or figurative language.
Using homonyms to teach everyday vocabulary makes creating lessons for all age
groups easy due to the extensive list of multiple meaning words from which to choose.
The term “homonym” refers to words that are spelled the same and sound the same
but have different meanings (e.g., Dad deposits money in the bank. Jack climbed the
snowy bank.). “Homonyms” also refers to homographs and homophones. Homographs
are words that have the same spelling but different meanings (e.g., Her fine china was
broken into pieces. Going to the movie is fine with me.). Homographs pronounced
differently are heteronyms (e.g., The record has 12 songs on it. Did you record the songs
yourself?). Homophones are words that sound the same but have different spellings/
meanings (e.g., It is a chilly day. Dad puts chili on his hot dogs.).
Important Skills with Homonyms
When studying homonyms (and all their categories), students should be able to:
- Understand that most words in the English language have more than one meaning;
- Recognize that homonyms can be different parts of speech;
- Match different meanings in context with the correct homophone;
- Choose one word from a group to complete a number of sentences;
- Use homonyms in different contexts;
- Identify incorrect usage of homophones in sentences;
- Present homophones correctly in writing (e.g., using chilly day, not chilly day);
- Comprehend use of multiple meaning words in figurative language/idioms (e.g., Why did the king always draw straight lines? He was the ruler! Can students
explain why the idiom is funny?).
Fun Activities with Homonyms
Use the following fun activities when presenting lessons about homonyms!
- Give short homonym or other vocabulary pretests before lessons begin and
evaluate students’ understanding. Give a posttest after completing the lessons and
compare. Reteach or review if necessary.
- Choose age-level-appropriate homonyms/vocabulary for
students. For example, use “saw” for younger students and
write it on the board. Ask students to write/say the word
in sentences. Have students read/say their sentences aloud;
teacher writes them on the board. Students can see that
“saw” means: “Dad used a saw (noun) to cut the limb.” “I
saw (verb) Jane today.” “Can you saw (verb) the board in
half?” This is a good visual lesson.
- Create a Word Wall labeled homonyms, homographs, heteronyms, and
homophones. Add words from vocabulary lessons or examples that present
themselves during the school day.
- Have students search for homonyms in textbooks. Control the assignment by
defining the page numbers for the search. This way the teacher can preview the
pages and be prepared to coach the students to find words they may have missed.
Have students list the words they find, their meaning in context, and any other
meanings the students may know. Share findings on the board. Post findings on a
- Write three (or more) sentences on the board that will use the same homonym/
homograph to fill in a blank. Give possible choices for the missing word. Have
students choose one word which fits every sentence. Some of the word choices
may fit other sentences, but one word should fit all sentences.
- Assign homework where students read old newspapers and magazines and
highlight multiple meaning words with a highlighter. Have your students tell what
the words mean in their contexts and other meanings they know. Post findings on
a Word Wall.