Understanding our language is what makes us able to evolve and develop further understanding when it comes to writing and reading. This blog has been written to explain what homonyms are and how we can teach them in the classroom.
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What are homonyms?
Homonyms are two or more words that have the same pronunciation and spelling but hold completely different meanings. In Greek, the word homonym means “the same name”. In short, ‘homo’ means the same and ‘nym’ means name. This explains why we define homonyms as we do!
Although homonyms can be complicated, especially for people who are learning to speak the English language, they are not that hard to identify once we fully understand them.
The most popular examples are words like “bear”, “drop” and “letter”. All three of them have different meanings like for example bear can mean a fluffy animal, or it can also mean to be putting up with something. Both words sound exactly the same, and on paper, they are also spelt the same. It is only when we use the words in context, we can understand their true meaning!
Why do we teach homonyms?
Homonyms are often confused with homophones. This is why it is important to teach both, so we know the difference between the two. Knowing what they are, allows us to fully understand our language and know what literacy devices we use in our vocabulary.
It is important to remember that homonyms are words that sound and spelt the same. Whereas homophones are words that sound the same but are spelt differently.
Five tips for teaching homonyms:
Tip One: Use illustrated pictures.
You can form sentences with word cards, but instead of illustrating the homonym as a word, use a picture illustration.
Tip Two: Use word maps.
Word maps can be used for prompting. If you say a homonym, you can ask students to give you an example of how they would use it.
Tip Three: Use Posters.
Create classroom displays together by writing on a big piece of paper words that are the same but hold different meanings.
Tip Four: Watch interactive videos.
Watching videos can sometimes be an engaging activity when learning homonyms. There are tons of resources on Youtube.
Tip Five: Give them context.
When teaching individual homonyms, you should use them in full sentences and then explain the difference. This will help to avoid confusion, and as mentioned before, it is better to include context for better understanding.
Examples of Homonyms
Bright — Someone who is very intelligent OR a light.
- You are all very bright!
- This room is so bright!
Kind — Something OR being caring.
- This stamp is one of a kind and limited-edition.
- My friends are always kind to me.
Ring — What you put on your fingers OR when someone is correct.
- I accidentally lost my engagement ring!
- You are right, I’m sorry.
Mean — The average of something OR someone who is not nice.
- The mean of the calculation is six.
- I don’t like to talk to mean people.
Can — The ability to do something OR something made from metal you put things in.
- Can you please show me where the bathroom is?
- Baked beans usually come in a can.
Address — For someone in particular OR the coordinates for a place.
- I’m sorry, but this letter is addressed to me.
- I will text you my address.
Bat — An animal OR something you use to play certain sports.
- Bat’s only really come out at night around here.
- You use a bat to play rounders.
Well — A place to store water OR something good.
- In villages, some people still use wells to collect water.
- Lauren’s party was well organized.
Date — A day OR an organized event.
- The date is the 16th November 2021.
- My friends and I went on a picnic date.
Tie — a smart accessory OR to knot something together.
- I usually need help putting on my tie.
- To stop it from breaking, she had to tie them together.
Group work and the interactive whiteboard (IWB)
Using your IWB, you can write homonyms on the board. In groups (or tables) students have to come up with as many sentences as they can within a given time frame. Give points to the team with the best sentences. The first group to get to five wins!
Ask students to draw the homonyms being used. Like, for example, a surfer waving whilst riding a wave.
Watch short, but rich in knowledge videos and discuss between the class how you would use that word in a sentence, paragraph, or even a story.
The right answer.
Divide the classroom into two groups and ask them to line up. Give them a homonym with some context, and the first person in line on each team must define the word. Whoever gets the correct answer goes to the back of the line. The team that wins is the team whose members have all defined their assigned homonyms correctly.
This could be the perfect task for homework, to assess if your students have understood what homonyms are. Ask them to write, in their notebook, all the homonyms they come across. Review them together and see if they know the difference between each definition.