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Homophones, Homographs, and Homonyms

Children quickly discover homophones and homographs when they begin to read and write. These are groups of words that sound alike, and are sometimes spelled the same, but have different meanings. Homophones and homographs can be confusing, but they are also a lot of fun.

Homonyms are groups of words with the same spelling and pronunciation, but different meanings and different origins. Homonyms include both homophones (words that sound the same, but may or may not be spelled the same) and homographs (words that are spelled the same, but may or may not sound the same).

These technical distinctions and labels are not important for young, beginning readers and writers to learn. However, because meaning is key in reading and writing, children need to learn how to spell, read, and understand these groups of related words correctly.

Beginning writers learn that when they use the wrong sun/son, bear/bare, or, one/won in a sentence, they have difficulty communicating with the reader. Spelling can completely change the meaning of a sentence. Learning about homophones and homographs is a fun challenge.

Homophones are groups of words that sound alike, but have different meanings. They can be spelled differently, such as do - due - dew, or spelled the same. Some examples of homophones that are commonly used in beginning readers are:

Homophones are often called Sound-Alike Words. Since the difference between the words in each group of homophones is visual, not auditory, students need learning activities that include sorting, editing, and choosing the correct word based on meaning. Here are some examples:

Homographs are words with different meanings that share the same spelling. They may have similar or different pronunciation. If they are pronounced the same they are also homophones.

Examples of homographs are common in early readers, and can be very confusing for students who are English Language Learners.

One way to help students learn the different meanings of a homograph is to use a visual image. Write the word on the board. Discuss the different meanings of the word, and use each meaning in a sentence. Draw lines coming out of the word, like sun rays, and write the different sentences at the end of each ray. Write or color code the homograph word so it stands out in each sentence. Students can do this independently or in small groups after practicing it with the class.

Homophones and homographs are often taught using the humorous Amelia Bedelia books by Peggy Parish and her nephew Herman Parish. In these stories, Amelia Bedelia has one adventure -and disaster- after another because of her confusion with words that sound the same, but have different meanings. There are dozens of Amelia Bedelia stories available at Amazon.com.

Aunt Ant Leaves Through the Leaves is another humorous picture book available at Amazon.com that plays around with homophones and homonyms.

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