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:
son - sun
tale - tail
their - there - they’re
to - two - too
ant - aunt
see - sea
one - won
four - for - fore
ate - eight
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:
- Play Concentration Make cards with pairs of homophones. Mix them up and lay them out in a grid face down. Students turn over two cards at a time, trying to find matching pairs of homophones.
- Group Editing Write two sentences on the board using a pair of homophones. Draw a blank where the homophone would go. Ask the students to choose which spelling of the homophone pair goes with each sentence.
- Homophones Picture Boxes Provide students with pairs of blank boxes. Students will write one spelling of a homophone pair in the top of each box. Discuss the meaning of each word. Draw a picture demonstrating the meaning of each word in the box.
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.
Anna hit the ball with her bat.
The bat is a flying animal.
We ate at the lunch counter.
Billy was given the job as counter for his math team.
Your argument runs counter to the prevailing opinion.
I like to chew gum.
I need to floss to keep my gums healthy.
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.