Homonyms Background Information for Teachers and Parents

Grade Levels: K-3

Encourage children to explore and have fun with language. Guide them to pay attention to words and meanings as they read. This movie will explore homonyms, as well as homographs, homophones, heterographs, and heteronyms. While it is not typically important for children to learn these terms specifically, they should understand how words can be spelled and/or pronounced the same, but have different meanings.

In a strict linguistic sense, homonyms are words that share the same spelling and the same pronunciation, but have different meanings. For example the words fire (a heat source) and fire (to remove someone from a position) are homonyms. However, many people employ a looser definition in which homonyms can share the same spelling or pronunciation. In this sense, the words peace and piece are also homonyms. Technically, those words would be not be considered true homonyms, but rather heterographs and homophones. BrainPOP Jr. uses a looser categorization of homonyms because we feel it is more important for children to understand that words can be spelled and/or pronounced the same rather than adhere to strict linguistic definitions.

Educators who wish to employ stricter linguistic definitions may want to explain that homographs have the same spelling, but the same or different pronunciation. In this case, the words bow (as in a type of knot) and bow (as in a tool that shoots arrows) are homographs. In addition, wind (as in the movement of air) and wind (as in winding up a clock) are also homographs. Both wind and wind are also heteronyms, which are homographs that have different pronunciations. Homophones have the same or different spelling, but same pronunciation, as in to, too, and two. The words bear, as in to tolerate, and bear, as in the mammal, are also homophones. Heterographs have different spelling, but the same pronunciation. For example, pair, pare, and pear are heterographs. So, the words to, too, and two are both homophones and heterographs.

Together with children, brainstorm words that are spelled and pronounced the same but have different meanings. We recommend writing the words on the board and having children write them down in their notebooks. Then challenge children to come up with sentences using each word. You may want to explore words like fine (as in good) and fine (as in thin) or wave (as in water coming to the shore) and wave (as in moving the hand side to side). Then come up with words that are spelled the same but pronounced differently. You may want to explore words like close (as in to shut) and close (as in nearby) or bass (as in the a bass guitar) or bass (as in a type of fish). Then explore words that are spelled differently but pronounced the same. These words can include bail and bale or ewe and you.

Review with children that when they encounter a homonym as they read, they should try reading the word out loud in different ways to figure out what makes sense. Write sentences with homonyms, such as “After the musician finished her song, she took a bow.” Have children read it out loud, trying different pronunciations. Which pronunciation makes the most sense? Why? Guide children in defining the word that should be used in the sentence. Explain that when they write, they should be careful of homonyms that are pronounced the same but spelled differently. This means sounding out a word as they spell might be a little tricky. Encourage them to check over their work after they write and proofread for spelling errors.

Encourage children to explore language and introduce new vocabulary. How might homonyms confuse readers? How can readers figure out which definition of a word is being used in a sentence? Discuss together.