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How to Teach Multiple-Meaning Words

February 9, 2022 No Comments
homonyms activities for 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade classrooms

Multiple-meaning words can be super tricky for elementary students to navigate. But they’re also really important to practice because we see them all the time when we read. So today, I’m sharing some ideas to teach multiple-meaning words and help your 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students develop their word analysis strategies!

What are Multiple-Meaning Words?

Multiple-meaning words, or homonyms, are words that are spelled the same and pronounced the same, but have different meanings. For example, spring (the noun) and spring (the verb).

When students read a sentence that contains a multiple-meaning word, they need to use context clues and their own background knowledge to infer which meaning is being used.

By 3rd grade, students are probably pretty familiar with common homonyms like bat and wave. But now, they need exposure to more complex multiple-meaning words like bright and address. And they need practice inferring a word’s meaning when an unfamiliar definition is the one being used.

Let’s dig into some activities to teach multiple-meaning words in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade.

multiple meaning words worksheets for reading workshop

(Re)Introducing Multiple-Meaning Words

If you’ve read Amelia Bedelia, you know that homonyms can lead to pretty funny situations! So why not start your lesson with a joke? There’s always the classic “Why was the math book sad? Because it had too many problems.” Ha!

Next, you can dive right into having students help you create a multiple-meaning words anchor chart. They’ll probably have tons of examples to add! Adding visuals will be really helpful to drive home the idea that these words have more than one meaning (and also support your English language learners).

Now that they remember what multiple-meaning words are, it’s time to expose them to lots of homonyms and get them inferring word meanings!

Play Multiple-Meaning Words Games

You can play Beat the Dictionary! When you and your students come across a homonym during shared reading, one student can look it up in the dictionary. Then the rest of the class can see if they can come up with all of the other definitions of the word. It’s fun but also great practice!

Another easy game is to project a word’s definitions on the board. When you read a sentence that uses the word, students can swat the right definition, stand up/sit down, hold up a red/green card, etc.

“I Have, Who Has?” and fortune tellers (below) are more fun ways to help students review the multiple definitions of a word in different contexts.

homonyms activity for 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade

Interactive Notebooks

Multiple-meaning words interactive notebook activities can help students review common homonyms and expose them to new ones. Reading notebooks are also a great place to glue a mini anchor chart or homonyms word list.

The foldable templates included in my Multiple Meaning Words Activities are easy to cut and glue in notebooks without worrying about losing little pieces. Students can draw pictures and write definitions for the provided words or use the blank template to add their own examples.

homonym anchor chart and interactive notebook templates

Multiple-Meaning Words Graphic Organizers

Give me all the graphic organizers! This is an easy way to get students thinking about how they know which meaning of a word is being used. And they make a great quick assessment so you know if they’re getting the strategy.

homonym graphic organizers

I like to pair simple graphic organizers like these with short texts or books that students are reading independently. As they hunt for examples, they complete the chart.

Multiple-Meaning Words Centers Activities

It’s nice to have some activities to use throughout the year to keep exposing your students to multiple-meaning words after that lesson is over. Here are some hands-on activities that work well for centers, literacy stations, morning work, early finishers, and test prep!

Sorting Activity

You know I love a good sort! With this activity, you can quickly assess if students can identify which meaning of a word is being used in a certain context.

multiple meaning words sorting activity

Task Cards

Task cards are always a solid go-to review activity. This set exposes students to some of the question types they may see on standardized tests, while teaching them new vocabulary!

Plus, it comes in a printable version and a Boom Learning™ digital version.

multiple meaning words task cards

Writing Activities

Finally, it’s helpful for students to practice using homonyms in their writing, too. You can challenge students to use different meanings of the same word multiple times in a sentence or paragraph.

The Bat Can Bat: A Book of True Homonyms makes a great mentor text for this activity.

And of course, they’ll LOVE coming up with punny jokes that feature homonyms!

Multiple-Meaning Words Activity Pack

If you want to save time, my multiple-meaning words activity pack has all these activities ready to go!

Like so many other word analysis strategies, exposure to new vocabulary words is key to helping your students learn how to tackle multiple-meaning words. I hope this post gave you some ideas for differentiated multiple-meaning words activities to try in your classroom!

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