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Teaching Kids About Multi-Meaning Words

By Tamara Christine Van Hooser ; Updated September 26, 2017
Reading together exposes your child to multiple-meaning words to increase her vocabulary.

Multi-meaning words can puzzle your young reader as he develops literacy skills. Dual-meaning words come in the form of homonyms or homophones, which have the same pronunciation but may or may not be spelled the same; and homographs, which have the same spelling but may or may not differ in pronunciation. In both cases, each word has a different meaning. So teaching your kids about multiple-meaning words focuses on recognizing contextual clues as to which meaning, pronunciation or spelling best fits the situation. However, you don't have to spend your parent-child time immersed in tedious skill drills. You can turn the practice into games that you can use as time fillers at home or on the go to improve your child's vocabulary skills.

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It's a Match

Make a set of matching cards using homonyms and homographs, with a picture card illustrating the correct meanings of the words to pair with each word card. Play a memory game with your child where players take turns flipping over two cards at a time to find matches. For an extra challenge, you can require the player who finds a match to use the word correctly in a sentence before taking the pair of cards. You can also use the cards to play a "Go Fish"-style card game where a player may ask, for example, "Do you have a picture of a bat as in baseball?" or "Do you have the word bat as in the flying animal that lives in dark caves?"

Battle of the Thesaurus

Entertaining the kids in the car can constantly challenge your parenting patience. However, you can turn a long ride into a friendly vocabulary competition that strengthens your child's understanding of multi-meaning words. You can keep a deck of homonym and homograph word cards or word list handy in your travel entertainment kit or simply choose a word with two or more meanings. Start by tossing out a multi-meaning word. If it is a homograph with varying pronunciations, such as "wind," you may want to spell it or simply show the written form. The first player chooses one of the meanings and calls out a synonym, such as "breeze." Once the meaning is set, players take turns naming additional synonyms around the same meaning until someone cannot think of another word. You can continue the game by naming a synonym for the other meaning, such as "turn," or starting over with a new word. Another variation works best at home with thesauruses handy. Choose a homonym or homograph, identify the two meanings and set a time limit. The players then race to see who can come up with the longest list of synonyms for each meaning before time runs out.

Picture It

If your child is a visual learner, making a book, poster or bulletin board display can help her process and sort out the ambiguity in multi-meaning words. Talk about words that sound or look alike and what various meanings they can have in different forms. Use a dictionary to find all the meanings, if necessary. Write a word pair on opposite-facing pages or columns and let your child draw or cut out and glue pictures of the correct meaning of each spelling or pronunciation to correspond. The visual aid can serve as a reminder of the various meanings when your child is confused about which word she is reading or wanting to write.

Play with Words

Your child may not realize -- in the midst of all the skill drills in school -- that language is a very fluid communication tool that he can play with to create humor. Getting kids to laugh at the funny things language can do can be an enjoyable and memorable way to practice homonyms. Play on the double meanings of homonyms by telling jokes such as, "Why are movie stars so cool? Because they have so many fans." Or "Why is Mom wearing sunglasses? Because my kids are so bright." Talk about how the multiple meanings create the humor.

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About the Author

Tamara Christine has written more than 900 articles for a variety of clients since 2010. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in applied linguistics and an elementary teaching license. Additionally, she completed a course in digital journalism in 2014. She has more than 10 years experience teaching and gardening.

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