Purpose : This activity is designed to teach students about homonyms and homophones by means of cooperative learning. Though it is intended for intermediate-grade students, it could easily be adapted to higher grade levels.
Background : Homophones are words that are pronounced the same but differ in meaning and origin. They may also differ in spelling. The word homonym is sometimes thought of as a synonym for homophone. However, most teachers, writers, and wordsmiths like to differentiate between the two, using homonym to refer only to words with the same sound and the same spelling, but with different meanings, such as bear (the animal) and bear (carry). Though some prefer that the word homophone be used only for words with the same sound, but with different spellings and different meanings, such as bear (the animal) and bare (unclothed), others consider homonyms to be a subset of homophones. For the purpose of this lesson, assume this latter interpretation: All homonyms are homophones because they sound the same, but not all homophones are homonyms because homonyms have the same spelling, and some homophones do not. To confuse matters further, the word homograph is used to refer to words with the same spelling but different pronunciations and different meanings, such as polish (shine) and Polish (the language). For the sake of simplicity, homographs are not included in the lesson though the teacher may wish to differentiate them from homonyms and homophones in the lesson introduction.
Objectives : 1) Students will be able to define the words homophone and homonym and differentiate between them.
2) Students will be able to define the word homonym and give examples of common homonyms.
3) Students will create a homonym and homophone list that includes at least 25 pairs of words and their definitions.
3) Students will write a paragraph that includes at least six of the words in their homonym/homophone dictionary.
Time Requirements : At least two hours (two one-hour class periods is ideal)
Lesson Introduction : Tell the following joke: A Shetland Pony walked into a McDonalds and waited in line to place his order. When his turn finally came, he said (in a soft, raspy voice), "I'll have a Hamburger Happy Meal with a Coke, please." The woman behind the counter frowned and replied, "Sir, you'll have to speak up. I can't hear you." The pony looked at her and repeated (in the same soft, raspy voice), "I'll have a Hamburger Happy Meal with a Coke, please." The woman frowned again and looked rather aggravated. She said sharply, "Sir, I still can't hear you. There are lots of people waiting in line. You'll have to speak up or leave the restaurant." The pony smiled understandingly and replied (in the same soft, raspy voice), "I'm sorry. You've got to excuse me. I'm just a little hoarse."
After the students stop laughing, ask why this joke is funny. Then ask if anyone knows what we call two words that sound the same but have different meanings. After whatever discussion these questions generate, define the word homophone and write it on the board. Then write the word homonym, and ask if anyone knows the difference between the two. If no student knows, explain the difference and give examples of each. To clarify, make sure students understand that all homonyms are homophones because they sound the same, but not all homophones are homonyms. Ask students for examples of homonyms and homophones. Write at least five of each on the board, correcting any confusion.
Cooperative Learning Activity : Place students in groups of three or four. It is suggested that students be placed in mixed-ability groups (having one higher-ability student, two middle-ability students, and one lower-ability student). Explain to the groups that they are to use a dictionary to create a list of at least 25 pairs or sets of homophones including the words already listed on the board (adjust the number up or down depending on time constraints). They then must define each word and use it correctly in a sentence. Once the lists, definitions, and sentences are complete, each group will write a paragraph correctly using at least six of the words from their list. Suggest to the students that they should attempt to make the paragraphs funny by using the homonyms to create sentences with double meanings (such as in the little horse joke).
Closure : Ask which groups would like to read their paragraphs to the class. Call on several groups (depending on the time available) to read their paragraphs.
Teachers' Resources : Homonym Worksheet, Synonyms, Antonyms, Homonyms, and Homographs (another worksheet), The Write Way (an online quiz), A Feast of Homonyms (an online game), and Lesson One - Homonyms (a list of the most commonly used homonyms). For a comprehensive homonym list, see An English Homophone Dictionary.
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