Friday, January 3, 2014

Teaching Homophones

Hello, friends!

How do you teach homophones? Why are they important? How can they help students improve their spelling strategies? Today I'm sharing what we've done in our class to anchor our learning about homophones.

Homophones are just as their name states: <homo> means "the same, equal or like" and <phone> means "voice, sound". Homophones are words that sound the same, BUT have different meanings, and therefore different spellings, and English is LOADED with them making it very important for students to know.

Most of you are familiar with the popular book Dear Deer by Gene Barretta; I used it to introduce our focused study of homophones.

What I actually like most about this book, and this is gonna sound weird, is that it's really not a "good" book. What I mean by that is that it's confusing for students upon its first read, and it's pretty boring as it has no elaboration. When students are listening to the book, they immediately start asking questions to clarify meaning, which is great!! Don't we want them to read for understanding most of all?? :)

Since many high-frequency words are homophones, I knew I wanted to have a "word wall" of homophones for my students to use as a spelling resource. I liked the idea of having a word wall that was tied to meaning rather than sound, prompting students to be more thoughtful when referring to it. I want them to ask themselves, "Which word do I need for my writing to make sense?" and to know why they chose the word that they did!

I wanted to include my students in making our homophone wall, so here are the very SIMPLE steps we followed:
  1. My students and I generated a list of homophones on the white board, discussing the words' meanings as we went. Defining a word without using the word itself is very hard for first graders; most of the time I asked them to use the word in a sentence.
  2. That afternoon I prepared a bunch of large notecards by cutting them in half in a variety of different patterns. Then I wrote the homophone pairs on the cards; on at the top of the top piece and the other at the bottom of the bottom piece. (There are also homophone trios, so I just cut those into thirds :)
  3. The next day as planned, I asked students to illustrate the words we had collected in ways that would show the meaning of the words, and they certainly delivered! I was actually a little surprised at how "into it" they were; they really wanted to make sure that their picture conveyed meaning!
  4. Knowing that we certainly had not listed all homophones, I asked my students, "Just how many are there???" 50? 100? Wanting to encourage them to look for more homophones, I made a small sign on which to record a running count. (The photo at the top of this post actually shows how many we had collected, 30, over about two weeks time. On that first day, we had around 10 or 12).

I think exploring homophones is very helpful for all learners because they illustrate an important fact about the English spelling system- its first concern is to convey meaning, so there are multiple ways to represent different phonemes and therefore distinguish between the meanings of words that sound the same.

In teaching reading and writing, I try to explain to my students that English is a flexible language, not one filled with "exceptions" or "rule-breakers". I encourage them to look for and recognize various grapheme/phoneme relationships when they read, and the more that they do, they begin to understand the elastic way in which English works. When it's time to write, I ask my students to draw upon that knowledge to help them spell more accurately. For example, I may ask, "What are some of the ways you could represent that sound?" This most often involves words with vowel digraphs- there are so many! Searching for homophones provides the perfect opportunity to investigate all the different graphemes that make the English language function.

So how do you teach homophones? Do you just how many there are??

Thanks for stopping by!

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  1. I absolutely love this idea for teaching homophones! I will definitely be using this :)
    Primary Buzz

    1. Thanks, Sara!

      The kids love finding new homophones and it really is easy to keep adding to, although, I'll have to start putting them right on the wall around my bulletin board- we're running out of space! :)

  2. Great blog post! Very inspirational as I have a blog about studying with dyslexia and this is quite a problem especially for dyslexic learners. Thanks for the inspiration! PS my blog is


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