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Find That Meaning: A Word Game for the iPad

Lesson Question:

How can students use Visual Thesaurus word maps to discover unfamiliar meanings of some common words?

Applicable Grades:


Lesson Overview:

In this homographs lesson, students discover that some common words have some less common meanings. Students will work in teams to compete in a "Find that Meaning" competition using iPads and Visual Thesaurus word maps.

Length of Lesson:

One hour

Instructional Objectives:

Students will:
  • conduct a word knowledge self-assessment
  • understand the nature of homographs
  • compete in a "Find that Meaning" competition using VT word maps
  • identify parts of speech and specific meanings of words used in context


  • student notebooks
  • white board
  • iPads or computers with Internet access
  • "Find that Meaning" charts (one per student)  [click here to download]


Taking a word knowledge self-assessment:

  • Write the following ten words on the board and ask students to copy them in their notes:    


  • Have students read the list and put a check mark next to each of the words that they know.
  • Ask students to reveal to a neighboring classmate how many of the words they know, and to "prove" to their partner that they know each of the words they checked (either through verbally defining the words or by supplying usage examples).


Defining knowing a word:

  • Distribute the following list of sentences to the class, pointing out that each sentence contains one of the words from the warm-up list:

"There are people beseeching him to get back where he's best, which is bold ideas, humor, channeling his inner Reagan," the aide said.
-New York Times Jan 20, 2012

Super-wide-leg trousers in dull green corduroy, shown with a little cropped wool jacket, also looked fresh.
-New York Times Feb 10, 2012

Stock markets were generally higher across the region in modest buying as investors digested developments in Greece.
-Wall Street Journal Feb 12, 2012

At least 10 Harvard players have been drafted by the N.B.A., according to university records.
-New York Times Feb 7, 2012

Other leaders have also expressed grave doubts about the peace process and urged a new approach.
-Reuters Jan 24, 2012

Low interest rates, better loan availability and new car models have helped drive sales higher in the last three months.
-Time Feb 14, 2012

"To minimize growth in fixed costs, we seek to improve process efficiencies and maintain a lean culture."
-Forbes Feb 14, 2012

Children have wants and passions before they are capable of reasoning.
-Ingersoll, Robert Green

"Iran, while being extremely clever with skirting around previous rounds of sanctions, is perhaps facing real pressure this time."
-Business Week Jan 11, 2012             

Analysts attribute Brazil's rapidly widening girth to changes in nutrition, with chips, processed meats and sugary soft drinks replacing staples like rice, beans and vegetables.
-Seattle Times Jan 28, 2012             

  • Ask students to read the list of sentences and to consider how these sentences might change their perspective on the warm up activity. Do each of the sentences make sense? Are the words that they checked as "knowing" being used in the same way as they would expect?
  • Have students revisit the list from the warm-up assessment and circle the checkmarks that have been called into question. In other words, ask students to identify those words that have meanings that are unfamiliar to them.

Exploring a word's multiple meanings on a Visual Thesaurus iPad display:

  • Explain that all of the words on the list are homographs – words that have multiple meanings. Although students may be familiar with a more common meaning of a homograph, they might be surprised to discover that there are sometimes other less common meanings for that same word. For example, students are most likely familiar with the meaning of staff as "personnel" – like the staff members who work at their school.
  • Ask students to use iPads to look up the word staff and to rest their finger on the colored meaning bubble that they think will reveal the definition of "staff" as it is used in the following sentence:

As the children passed this house an old man, gray and thin and much bent, stood by the gate, leaning on a staff.
-Sir Hall Caine

  • If students have trouble identifying the correct meaning bubble, ask them to first consider the color of the bubbles. In this sentence, staff is being used as a noun, so they should be exploring only the red meaning bubbles that indicate staff's noun meanings.
  • Circulate around the room to assess whether or not students have correctly identified the meaning of staff that is relevant to the sentence (i.e., "a strong rod or stick with a specialized utilitarian purpose").

Conducting a "Find that Meaning" competition:

  • Organize the class into small groups of three or four students each, and explain that each group represents a team that is going to compete against the other teams to see if they can correctly identify each of the meanings of the words as they are used in the sentences from the "Find that Meaning" handout.
  • As students work in teams to see who can complete the "Find that Meaning" chart first, they should use iPads (if available) to investigate the different meaning bubbles in each word map they consult. Remind students that tapping and holding their fingers down on a bubble will reveal the meaning, but simply tapping will change the display to put that meaning in the center of another map. (Of course, this same exploration could take place with computers using mouse-clicking manipulation.)


Sharing meanings and announcing a winning team:

  • The first group who claims to win must show the teacher its team's completed "Find that Meaning" chart and must have correctly identified each part of speech and meaning in order to win.
  • Have the winning team review each of the word's part of speech and meaning, along with a synonym for that particular meaning.

Extending the Lesson:

  • Challenge students to choose one of the ten words and to investigate all of the different meanings of that word. Then, have students find at least one example sentence for each of the meanings displayed in the word map. Example sentences can be found in the Vocabulary.com Dictionary, in the Usage Examples display on the right side of each of the dictionary pages.


  • Assess each team's completed "Find that Meaning" chart to see if they correctly identified each word's part of speech and meaning (as used in the context of the sentences).

Educational Standards:

Common Core State Standards for ELA and Literacy:

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use

  • Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words or phrases based on grades 6-12 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.
    • Use context (e.g., the overall meaning of a sentence or paragraph; a word's position or function in a sentence) as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase.
    • Consult general and specialized reference materials (e.g., dictionaries, glossaries, thesauruses), both print and digital, to find the pronunciation of a word or determine or clarify its precise meaning or its part of speech.
    • Verify the preliminary determination of the meaning of a word or phrase (e.g., by checking the inferred meaning in context or in a dictionary).
  • Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
    • Use the relationship between particular words to better understand each of the words.
    • Distinguish among the connotations (associations) of words with similar denotations (definitions) (e.g., bullheaded, willful, firm, persistent, resolute).
  • Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases; gather vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.

Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) Standards:

List of Benchmarks for Language Arts

Standard 5.    Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process
Level II (Grades 3-5)
4. Uses phonetic and structural analysis techniques, syntactic structure, and semantic context to decode unknown words (e.g., vowel patterns, complex word families, syllabication, root words, affixes)
5. Use a variety of context clues to decode unknown words (e.g., draws on earlier reading, reads ahead)
6. Uses word reference materials (e.g., glossary, dictionary, thesaurus) to determine the meaning, pronunciation, and derivations of unknown words
7. Understands level-appropriate reading vocabulary (e.g., synonyms, antonyms, homophones, multi-meaning words)
Level III (Grades 6-8)
3. Uses a variety of strategies to extend reading vocabulary (e.g., uses analogies, idioms, similes, metaphors to infer the meaning of literal and figurative phrases; uses context clues, such as word function and placement; uses definition, restatement, example, comparison and contrast to verify word meanings; identifies shades of meaning; knows denotative and connotative meanings; knows vocabulary related to different content areas and current events; uses rhyming dictionaries, classification books, etymological dictionaries)
7. Knows parts of speech (e.g., noun, verb, adjective, adverb, pronoun, conjunction, preposition, interjection) and their functions

Level IV (Grades 9-12)
1. Uses context to understand figurative, idiomatic, and technical meanings of terms

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