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Making Sense of Homographs

Lesson Question:

How can students use the Visual Thesaurus to make sense of some common homographs and to discover a pattern among stress homographs?

Applicable Grades:


Lesson Overview:

This lesson — which could be appropriate for ESL and mainstream students alike — introduces students to homographs. Students brainstorm common homographs and then use the Visual Thesaurus to help them discover a relationship between part of speech and pronunciation when encountering stress homographs.

Length of Lesson:

One hour to one hour and a half

Instructional Objectives:

Students will:

  • define homograph using the Visual Thesaurus
  • brainstorm a list of homographs
  • consult the Visual Thesaurus to identify part of speech and stressed syllables among a set of homograph pairs
  • interpret the relationship between part of speech and pronunciation of stress homographs


  • student notebooks
  • white board
  • computers with Internet access
  • "Making Sense of Stress Homographs" sheets (one per student) [click here to download]



Connecting homographs to humor:

  • Present students with a riddle or a cartoon (e.g., a "Far Side" cartoon) that hinges upon a homograph pair. For example, you could write the following riddle on the board:

Q: How can you make a slow horse fast?

A: Don't let him eat!

  • If your students are not familiar with the multiple meanings of fast (and are therefore not laughing), display the Visual Thesaurus word map for fast and point out the two meanings of fast that are relevant to the riddle: the adjective meaning "...capable of acting or moving quickly" and the verb meaning "abstain from eating."


Defining homograph with the Visual Thesaurus:

  • Explain to students that the humor of many puns, riddles, and cartoons depends upon people's knowledge of homographs. Display the Visual Thesaurus word map for homograph and reveal its definition: "two words are homographs if they are spelled the same way but differ in meaning (e.g., fair)" [You could also point out the Greek roots from which homograph is derived: homo meaning same + graph meaning writing.]

Brainstorming homographs:

  • Write the words fast and fair on the board and ask students to try to come up with other common homographs. As students provide examples, list them on the board—pointing out that some homograph word pairs have the same pronunciation (e.g., fast, fair, wave, well, etc.) and other homographs are pronounced differently (e.g., wind a watch vs. the wind is blowing; dispose of refuse vs. refuse to cooperate, etc.)

  • To further emphasize this last point, you could write the following words on the board (without reading them aloud) and ask students to write sentences containing the words: tear, bow, and close.
  • Have students read their sentences aloud to illustrate the multiple interpretations of the homographs (e.g., I shed a tear. vs. I cannot tear the bag of chips open).

Introducing stress homographs:

  • Point out that a reader cannot know how to pronounce most homographs without reading them in the context of sentences.
  • Write the following sentences on the board, without reading them aloud:

The convict escaped from his jail cell.

The prosecutor is hoping to convict the suspected robber.

  • Display the word map for convict and click on the two speaker icons to the right of the word to let students hear the two pronunciations.
  • Ask students to identify the meanings and parts of speech that match each of the pronunciations. Return to the convict example sentences and annotate them on the board to identify part of speech and to show which syllable of convict should be stressed in each sentence.

The convict escaped from his jail cell.

The prosecutor is hoping to convict the suspected robber.

Analyzing stress homographs:

  • Organize the class into small groups and give each group a "Making Sense of Stress Homographs" worksheet (download here).

  • Instruct groups to consult the Visual Thesaurus word maps in analyzing each pair of homograph sentences by identifying the part of speech and stressed syllable in each pair of homographs (like in the previous convict sentences).


Identifying a pattern in some stress homographs:

  • Have groups share their answers to the "Making Sense of Stress Homographs" sheet orally, placing extra emphasis on the stressed or accented syllable in each of the homographs.
  • Ask students to look over the homographs on the sheet and to determine what pattern or relationship they detect between pronunciation and part of speech. (Establish that when the homograph functions as a noun, the word's first syllable is stressed, and when the homograph functions as a verb, the word's second syllable is stressed).

Extending the Lesson:

  • As a related creative writing or art assignment, students could create illustrated riddles or cartoons that derive their humor from homographs.


  • Check groups' completed "Making Sense of Stress Homographs" sheets to assess whether or not students accurately identified parts of speech and stressed syllables.

  • Assess students' pronunciations of stress homographs to determine whether or not they are stressing first syllables in noun homographs and second syllables in verb homographs.

Educational Standards:

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)
8. Monitors own reading strategies and makes modifications as needed (e.g., recognizes when he or she is confused by a section of text, questions whether the text makes sense)

Level III (Grades 6-8)

1. Establishes and adjusts purposes for reading (e.g., to understand, interpret, enjoy, solve problems, predict outcomes, answer a specific question, form an opinion, skim for facts; to discover models for own writing)  
2. Uses word origins and derivations to understand word meaning (e.g., Latin and Greek roots and affixes, meanings of foreign words frequently used in the English language, historical influences on English word meanings)
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 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)

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Comments from our users:

Sunday August 22nd 2010, 8:30 PM
Comment by: Kenneth K.
Great lesson idea. I will certainly use this. The past few years our principal has purchased a school license so that each computer in my room can be logged onto Visual Thesaurus. The students do love it and use it for all subjects.
This looks like a good lesson for me to use early in this year to help introduce my new class to the Visual Thesaurus site.

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