There are many reasons why English is one of the most confusing languages in the world. One reason why is that it contains a lot of homonyms, or multiple meaning words! Multiple meaning word activities are an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to reading comprehension and vocabulary development.
Here are 5 engaging multiple meaning words activities to help support students in those two areas.
1. Anticipatory Activity
A simple little intro game for multiple meaning words (and it works great for other skills too!) is called “Guess the Category.”
The idea behind this activity is for students to discover on their own what multiple meaning words are. When the kids are the ones who figure it out themselves (through analyzation and discussion) the concept is more likely to “stick.”
This approach can be much more effective than just telling the class, “We’re going to be learning about multiple meaning words today.”
Instead, you might start by telling the kids: “We’re going to play a guessing game. I want to see who can guess what all of these words have in common!” The word game alone helps peak their interest.
Draw a circle map on the white board with a question mark in the middle.
Then begin filling in the circle map with words that fit the particular category. For multiple meaning words, you might write words such as fly, bowl, play, bark, etc.
As you continue to add words one by one, tell the kids to raise their hand (or any other physical cue- hands on top of their head, tap their nose with their finger, etc.) when they think they’ve figured out what the words have in common.
Once a decent number of students have shown that they have a guess, stop adding words. But instead of having them guess right away, ask if they can think of any of their own examples of words that would also fit in the same category.
As students share out, add the word inside the circle map it it does fit the category. If it doesn’t, write it on the outside of the circle map for now. This way, the class can later have a discussion about why certain words don’t fit the category.
Once you’ve finished adding some of the words that they’ve come up with on their own, have them share their official guesses as to what the category is.
Unless you’re doing this activity as a review, the kids might not come up with the term multiple meaning words or homonyms right away when trying to guess the category.
For example, one student might guess that the category is “things” or “nouns.” If there’s a guess like this, ask the class whether they agree/disagree and why. Let that lead to a class discussion.
A student might say he disagrees because, “Fly is up there. And that’s not a thing, it’s an action. Like a bird can fly.” And another might respond to that and say, “But a fly can be a thing. Like a fly that’s a bug.”
This might then guide the class to make additional guesses as to what the category is. They might say, “Words that sound the same but mean different things.”
At this point, you could challenge them further by pointing out any words that are outside the circle map. With the word deer for instance, you might say: “But the word deer sounds the same as dear and those mean different things. It didn’t make it into the circle map, though! Why doesn’t it belong?”
Let the kids discover that the spellings of deer and dear are different, which makes them homophones.
And then at that point, you could help coin the term for the category (homonyms, or multiple meaning words). And how they are words that sound the same, are spelled the same, and mean different things.
The process of analyzing and discussing, mixed in with the “game” of trying to guess the category, makes for higher student engagement and a firmer grasp on what multiple meaning words are.
2. M&M Words
For the activity above, I mentioned how the word “game” can instantly up the engagement factor for kids. It’s also amazing how just adding a simple logo onto an anchor chart can really escalate student interest. In this case, M&M stands for multiple meaning!
If you’re artistically talented, you could just draw an M&M logo freely by hand. But if you’re more of an I can draw stick figures person like I am, you may be familiar with how to “cheat” using a projector. For this chart, I just did a Google image search of the M&M logo. Then I projected it up onto a piece of chart paper taped to the white board. I sized it to my liking, and then traced the image. Voilà! Instant artist-worthy lettering.
As students brainstorm examples of multiple meaning words, you could have them write those words onto the chart all around the logo. At a later time, have students go back and trace their writing with different color markers, and put a circle around each of the words to make them look like M&Ms.
Any time they come across new examples of multiple meaning words (during independent or partner reading, whole group lessons, etc.) you might have them continue to add those new examples onto the chart.
After creating this same chart with one of my past classes, each student was given a piece of paper with a pair of M&M buddies. They chose a word from the chart (or came up with their own) and wrote a sentence on each M&M that showed the meaning in context They also illustrated a picture to match.
It was a helpful way for them to expand their vocabulary, as well as practice writing complete sentences. The kids loved seeing everyone’s M&Ms displayed on the wall. I also had students use the wall display as a visual tool during reading groups and our writing block (to help with spelling, comprehension, etc.)
If you’re interested in doing this activity with your class, I don’t have this same M&M buddies template available for download or sale unfortunately (due to copyright reasons). But hopefully if you like the idea, you could easily print out clipart or trace something similar for personal use in your own classroom.
3. Multiple Meaning Word Activities for fall
Here are some downloadable templates for multiple meaning word activities that I do have available though! This fall-themed resource includes a similar writing activity to the one with the M&Ms, as well as additional ones.
This is the activity that’s similar, with space for writing sentences to show the difference in word meanings.
It can also be done as a writing craft after reading a passage about bats (I specifically went with a bat theme since “bat” is a multiple meaning word itself). And still ties in with the fall theme, whenever Halloween is around the corner.
As an extension from there, students can analyze the meanings of different homonyms based on the context of how they’re used in a sentence. This color matching activity is a fun (and effective) way for them to practice that skill.
4. Multiple Meaning Word Jenga
When I hear the phrase “student engagement,” Jenga always pops right into mind! Just about any skill or standard is made instantly more engaging when practiced in combination with this classic game.
These cards are to be used with this set of color Jenga blocks. The game can be played either in partners or a small group, so it’s perfect for a literacy center.
Students take turns rolling the color dice. For whichever color they roll, they select a card with that color. They read the multiple meaning word question aloud, and everyone in the group answers the question using their answer sheets. Students then compare their answers. The student who rolled the dice gets to move a Jenga block that matches the color of their card.
Kids have so much fun playing that they hardly even realize that their brains are hard at work as they practice multiple meaning words!
And if you’d like more ideas for how to use Jenga in the classroom, you can visit this blog post. You’ll find storage and organization tips, and all kinds of additional games for phonics, sight words, and math.
5. Take it a step further!
After engaging students in various multiple meaning word activities, students can deepen their understanding of word meanings.
And to help improve their reading comprehension in this way, graphic organizers are the way to go! There are all kinds of vocabulary organizers out there, but this template has always been my personal go-to.
My favorite piece in particular is the “personal connection” box, since it helps improve retention of the word meaning.
“Fragile” was one of our weekly vocabulary words, but you could easily adapt this specifically for multiple meaning words. Pair this sheet with a multiple meaning word list, chart, or cards with homonyms on them. And you’ve got yourself a simple, effective literacy center for student practice and review!
What are some of your favorite multiple meaning word activities? When it comes to teaching them, it definitely helps to have multiple ideas!