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How to Teach Multiple Meaning Words Vocabulary

Multiple Meaning Words

How to Teach Multiple Meaning Words

From an old vaudeville act:

“You drove me to drink!” her husband shouted.

“No, you walked there yourself every night,” his wife responded.

This mildly humorous exchange is built upon word play. Word play is a basic tool for many writing and speaking genre. The word play in the short vaudevillian dialog involves the double-meaning of the verb, drove. It also involves different uses of the parts of speech: The husband uses to drink as an infinitive (an unconjugated verb). The wife interprets her husband’s word, drink, as a common noun place (say a bar) and the object of the prepositional phrase to drink (where). Finally, the husband uses the verb phrase, drove me toas an idiom, meaning forced me or caused me, whereas the wife uses drove me as a colloquialism meaning he used the car to drive (no one drives a person).

Enough already! English-language arts teachers certainly can take the fun out of anything. My point is that multiple meaning words are important components of any language. English has plenty of them.

The Common Core authors include multiple meaning words in the Language Strand as Standard L.4.a., but word play is also included in word relationships Standard L.5.b. and figures of speech Standard L.5.a. By the way, I love the fact that the Standards include puns (my boldface):

Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
Interpret figures of speech (e.g. verbal irony, puns) in context.

See how multiple meaning words fit into the breadth of the Common Core Vocabulary Standards in the Language Strand:

  • Multiple Meaning Words and Context Clues (L.4.a.)
  • Greek and Latin Word Parts (L.4.a.)
  • Language Resources (L.4.c.d.)
  • Figures of Speech (L.5.a.)
  • Word Relationships (L.5.b.)
  • Connotations (L.5.c.)
  • Academic Language Words (L.6.0)

What is the instructional focus of multiple meaning words?

Our instructional focus with multiple meaning words is centered on homonyms. A brief reminder: Homonyms represents a general category, literally meaning same names, that is used to indicate similar words which have different meanings. Homographs (words spelled the same, but pronounced differently, such as bass (a deep tone or voice) and bass (a type of fish), and homophones (words pronounced the same but spelled differently, such as reed and read) are subsets of homonyms. So, yes, bass, reed, and read are all examples of homonyms.

How do context clues fit in… the Standard does not mention these.

True, however words are always used in context. Without context clues, we wouldn’t understand homonyms. For example, saying “I like a lot of bass” is meaningless unless we surround the homograph with context clues, such as “I like a lot of bass on my speakers” or “I like a lot of bass, but not a lot of trout.”

As an aside, the Common Core Standards are quite explicit in some sections as exemplars for instruction; however, they are not a detailed instructional scope and sequence (see below for a helpful example). The Common Core authors expect teachers to use their brains to fill in the blanks. As an educational author, I always list applicable Standards; however, I also include a good measure of common sense. For example, the Language Strand Language Conventions Standards (L.2) include plenty of specific Standards regarding the use of different verb forms; however, the Standards nowhere mention “Thou shalt teach thine students what a verb is.”

Which Multiple Meaning Words to Use and How to Team Them

Students should practice grade-level homonyms (same spelling homographs and sound homophones) in context clue sentences which show the different meanings and function (part of speech) for each word.


In my three vocabulary programs (see below), I use vocabulary worksheets to help students learn grade-level multiple meaning words and context clue strategies to explain their use. Check out my S.A.L.E. Context Clue Strategies with free lessons HERE.


Multiple Meaning Words

The author provides three CCSS standards-based vocabulary program options for grades 4-8 teachers. Each includes 56 grade-level vocabulary worksheets, study cards, and biweekly unit tests. Answers provided, of course. Available on both Teachers pay Teachers and Pennington Publishing. Enter discount code 3716 on the latter to receive a 10% discount on all purchases. Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits | Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary BUNDLES.

Interested in convincing your colleagues to purchase multiple standards-based grade-level vocabulary programs with a coherent instructional scope and sequence? Print off this comprehensive grades 4-8 Vocabulary Scope and Sequence to plan your instruction: CCSS L.4,5,6 Grades 4-8 Vocabulary Scope and Sequence

Check out the following sample lessons (also available on the links above in the book previews). Each grade-level resource (available in all three programs) includes four vocabulary worksheets, plus the corresponding vocabulary study guide and unit test.

Get the Grade 4 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 5 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 6 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 7 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

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