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How to Teach Homophones

a small deer with big eyes in a field

It’s a common scenario; people everywhere do it—maybe even you or your child.

You’re writing a note and are about to write the word peak. But wait! Your pencil poises midair: is it sneak peak? Or is it sneak peek? Now consider stationary and stationery; they are both pronounced the same, but which one means writing paper?

These sets of words are called homophones (or sometimes homonyms), and they can cause a lot of trouble for spellers.

What Are Homophones?

Homophones are two or more words that sound alike but that are spelled differently and have different meanings.

Here are a few homophone pairs: deer and dear, billed and build, and sew, so, and sow.

Homophones occur in English because there are multiple ways to spell the same sound. For example:

  • The sound of /n/ can be spelled with the letter N or the letter combination KN, resulting in the homophones night and knight.
  • The sound of /ā/ can be spelled A-consonant-E or AY (among other possible spellings), giving us daze and days.
  • The schwa sound (the muffled /uh/ sound of vowels in unaccented syllables) causes words like complement and compliment to be pronounced alike.

How Are Homophones Different from Homographs and Homonyms?

Good question! Let’s look at homographs first.

Homographs are words that are spelled the same, but have different meanings and may have different pronunciations.

Examples of common homographs include:

  • does and does
    He does like to run. Does are female deer.
    (Same spelling, different pronunciation.)

  • wind and wind
    I can feel the wind in my hair. Wind up the string before it gets tangled.
    (Same spelling, different pronunciation.)

Homonyms are words that are pronounced the same and spelled the same, but have different meanings.

Here are some examples of homonyms:

  • bear and bear
    We saw a bear in the woods. The cold was more than he could bear.
    (Same spelling, same pronunciation.)

  • left and left
    They left the coin on the beach. Turn left when you get to the lemonade stand.
    (Same spelling, same pronunciation.)

You may have noticed that there is some overlap between the terms. For example, well and well can be categorized as both homographs AND homophones. And then there is added confusion because many people use the word homonyms when they are actually talking about homophones.

The easiest way to visualize the difference between these three terms is with a Venn diagram. Here’s a 30-second video that demonstrates the concepts.

Now that we’ve gotten the technical part out of the way, let’s see if we can help you and your children avoid homophone confusion!

List of Homophones

First, let’s start with a list. There are LOTS of homophones. In fact, the list below contains more homophone pairs than you can shake a stick at! In order to make this list as useful as possible, words that are archaic, slang, naughty, or extremely uncommon have not been included.

Download this BIG list of homophones!

Regional Accents Can Affect Whether Words Are Homophones

Some words are homophones in some areas but not in others. For example, in certain parts of America, weather and whether are pronounced the same, but in other regions the WH in whether has retained a distinct /hw/ sound. The words acts and ax sound alike to most of us, but some people pronounce the T in acts.

Speakers in the U.S. pronounce due and do identically, but in most British accents those words are pronounced differently. The words boy and buoy have the same pronunciation in England (and therefore are homophones), but not in America.

You can be the final judge as to whether certain word pairs are homophones in your neck of the woods.

My #1 Tip for Teaching Homophones

If your child struggles with spelling, concentrating on homophone pairs is one of the most confusing things you can do. Why is that? Think about it like this: imagine you met three new people this week.

Would it be easier to remember their names if you met them all at the same time? Or would their names be easier to remember if you met them at different times, under different circumstances? Most of us would agree that it would be easier to recall their names if the meetings were spaced out a bit.

Homophones are like that: meet them all at once and they get tangled up in your brain.

Trying to tackle a homophone pair like wait and weight in the same lesson can cause confusion where there shouldn’t be any. But this simple strategy can combat the confusion:

Teach the spelling of the words from the homophone pair one at a time.

In the case of wait and weight, teach wait first. In the All About Spelling program, we teach words containing AI long before we teach words containing EIGH – and we do so very deliberately. The vowel team AI is a much more common spelling of the long A sound than EIGH, so wait is taught sooner in the program.

After teaching the word wait, we reinforce the teaching in multiple ways until the word is mastered:

  • Wait is included in sentence dictation. The student spells the word wait in the context of dictated sentences.
  • Wait is included in the Word Banks. The student reads from the Word Banks frequently so he can get familiar with how the word looks.
  • Wait is on a Word Card, and that Word Card is reviewed frequently until it is mastered and retired.

And that leads us to my #1 tip for teaching homophones:

Let your student fully master the correct spelling and usage of wait before the homophone weight is introduced. By doing so, you greatly minimize the confusion and set your child up for success with homophones.

Teach Homophones in Context

Another great way to minimize homophone confusion is to provide context for the words. When teaching the word sore, for example, you might share this interesting folk remedy:

If you have a sore throat, try this: spit into the mouth of a frog and your sore throat will be cured!

Now there’s something to talk about:

  • Discuss the meaning of sore in this sentence.
  • Ask your child if he really thinks a sore throat could be cured this way.
  • Talk about other folk remedies.
  • Create a tongue twister using the word sore (Sally’s sore shin sure shines).

By the time the lesson is over, your child will be much more familiar with the meaning and spelling of this synonym for painful.

Of course, you can’t go into this much detail to teach every homophone, but even placing the word in a meaningful sentence goes a long way to provide clarity.

5 More Great Ideas for Teaching Homophones

Homophones can be confusing, but they can also be fun! There are lots of ways to make learning about homophones enjoyable, such as using games, tongue twisters, graphic organizers, storybooks, and more. Check out the resources below!

Free Homophone Riddles and Puns - download yours now

Pique your child’s interest in homophones by sharing these riddles and puns. For example:
Q: What is a quick look at a mountaintop? A: A peak peek.

(Download our free Homophone Riddles and Puns here!)


My List of Homophones - download your free PDF

When a spelling word has a homophone, point it out to your student and have him add it to his own personal homophones list.

(Download My List of Homophones here!)


All About Homophones teaching toolkit

Help your child master the use of homophones the fun way!

All About Homophones gives you more than 240 pages of engaging homophone activities, homophone games, spelling resources, and teaching tools for more homophones than you can shake a stick at!


Click to play with our fun homophone machine

Play with our free Homophone Machine! Type in any word, sentence, or paragraph and click the Convert button to see the homophones. Try this one: “I would like to show you my new horse.” I think you’ll get a good chuckle!

Learn more about exploring words with the Homophone Machine!

And finally, here’s a shameless plug for my All About Spelling program…

Cover of Level 3 All About Spelling program

All About Spelling incorporates all the tips you’ve read about in this article.

Beginning in Level 3, the All About Spelling program teaches homophones in a way that prevents homophone confusion.

Which pairs of homophones cause your child the most difficulty? Post in the comments below!

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Jordan

says:

Very useful information. Thank you!

Casey

says:

I was just discussing this with my nieces and had trouble trying to explain it properly. This is a great article.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this was timely, for you Casey!

Leanna McFarland

says:

Very informative and fun presentation. Thanks!

Lynn Wise

says:

My almost 7 year old thinks homophones are hilarious! Great tips!

bn100

says:

helpful tips

Casey

says:

Thanks for the tips! Love this program it has been a gift to our family.

Katie Stephens

says:

You’re program is wonderful! It works great for our family!

Loreen G

says:

Love and appreciate all the extra “helps” you give to help children with their learning. Thank you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re very welcome, Loreen!

Julia

says:

I’m new to this curriculum and I’m excited to dive into all these helpful resources!

April J

says:

Very useful information! Thank you!

Barb

says:

Great tips and tricks to keep your kids on an easy path.

Jessica

says:

Looking forward to incorporating more of these in our days!

Lauren Tetrick

says:

Language is so fascinating! Thanks for sharing!

Dani W

says:

My son has loved the book, Dear Deer, for a number of years. It is a fun read aloud for children to hear homophones used together. Looking forward to reach level 3.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Oooo, thank you for the book recommendation, Dani! I love the idea of exploring homophones with picture books.

Kate

says:

This is really good information. My 2nd grader loves discovering homophones and homographs. She’s currently working on your and you’re.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re and your are so tricky that if your daughter masters them this young, she will be ahead of the curve, Kate!

Sara Neff

says:

Very helpful thanks!

Ruth

says:

This looks so useful

Anne

says:

We are getting ready to start level 3. I’m looking forward to teaching this with the help of AAR!

Whitney Schonhoff

says:

This is very helpful.

Jennefer

says:

This is such a great help! I’ve always dreaded teaching concepts like these, but your programs have been such an amazing help! So glad I found you!

Tiffani Warren

says:

I struggle sometimes with homonyms with one of my ESL students. She understands past and present tense, but when reading the word “read” it’s really 50/50 whether she’ll use the past or present pronunciation, and this happens with other homographs too. I suppose this is a reading comprehension problem mainly, but I’ve never seen it addressed in reading comprehension curricula. :/ I’m not sure how to correct it as she’ll seem to master it when drilling examples, but it doesn’t seem to stick the next time the word comes up.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m pretty sure this is directly related to her overall mastery of English, Tiffani. When a native English speaking child misreads “read” as present tense when it should be past tense, they will self-correct as they know which one sounds correct. Their innate knowledge of spoken English allows them to do this easily.

With it is so much more difficult for those that are not native to English. They rely on the visual clues only in reading and do not have the experience with the language that allows them to hear immediately which is correct. And there is no rule or clue to help them master this, except more and more exposure to spoken English.

This is one of the reasons we recommend reading aloud daily to students. This can even be more important for those that don’t have a lifetime of exposure to English conversation. Audiobooks can help as well as directly reading books to her.

I’m sorry I’m not more help, Tiffani.

Stacy

says:

I have an 8yo student who falls in love with homophones after I taught him about them. Thank you for this awesome program, it makes reading and spelling so much easier!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m so happy to hear that All About Reading and All About Spelling are working out so well for your student, Stacy!

Michelle

says:

We are halfway through AAR 1 For my 6 y/o and starting it with my pre k child as well. We love it and plan to continue using it as our children grow older.

Denise

says:

I love how well thought out this program is. We’re just about to finish AAR 1 and I’m thinking about trying out AAR pre reading with my youngest.

Amber Bostelman

says:

Thank you for all of your advice. It has made our first year home schooling so much better!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Amber. I’m very pleased to hear we have been helpful for your first year of homeschooling.

Myra

says:

Interesting. The spelling curriculum I grew up with always taught homophones simultaneously.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Many do, Myra, but it can be so confusing to students trying to remember which spelling has which meaning.

Kristen Mclaughlin

says:

Such great and thorough information!

Lindsey

says:

This is so helpful!! I’ve always wondered how to best teach this.

Deena

says:

I really enjoyed reading this post, it was really helpful. Probably deer and dear are the hardest right now

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Deena,
With homophones, one of the pair is almost always used much more than the other. Maybe if you explain that “deer” only means the animal and otherwise always use “dear”, it would help some. You could print a picture of a cartoon deer, write “deer” boldly on its body, and put it on display in your school area for your student or students to refer to.

Ty Parks

says:

Definitely going to use these!

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