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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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Judy Krige

says:

Such a fun way to each this concept

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Judy!

Abubakarr Kamara

says:

It awesome, it is really helpful

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad you found this helpful, Abubakarr!

Karrie

says:

There is so much useful information here! I’m just getting started with this so I appreciate all your helpful tips.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad to hear you found this helpful, Karrie! But if you ever have any questions or need help, just ask.

Beth C

says:

This is perfect! Just hit a lesson with a couple of kids and this really helps break it down for them. Thank you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this is helpful for you, Beth!

Grace

says:

Thanks for sharing these!

manasa Bandari

says:

Like it. Brief explanation.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Manasa!

Rahila

says:

Excellent way of explaining. Now I understand it better myself, it will be easier to explain to the kids too!

Deborah Bown

says:

This was a great and timely article as my daughter has been encountering homophones in her spelling program. This article gave me many ideas of how to better help her learn these sometimes tricky words.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad you found this helpful, Deborah! Homophones can be tricky, so I hope these help. If you find you need more help, however, just let me know.

One other tip is often one of a pair of homophones is much more commonly used than the other. For example, we use “be” much more often than “bee.” It can help students to focus on the meaning of the less common word. It’s helpful to know to only use “bee” when meaning a buzzing insect and use “be” for every other meaning.

Sibrina Russell

says:

I stumbled onto your site and am so excited to have these resources to help with my nieces and nephew! <3

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great, Sibrina! I hope your nieces and nephew have lots of fun with this.

Kelly

says:

I’m saving these downloads for the next time this comes up in our house!

Kelly

says:

I felt like I was stumbling over trying to explain this to my kids. This is so helpful (and giving me more confidence to just trust the program!).

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this was helpful for you, Kelly!

Jeanie Beeson

says:

We haven’t had too much yet.
We are at level 2 referring back to level one as needed.
Very interesting and helpful blog as we move forward.

Charissa Deuser

says:

This looks very cute but with great helpful information

Dorothy Boucher

says:

Thank you for sharing this and very useful for sure.

Wylene

says:

I love how easily you break this information down. Excited for my daughter to get to level 3 so we can dive deeper into understanding homophones.

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!

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