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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!

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!

How to teach homophones pinterest graphic
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Leave a Comment

Kathleen

says:

my best read for this was the story of the frog and spitting in its mouth if you have a sore throat. never thought of looking at bizzare things like that for teaching a word. thanks so much!

Shirley

says:

Wonderful

Umashankar Teron

says:

I love this.

herliyanti

says:

love too

Sunday Oladokun

says:

I love this! Very enlightening!

Lisa Philbrick Ryan

says:

Love all these concrete ideas!!

In kannada list homophones

Shruti

says:

Love your language

Shruti

says:

Great work!!!!
I like to read this lesson
Please do more on this and idioms please…..

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

What a great idea, Shruti! I’ll pass the idea to do a blog post on idioms along to our team. Thank you.

Mavis Annancy

says:

Thank you very much….

Bright

says:

Pls can you the homophone machine a app

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

What a great suggestion! I’ll pass this along to our team, Bright. Thank you.

Annamari

says:

Amazing…thank you very much. I must say I am learning so much helping my Grade 2 grandson.

Saba

says:

Great work . . .will make my task easy at school, thank you !!!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Saba!

Ryan Sampley

says:

Really excellent.

Gulnaz Afzal

says:

The homophone machine maker was an excellent, awesome, super duper novel thing that I have come across my 21 years of teshing career. Hats off to the brainchild.
Greetings & blessings galore from GUlnaz Afzal for you.

Mary Gallagher

says:

Thank you for posting! I have some advance learners in my class this year. Although I mention homophones, I really have never taught them until now. Your website is very helpful.

Natalie

says:

That Homophone Machine is fun! Definitely fits in with our family’s sense of humor. We love to “play with words” as we call it. Simple requests at the dinner table are often tuned into silly conversations. We got a lot of eye rolls when our daughter was 4-6 yrs old, but by age 8 we have won her over to our style of wit ;)

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Natalie,
We call it “wordplay”, and we love it too! It even gets better as the kids get older!

Nilufar

says:

Thanks for free downloads. I really need them.

Minette Levee

says:

I had no idea I was dyslexic until we started homeschooling my son. Now thanks to your program and your emails and posts, my spelling is improving (although now my son is better than I am!). We had just been discussing homonyms, homographes and homophones and this post really helped. Thank you so much for your great products and service!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Minette,
You are welcome. My mother-in-law had a similar experience. She didn’t realize the problems she and her father had had a name until her son, my husband, was diagnosed with dyslexia. Knowing the cause of her difficulties helped her approach learning differently and she became a better reader and speller as an adult.

Rohit Kumar

says:

I read your post and thought you made some really great points

DAVID KLUTSE

says:

we appreciate this effort of making things easier for us to comprehend, thanks

Eve Margolis

says:

I’ve never been sure about when to teach homophone pairs. So much published curriculum has pairs taught in the same lesson. Teaching them separately makes so much more sense! I also love the easy way it is explained here.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Eve,
Thank you for letting us know that this blog post on homophones was helpful for you! We love being helpful.

Rosie

says:

Thank you for the helpful tips!

Alice Ross

says:

Most homophones give my oldest daughter trouble, so we started a journal where she draws pictures of the pairs (or trios) and then illustrates them. It helps her to draw them and then she makes such funny stories that she shares them with her grandmother and others and has that reinforcement too. We try to make at least one new page a week, and have more than 20 done. We have used your spelling curriculum from the beginning (now in book 5) and so appreciate your help with homophones (and everything else). I downloaded your big list!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Alice,
I love your idea to illustrate homophones! That would really help make them stick. Thank you for sharing this idea.

Zakaria Ibn Iddissh

says:

This topic about homophones is very interested.

Faye

says:

thank you for the information. I am sure I will use it. I tutor two adults in literacy. One is in her 70’s and on a 2nd grade reading level and the other one is 56 and on a 1st grade reading level. I am always looking for free resources to adapt to my students.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Faye,
How wonderful that you can help these adults in this way! Please let us know if you have any questions that would help you help them.

Jim

says:

Splendid! I’m an English-language instructor and very glad I’m on your website. You really making teaching easier.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Jim,
We are pleased to hear that our website is helping to make your teaching easier!

Kate Hall

says:

I’m a little confused. I was looking through the All About Homophones book sample, which looks like a lot of fun, but it seems to contradict what this article is saying. The different homophones are paired together. Are there particular chapters after which I should pull out the Homophones book worksheets?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great question, Kate.

We recommend getting the All About Homophones book with All About Spelling level 3. By that time, students have learned quite a few words that have homophones, although it isn’t until AAS 3 that we introduce the concept of homophones. Once students have mastered one of the words, it is okay to then introduce the other word and work on a homophone sheet that has both.

Make sure your student has mastered at least one of the spellings, and then introduce that the word is a homophone and show how the other word is spelled. Often the other word is a less-frequently used word as well. For example, we use “be” much more often than “bee.” The All About Homophones book works on usage rather than spelling skills, so the emphasis is on making sure the student knows which meaning goes with each word.

It’s really a flexible resource book that you can use to suit your family’s needs. Some possibilities:

– Choose one homophone set a week to master
– Select worksheets and activities that correspond with your children’s spelling lessons
– When you notice your child make a homophone error, assign them the appropriate page to work on that homophone
– Some kids like to work through the book from beginning to end
– Have a Homophones Unit Study for a designated period of time while you take a short break from another language arts area or during the summer.

I hope this helps. Please let us know if you have further questions.

Shirley

says:

Wonderful lesson.I have learnt a lot.wow!

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