Margin Notes

TRY THIS TOMORROW: WORDS ACROSS CONTEXTS

Mar
07

Kylene Beers, in When Kids Can’t Read What Teachers Can Do, shares this simple but effective idea for teaching homographs, words that are spelled the same but have different meanings. She first asks the reader to consider what the following words have in common:

  • leave
  • good
  • interest
  • date
  • type
  • fast

They are all words that have multiple meanings. As she explains, “Leave can mean to remain (Please leave the book there.) or to be absent from a place (She is on leave from her job.). Good can be a moral value (She is a good person.) or a level of skill They did a good job.) or something you can count on (The car was good for another year.)”.

What makes this important for teachers to consider is that words with multiple meanings are problematic for students who know the most common definition of the word, but not the lesson common definition(s). When reading a text, if a student encounters a word, and only knows the common definition, comprehension breaks down. While skilled readers, and students who have broad vocabulary and reading experiences know when to consider other definitions, “…students with reading difficulties often default to the only definition they know”.

So, with this knowledge, how can we support readers in our classrooms?

Beers explains that although wide reading exposure will help students with the multiple meanings of words, we can introduce discussions on homographs in the classroom by simply selecting a homograph found in a text students are currently exploring, and increase their understanding of multiple meanings through an activity she calls “Words Across Contexts”. Here are some examples:

What would jersey mean to

  • A rancher?
  • Someone from New England?
  • A football player?

What would bank mean to

  • Someone standing near a river?
  • Someone who wants to save money?
  • A pilot?

What would bolt mean to

  • A carpenter?
  • A weather forecaster?
  • A runner?

What would engage mean to

  • A couple?
  • Someone chosen to do a job?
  • A mechanic?

What would novel mean to

  • A writer?
  • A creative problem solver?

Beers then shares a list of words with multiple meanings that you can find here, as well as a template for this activity here.

 

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