Wednesday, March 26, 2014


Multiple Meanings of a Words

words with multiple meanings

My friend is small.

What do I mean by that?

Is she skinny? Is she a midget? Is she a little short? Does she have childlike features? Is she underdeveloped? Is she unimportant?

The truth is, small has a lot of meanings! It can mean all of the above and MORE. It all depends on the usage.

Check out this infographic from Kaplan that shows the top ten words with the most definitions in the dictionary! These are all "easy" words. They are short words (each of them only a syllable) and words most students would easily define if asked.

However, a key part of a lot of English  exams (and English in general) is knowing what a word means in a specific context, and being able to recognize that one word can mean different things depending on how we say it.

Here's a quick reading (or listening activity) to do with your students.To start: ask them what the word rich means. Then give them this text (or have them watch the video that follows). If this is too lame for you, I am sure you can make your own!
Susan: Hello!
Lucy: Oh my God, hi! I haven't seen you in ages. I love that dress.
Susan: You don't think the color's too rich?
Lucy: No it is just perfect especially with your complexion. How's life?
Susan: Well, I started dating a new guy.
Lucy: Let me guess...he's rich?
Susan: Yes, him. Anyways, we've been going out every night! I swear I gained at least 10 pounds, all their sauces and are so rich.
Lucy: That sounds amazing. You live such a rich life.
Susan: I am sure it isn't nearly as interesting as yours. How's life?
Lucy: I got that new job, at the newspaper, it's great! I just write down funny stories once a week.

Susan: I am sure you're dating life is rich with examples.
Lucy That's rich coming from you!
Susan: I don't know what you mean.
Lucy: You date a different boy every week!
Susan: I think this is why we haven't seen each other in ages! 
The listening is below, be warned the quality is pretty poor I made it quickly for one of my classes. My classes are used to me speaking quickly, but it may be a bit too fast for your students.

Now ask them if their original definition still stands. In one instance it still works! See if they can go through again and identify the different meanings of rich. Then see if they can come up with any additional meanings. This is a great reminder to pay attention carefully and not just assume the word has only one definition. This is also a way to remind your students that if they use more specific words their writing won't sound as redundant.

Here's an alternative activity. Students tend to be intimidated by larger words, but I feel that smaller words are more intimidating! Try out this PowerPoint activity (a really short game) in class and show your students that rather than using smaller words, one larger specific word may be more helpful.

Small words from Carissa Peck if you prefer a video you can view the slideshow on YouTube as well

Now that you've helped your students realize larger words can often simplify things, keep an eye on this week's blogs (like yesterday's post) for more ideas! If you want them to do more with the different meanings tomorrow's post has a fun craft project!

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