How to Teach Synonyms, Antonyms & Homonyms

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Teaching students to read and write often involves teaching them about how language works in general. This lesson focuses on strategies you can use for teaching synonyms, antonyms, and homonyms.

Why Synonyms, Antonyms, and Homonyms Matter

As part of teaching fourth grade, Ms. Pritchard likes to help her students develop a more sophisticated appreciation of language. Most of her students have already mastered the basics of reading; they can read independently and with solid comprehension.

Most of Ms. Pritchard's students can already write flexibly and independently to some extent, but as fourth graders, they are still learning how to make their writing stand out. Ms. Pritchard knows that she can help their reading vocabulary become more sophisticated and help them flourish as writers by teaching them some of the nuances of how language works.

One thing that Ms. Pritchard knows can help many students is learning more about synonyms, antonyms, and homonyms. Understanding these three phenomena leads to better comprehension, better spelling, and more expressive writing.

Teaching Synonyms

A synonym is a word that means the same or almost the same thing as another word. Ms. Pritchard begins teaching her students about synonyms by offering this simple definition as well as some examples students will almost certainly be familiar with; for instance, ''big'' and ''large'' are synonyms.

Then, Ms. Pritchard uses the following activities to give her students practice with synonyms:

  • She has them take sentences they, or authors they enjoy, have written and replace one or more words in the sentence with synonyms.
  • She asks them to create illustrated synonym dictionaries, drawing pictures to go along with pairs of synonyms they find interesting.
  • She teaches them how to use a thesaurus, as well as the thesaurus function on their classroom computer, to locate meaningful synonyms.
  • She encourages them to find examples of synonyms in their independent reading.
  • She creates worksheets designed to have students match synonyms with each other.

Soon, Ms. Pritchard notices that her students are speaking and writing with a more complex vocabulary and encouraging each other to notice synonyms in their reading.

Teaching Antonyms

An antonym is a word that means the opposite or almost the opposite of another word. Most of Ms. Pritchard's students have been aware of antonyms from a very young age; they simply called them ''opposites.'' Ms. Pritchard introduces the concept with an explicit definition and a simple example; for instance, ''slow'' and ''fast'' are antonyms.

Ms. Pritchard finds that these activities can be helpful for teaching antonyms:

  • Have students create antonym books with illustrations for a series of antonym pairs of their choosing.
  • Have students use their bodies to mime antonyms like ''fast'' and ''slow,'' ''big'' and ''little,'' etc.
  • Ask students to match words with their antonyms on a worksheet.
  • In a multiple choice situation, have students determine which word is the antonym for an underlined word in a sentence.
  • Ask students to write antonym stories; first, they write a short story, then they rewrite it with as many antonyms as possible and laugh over the resulting meaning.

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