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Spotlight on Figurative Language Multiple Meanings
Ages: 8-14   Grades: 3-9

Multiple meaning words can be a source of frustration for students with language disorders.  These lessons will bring that to a screeching halt!


  • Identify homophones and homographs
  • Master the multiple definitions of homophones and homographs
  • Use homophones and homographs in sentences
  • Improve performance in reading, writing, and test taking
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English is the language that uses the most multiple-meaning words.  They sound alike and can be spelled alike.  No wonder students with language disorders get frustrated.

This Spotlight uses direct instruction techniques to teach the spelling, pronunciation, and definitions of multiple-meaning words.  The results are improvement in reading comprehension, writing compositions, and standardized test performance.  Pre- and post-tests document your student's progress.

In-depth training teaches students to:

  • distinguish homophones (e.g., break/brake)
  • identify homographs (e.g., words that are spelled the same but have different meanings as in "close")
  • write multiple word definitions
  • match word definitions to the correctly spelled word
  • use context to determine word meaning
  • generate sentences with homophones and homographs
  • identify changes in word meaning from prefixes and suffixes

The sections of this book, homographs, homophones, and mixed multiple meanings, are based on the fact that all multiple-meaning words are either homographs or homophones.

The activities are written in the successful Spotlight series format.  Students with language-learning disorders benefit from:

  • uncomplicated grammar
  • clear explanations with examples
  • lessons written in ascending order of difficulty so the teaching progression and performance demands are gradual and reinforcing
  • varied lesson formats with plenty of practice activities
  • a variety of curricular content as well as daily life experiences

You may purchase Spotlight on Figurative Language Multiple Meanings individually or as part of the Spotlight on Figurative Language 6-book set.  The 6-book set consists of:

Spotlight on Figurative Language Colorful Language

Spotlight on Figurative Language Idioms

Spotlight on Figurative Language Indirect Language

Spotlight on Figurative Language Metaphors

Spotlight on Figurative Language Multiple Meanings

Spotlight on Figurative Language Similes


Copyright © 2012

40 pages, pretest/posttest

The research base for specific forms of figurative language comprehension and usage is sparse, but "metaphor" and "metaphoric language" have been explored to some depth.  The types of figurative language presented in these books can be classified under the general umbrella of metaphor, and the evidence under that label is relevant to the series.

  • Reynolds and Ortony (1980) investigated the comprehension of similes and metaphors by second- through sixth-grade typical children.  They found evidence of an ability to understand figurative language by children at all grade levels when adequate contextual supports were provided (Seidenberg & Bernstein, 1986).
  • Many learning-disabled children appear to have the requisite abilities and strategies for metaphoric comprehension in their cognitive repertoires but fail to spontaneously and appropriately access and apply them when they should . . . learning-disabled children often fail to spontaneously identify the need to use appropriate, cognitive processing strategies that are well within their cognitive competence (Seidenberg & Bernstein, 1986).
  • Metaphoric competence reflects an individual's cognitive level, abstract reasoning ability, and linguistic competence.  The likelihood of [identifying] nonliteral responses [in figurative contexts] depends primarily on these competencies but is also influenced by an individual's familiarity with the specific figurative forms being studied (Lee & Kamhi, 1990).
  • The ability to understand the motives and intentions of others is essential.  Assisting children with ASDs to decode figurative language may improve their social skills in relating to others (Mackay & Shaw, 2004).
  • Understanding a speaker's communicative intention is a central goal of communication and involves going beyond the literal meaning of an utterance.  Children who do not understand these intentions have major communicative difficulties.  Often, they are rejected by their peers, further reducing opportunities for interaction.  Perhaps they struggle on with their frustration and confusion unnoticed, as the people around them continue to use figurative language.  Our closer attention to the specifics of their difficulties should help them when they try to work out the meanings and intentions in the figurative language of their communicative partners (Mackay & Shaw, 2004).

Spotlight on Figurative Language Multiple Meanings incorporates these principles and is also based on expert professional practice.


Lee, R.F., & Kamhi, A.G. (1990). Metaphoric competence in children with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 23(8), 476-482.

Mackay, G., & Shaw, A. (2004). A comparative study of figurative language in children with autistic spectrum disorders. Child Language Teaching & Therapy, 20(1), 13-32. doi: 10.1191/0265659004ct261oa

Reynolds, R.E., & Ortony, A. (1980). Some issues in the measurement of children's comprehension of metaphorical language. Child Development, 51, 1110-1119.

Seidenberg, P.L., & Bernstein, D.K. (1986). The comprehension of similes and metaphors by learning disabled and nonlearning-disabled children. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 17, 219-229.


Linda Bowers, Paul F. Johnson


Linda Bowers has been a speech-language pathologist since 1973 and co-owner, co-founder, and researcher for LinguiSystems since 1977.  She loves to cook, travel, and be with friends and family.  She is the proud mother and grandmother of a wonderful daughter and two wickedly funny grandsons.

Paul F. Johnson has developed products and software for LinguiSystems since 1990.  He is the author or co-author of many LinguiSystems products, including titles in the Spotlight, 50 Quick-Play, and No-Glamour series.  He has particular interests in developing critical thinking, social, and communication skills in children and adults, and feels that solid written and verbal communication skills are not only essential to social and career success, but lead to more fulfilling lives and relationships.

He lives in rural Illinois with his amazing wife and their three ridiculous children.  In his spare time, Paul reads a lot, plays the guitar, and is an avid gardener and cook.


English isn't the only language that has multiple-meaning words, but it sure is the language that has the most!  Can you imagine trying to learn English and deciphering between the meanings of words like do/due, close/close, and ball/bawl?

Language-impaired students must feel a certain frustration too, when learning to read and trying to comprehend new vocabulary.  That's why multiple meanings are confusing whether they're spelled alike or they sound alike.  One needs to know the meaning of some words to figure out how to pronounce them.  Imagine reading these sentences without knowing the meanings of the bold words.

     Audrey had a close encounter with the man of her dreams.

     She closed her eyes and imagined their perfect date.

     Her new clothes meant nothing compared to how she felt for him.

This demonstrates that many language-impaired students might need direct instruction in spelling, pronouncing, and defining multiple-meaning words.  Not only will direct instruction help students with reading comprehension and writing compositions, it will also help them perform better on standardized tests.

The main goal of Spotlight on Figurative Language Multiple Meanings is to provide the direct instruction older students need to succeed in their reading, writing, and testing.  One reason the adolescent, language-disordered student approaches writing negatively is that using our language in writing is more difficult and confusing than using it verbally.  Writing needs to be clear and concise, whereas verbal dialogue can be clarified with repetition, paraphrase, gesture, and facial expression.  Writing needs to follow a prescribed beginning, middle, and end, whereas verbal dialogue can follow tangents and returns-to-topic without so much as a stop in conversation.

This book is divided into three sections: homophones, homographs, and mixed multiple meanings.  Since all multiple-meaning words are either homophones or homographs, this seemed to be a logical teaching approach.  In addition, there is a pretest and posttest for homophones and homographs so you may document your student's progress.

Here are some ways to use the pages in this book.

  • Be sure to give the pretest before starting either section of the book.  This will give you a baseline of performance to compare against the ensuing posttest.
  • Present the pages to your students in order.  The book provides an ascending order of difficulty so the teaching progression and performance demands are gradual and reinforcing.
  • Review each page with your students so they understand the task.  Some pages have examples completed for the students, while other pages simply have written directions.
  • If you're working with a group of students, you might use the pages on a Smart Board and do them together as a class.  Working as a group can be less stressful for the language-disordered student.
  • Make flash cards with homonym and homophone pairs for students to use together or at home.
  • Find pictures and worksheets on the web, download them, and make individualized multiple-meaning workbooks for your students.  The web has numerous free resources.
  • Practice diacritical markings with your students so they understand how to mark words for correct pronunciations.
  • Finally, have fun!  Write short, creative stories using multiple-meaning pairs.  These will be ridiculous-sounding and so much fun for your students to listen to and "interpret."

Have a jammin' good thyme or a jambin' good time!

Linda & Paul