Clinicians in the classroom

Multiple-Meaning Words in Middle School

Vol. 19 • Issue 19 • Page 10
Clinicians in the Classroom

When I first started working with middle school students on using and understanding words with multiple meanings, I used categories to introduce vocabulary units. This was a good start to help them build vocabulary use and knowledge and teach the strategy of categorization for improving word retrieval. I tried to develop word banks that were applicable to a theme.

I introduced a unit on basketball in the fall. Students listed relevant words during their individual speech sessions. Sometimes I used pictures or fill-in-the-blank prompts to increase word retrieval. I targeted an idiom sentence relating to the sport that served as bonus credit if a student used it appropriately during sessions or could describe the meaning of the idiom. A sample sentence was "I hope he doesn't hit the ceiling!"

The unit included the following words: ball, hoop, court, coach, dribble, pass, shoot, basket, net, quarter, foul, traveling, charging, blocking, tripping, run and steal. They could be used in individual sessions and during classroom games to promote carry-over and generalization.

In small group sessions I used a dry-erase calendar to write the multiple-meaning word of the day and target idiom sentence for the month. Students who gave two meanings for each word, used the multiple-meaning word in two sentences, or described the meaning of the idiom sentence received a piece of candy. While playing the word-of-the-day game, we also discussed calendar topics like the days, weeks and months as well as concepts like yesterday, today and tomorrow. Students who asked a grammatically correct question with the proper "time" word often were given the chance to define a multiple-meaning word from a different day.

Because some students were visual and kinesthetic learners, I developed lesson plans for the self-contained classrooms based on individualized learning abilities. Miming was the easiest classroom game for students with language delays. They took turns pulling monthly multiple-meaning words out of a box and miming one of the meanings. Both the students who mimed the meanings and those who guessed them received points, which they could redeem for small prizes like decorative pencils.

Having students draw two meanings for words was another successful classroom approach. They folded a piece of paper in half, picked a word from the unit, and drew two pictures representing different meanings. They took turns showing their work to the class. Both the artist and the student who correctly guessed the meaning earned points.

Other units focused on Christmas--with words such as cold, present, ice, star, shop, fudge and stockings--and hockey, with words like mask, sticks, uniform, goal, net, slide and coach. Idiom sentences included "He's giving you the cold shoulder" and "Don't throw in the towel." I often wrote the best sentences on the board with the author's name. Praising good efforts rather than correcting mistakes all the time really boosts self-esteem.

I spent two months on body parts. The first month focused on body parts, while the second involved idioms using parts of the body. The words included head, ear, limb, hand, feet, chest, face and arms. Examples of the idiom sentences were "He's all thumbs," "She put her foot in her mouth," "I have butterflies in my stomach," "My lips are sealed," and "I have a frog in my throat."

Throughout the year, I used worksheets from various therapy manuals to supplement classroom and individual lessons. They often mixed new multiple-meaning words with familiar ones, which helped students generalize vocabulary use and knowledge to words outside the themes. Some of my favorite worksheets included activities where students circled pictures corresponding to the target word or selected answers from a word bank. I copied these assignments for the student work folders in my office.

The two final units of the school year were on animals and objects in the home. Animal words included bark, duck, hog, bear, clam and fly. Examples of words for objects in the home were bed, iron, key, light, screen, shed and sink.

Repeating some of the words from one month to the next helped students come up with even more definitions. Seeing how many definitions there were for words like "run" helped put things in perspective for students who assumed their work was done after providing a couple of definitions.

Idiom sentences included "Did you get up on the wrong side of the bed?" and "He let the cat out of the bag."

Nanette Burger-Cote is a private practitioner for Hasbro Early Intervention in Providence, RI. She can be contacted at

Clinicians In The Classroom Archives
  Last Post: November 3, 2009 | View Comments(1)

i love it

princesss desiderioNovember 03, 2009
manila, NY


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