The Glory of Multiple Meaning Words…….Run or Run or Run

Aug 11, 2012 by

The Glory of Multiple Meaning Words…….Run or Run or Run

Understanding multiple meaning words is one of the first higher order language tasks that most children acquire naturally through reading and basic instruction.  Younger children will also pick up dual meanings through kid type songs, jokes and phrases.  For those students who demonstrate even slight language delays or impairments, understanding multiple meanings can be challenging.  Without awareness and understanding of multiple meaning words, students may experience decreased comprehension, misunderstandings and the biggest problem of all ….they have difficulty  understanding humor and slang.  Basically these kids won’t “get it.”

So how do you teach the concept of multiple meanings?  First the students have to learn that multiple meanings exist.  The best way to start is with simple words.  My all time favorite word is “run.”  According to there are over 150 meanings for the word run and that doesn’t include its’s use in slang and idioms.

Starting with 10-15 meanings for the word run is a good place to begin.  The initial “run activity”  has to be dramatic and high energy.  Let the kids generate as many meanings as they can on their own.  After that gives hint and cues before giving the meanings.  Use run in a sentences with specific meaning and act the meaning out if possible.   Fill up that white board or paper (yes in this day and age SLP’s may not always have access to even a white board and a functioning marker).  Act as if you never knew there were that many meanings for one word.  Every little detail should be explained to make sure the kids can connect the different definitions to make them meaningful.  This is a fun activity and kids always leave with a smile on their face.

In the following sessions the concept of multiple meaning words is reinforced by presenting other dual meaning words and using them in sentences.  By teaching the concept of multiple meaning words the kids are being encouraged to use critical thinking skills rather than just drawing from a word bank.  Using critical thinking to figure out meaning is one of the main keys to developing and use of higher order language.  I do tell the kids that words with two meanings and the same spelling are homophones but just as side knowledge.  I’m focusing on the skill not the ability to label.

There are several resources I’ve used over the years but I have two favorites “Say One Thing Mean Another” by .  This workbook has examples that I use to reinforce the concept of dual meaning words.  The examples start out a little easier and get more difficult.  I may use all of the examples or just some of the easy ones depending on the students age and ability.  “Say One Thing Mean Another” also focuses on other higher order language concepts such as dual meaning sentences, dual meanings based on stress (sarcasm) and idioms. My favorite when working with younger kids is the vintage workbook “Language Remediation and Expansion” by Catherine S. Bush.  This is a book of 100 skill-building reference lists.  Some of the examples are dated but easily modified or omitted.  I’ve actually had my older students use this book as a reference when designing their own multiple meaning game.  I do keep current and have a homophone apps on my iphone.  I find the examples on the apps either too easy or too difficult.  With multiple meaning activities on apps the kids usually have a 50/50 chance to get them correct.   I also can’t modify the apps to encourage critical thinking.

****See comments below

How many meanings can you think of for the word “run”? How about “run” in idioms and slang phrases? It is hard to generate them off the top of your head but is amazing how many meanings we use on an almost daily basis.

How do you teach the concept of multiple meaning words?


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  1. Teresa Sadowski MA/SLP-ccc

    The author of Say One Thing Mean Annother sent me an e-mail Looks like you can get her book a lot cheaper at Super Duper. This book is fantastic. I still use it all the time. A great way to introduce higher order language skills.

    Hi Theresa,
    I was delighted to see that you’re recommending my book. However, the price you listed from is far more expensive than the price of $34.95 from the publisher. They can be accessed at Keep up the good work!

    Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!
    Dr. Cecile Spector

  2. Amanda

    Thank you for the fantastic post on multiple meaning words. I love your description of how you introduce your lesson. Ordered the materials and love them! Thanks again!!

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