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Harmony with Homophones: Fun ways to keep your spellings untangled

Updated: Mar 29, 2022

I’ve enjoyed reading and writing since childhood and spelling has always come easily to me. So I didn’t quite realize how crazy difficult English can be…until I had to teach it.

When I started homeschooling our daughter, I saw how confusing this language really is. Each time Autumn learned a spelling rule, a bazillion exceptions would pop up. For example,

I before E, except after C, except when your foreign neighbor Keith received eight counterfeit beige sleighs from feisty caffeinated weightlifters. Weird.

~ from a Kaimebien coffee mug

In this age of texting and abbreviations and autocorrection tools, being a solid speller may not be high on your child’s list (or your own, for that matter). But people still judge books by their covers, and senders by their emails…and reports, essays, narratives, etc. Let’s face it—first impressions tend to stick around for a while. What impression do you want your child to make on others? His written words—and how well they’re spelled—matter.

One tricky area is homophones, words that are pronounced the same but have different spellings and different definitions, like to, too, and two. Here are some tricks to help keep their spellings straight.

Would, wood

Some homophones are easy to remember when you rhyme them with similarly spelled words. For example,

If you could, would you do as you should?

To remember which “wood” has to do with trees, think of Red Riding Hood. She might have told a friend, “I stood among the wood in my good hood.”

SIDENOTE: The words “food” and “mood” have the same base as the homophones above but are pronounced differently. Here’s a way to remember this pair: When you’re hungry, you’re in the mood for food!

Hear, here

The homophone “hear” contains the word “ear.” You use your ear to hear.

To learn about “here,” read the next section on “there” and its counterparts.

There, they’re, their

“There,” “they’re,” and “their” are commonly misused, even by adults. The word “there” can point to a location (as in “There it is!”). It contains the word “here,” which also denotes location. The same goes for “where.”

Here I am.

Where are you?

There you are!

So if you’re talking about location/direction, use the spelling that contains the word “here.” (This also helps spellers remember that “where” has an H.)

“They’re,” on the other hand, uses an apostrophe, which shows that a letter is missing—in this case, an A. If you’re not sure whether “they’re” is the word you need, read your sentence out loud without the contraction. If the sentence doesn’t make sense, you’ve got the wrong spelling.

“The toys are in the corner over they are” doesn’t work, so “they’re” is wrong.

“The toys are in the corner over there” is correct.

To, too, two

The easiest way to delineate between this trio is to link each to its own story. The word “to” is the Boring Basic. It’s not fancy, so it only has one O. It appears in lots of sentences and kids usually learn how to spell this one first.

The word “too,” however, is a step up because it’s got double Os. These twins go everywhere together; they’re inseparable. Where one goes, the other goes also. Or more aptly put, Where one O goes, the other goes, too. So whenever you mean “also,” use the twins.

“Two” is the fanciest of the trio. It spruced up the Boring Basic spelling by dropping a W in the middle of the word. The word “we” starts with a W, and “we” can refer to “two people.” As in

We—two friends—are happy together.

Tow, toe

The car crashed—OW! Now it needs a tow. (Both contain the root OW.)

Your toe is attached to the end of your foot. (“Toe” and “end” both contain the letter E.)

Stare, stair

Are you looking at me? Why the stare? (Both contain “are.”)

As you walk up a level, each stair leads higher into the air. (Both contain “air.”)

I hope you’ve enjoyed these spelling tips. Yes, some might seem like a stretch, but the sillier something is, the easier it is to remember. Take it a step further—draw pictures with your child to forge an even stronger mental connection between each silly sentence and the proper spelling. Kids love silly stuff and stories. So make your own homophone stories together and help make some sense out of spelling.


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