Alternative Meanings

Age Range: 7 - 11

This activity encourages children to think about possible alternative meanings for words, based on how the words actually sound.

For example...

abominable = a piece of explosive swallowed by a male cow [a bomb in a bull] These three examples were taken from "Professor Branestawm's Dictionary" by Norman Hunter.
tortoise = what our teacher did [taught us]
metronome = Pixie living on the Paris underground railway [Metro gnome]
grammar = the lady married to Grandad These three examples were contributed by Gareth Pitchford. Check out his site at
footnote = the writing on the side of sports shoes
thesaurus = an extinct monster who lived on paper

Obviously, when carrying out this activity with children, we don't want to confuse them, so that they forget the actual meaning of the word. It is therefore important that any activity based on these alternative meanings emphasises the actual meaning of the word.


1) Once the children are familiar with this idea of alternative meanings, ask them to try and work out alternative meanings for some of the following words...

explain piccalilli jabber
history gruesome paradise
pepper humbug intent
capsize meander hyacinth

2) Ask the children to choose their own words, and make alternative meanings for them.

3) Once you have a collection of alternative meanings, make a dictionary. Remember to include the word, the actual meaning and the alternative meaning (labelling each, so the children do not get confused).

4) Make a display, showing pictures of the actual meanings of words, and their alternative meanings.

5) Try to write a story, using some of these words which have alternative meanings. For example,

Yesterday morning, after eating explain for breakfast, I was walking down the street and I saw my friend Cynthia piccalill. I shouted "Hyacinth". She didn't hear me, so I had to jabber. Meander walked off to school, where the teacher tortoise all about Division.


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