BIG 4 Clusters of Commonly Confused Words (CCW)

Commonly confused words, or homonyms, are words that sound alike but have different meanings and spellings.  The Big 4 Clusters of CCWs refer to the four sets of the most commonly misspelled homonyms. These word clusters reached this status because they’re such commonly used words. See, I just used one!

But seriously, let’s classify these words according to their function instead of the more typical, “they’re, their, there, etc.” style. Maybe that will make their spelling easier to rememberAssignment: Write twelve sentences using each of these words in its own sentence.


1. it’s = it is (3rd sing.)

    It’s sunny today.          



2.  they’re = they are (3rd pl.)

     They’re at the brown brick house.

     Walt and Gloria are at the brown brick house.              

3.  you’re = (2nd  ) you are

    You’re a good cook. You’re good cooks.


  • Note that all three of these contractions use “is” or “are” with a subject pronoun.
  • I have used two sentences on #2 to show how a pronoun (they) substitutes for third-person subject nouns.
  • “You’re” is the same word for singular and plural, just as “you” refers to one or more people and can be the subject or object of the sentence.
  •  “You all/y’all” in the South and “You guys” in the North appear to be slang efforts to deal with the lack of two separate words for the second person singular and plural.


4.  its (3rd sing.)

     The house needs its sink fixed.  

It is rare for something without a gender to have or own something.


5.  their (3rd pl.)

      Their house is near the park.

      Ray and Dorothy’s house is near the park.

6. your (2nd)

 I like your





      • Notice that none of these possessive pronouns use apostrophes—unlike a noun(s) functioning as a possessive adjective would require an apostrophe. For example: “Danny’s screwdriver” could be referred to as “his screwdriver” if somebody else was talking about it.
      • The odd reality about #4 “its” is noted in the box.
      • I have used two sentences in #5 to show how a pronoun (their) functioning-as-an-adjective substitutes for third person possessive nouns, which in this case serves as the subject of the sentence.
      • “Your” is the same word for singular and plural.  


  homonym Definition/description Example
7. to preposition before a noun or pronoun meaning “towards” She went to the cafeteria.
8. to When used before a verb; the word becomes an infinitive and can’t function as the main verb of the sentence. I love to sing with Spanish tapes while reading lyrics to improve my listening comprehension and have fun doing it.
9. too also (“tambien” in Spanish) I want some chips and hot sauce too.
10. too Over-doing or under-doing of what is desirable. (“demasiado” in Spanish). We put too much salt in that casserole. Is he considered too small to play linebacker in college?



I don’t have a category for all of these words; here are the two left over from our Big 4 Commonly Confused Sets of Words.


11.  there = refers to direction or location.

      There is a red truck coming down the street.                                                   

12. two = 2.

I kept two kittens from the first litter.             



                        MOST CONFUSING OF THE BIG 4 CCW’S

“It’s” and “its” receive my vote for the most frequently confused pair or set of words in this category; this seems to be a unanimous decision. Even books and website entries may show this error, a lack of editing.

Furthermore, animals that you don’t know are referred to by “its” For example, “The jaguar hurt its paw.”

On the other hand, you should refer to animals that you know personally by their gender—not “it” or “its.” Obviously this applies to house pets, a favorite farm animal, and even more creatures if you’re a zoo employee or in a related profession. For example, “Fluffy is friendly to all visitors. Also, when she lived with a previous owner, Fluffy used to visit a neighborhood-gathering spot frequently and gained much respect for her rat-catching ability.”  EdHelper provides “List of Homonyms” 252 groups of words. You’ll need to provide the meaning for the words.

Why I Teach for World Teachers Day (2nd Edition)

I love to teach because I enjoy research and explaining it to students. I’m a people-person who is very extroverted, despite spending a lot of time reading and writing. The highlight of my 20-year teaching career was ten years in Developmental English/Writing, a pre-College Composition course. It’s one of three remedial college courses; the others are Developmental Reading and Math. I’ve substitute taught in every grade from PK-12 and in most subjects, aside from upper level math and science. Writing this article poses a challenge since the prompt is “Why I Teach” rather than a biography of one’s teaching career. Yet the latter would be supporting details.

I should answer why I taught Developmental English/Writing. I prefer teaching grammar and writing to literature, partly because the former two seem more essential. For me, literature is watching a re-run of The Rockford Files or JAG. My first five years were as an adjunct at Mountain View Community College, a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) in North Oak Cliff. My last five years were full-time at Texas College, an HBCU (Historically Black College and University) in Tyler. Remedial education presents a boom area. It’s a fixture at community colleges and open-enrollment colleges. The USA has the paradoxical reputation of the world’s best colleges but fairly weak elementary and secondary education. Sounds like developmental education is ready for the rescue!

Furthermore, I wrote, copyrighted, and illustrated a textbook for my course. Several chapter sections have been published as articles–partly to build an audience.  Connexions of Rice University is the most prestigious. was discontinued in summer 2014. Writing a textbook really is taking your teaching to a higher level. The toughest part of my task will be transferring hard-copy back to documents in the computer. Some chapter sections no longer live in cyberspace due to the “passing away” of computers, flash drives, CD’s, and the possibly extinct floppy disks.

I struggled with required Spanish in my mediocre B.A. era, but I started self-study of Spanish again after completing secondary certification in English and Social Studies. I found myself drawn to substitute teaching and adult classes in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). My first lesson for me was how to order a meal in a taqueria. An early lesson for adult ESOL classes was “At the Construction Site” for the men, and “Cleaning Supplies” for the wives.

Later I subbed in Bilingual Elementary and Spanish, up to 4th year. I published  a clothes unit article and a songs article at Lesson Plans Page. I taught ESOL partly to see the world while staying in north and east Texas; plus it fits in with my meat-and-potatoes approach to Language Arts. Later I developed Bilingual All-Level Academic Vocabulary (BALAV). It’s a search for cognates because technical English is descended from Latin and formal English is derived from French–both Romance languages like Spanish. Informal English is descended from German. Most Texas secondary textbooks have a glossary in English and Spanish.

I communicated with a disability rights group to see how I could make some extra money without losing SSDI or Medicaid/Medicare–ideally through my textbook. To summarize, a trial work period can be nine non-consecutive months. COPD & asthma started me on disability before other issues were discovered. However, my Medicare D would crater if I made little over $100 in a month. So if I finally do something with my textbook again, it better be Open Source (aka. “free”).

I serve on the transportation committee of East Texas Human Needs Network (ETHNN), and teach people how to use the Tyler bus map. Together with explaining the practicality of the two-bus hub structure of Tyler Transit for a rectangular city, I’ve written a couple of articles on nearest bus stops for the five lines and organized three transpo. committee field trips. I’m so excited that we went to Tyler’s newest Mexican grocery store during Hispanic Heritage Month 2015–Supermercado del Pueblo in the northwest side of the city. Otherwise, North Tyler is a virtual food desert unless you go to the Super One (a branch of Brookshire’s) on the southeast edge of the Northside. Thank goodness for dollar stores!

My aptitude for teaching showed at a remarkably early age. I watched Spanish on the local PBS channel as a five-year old. There’s a laminated Dallas Morning News article tacked to a wall in my place about me getting on the show! Unfortunately, I flaked out and quit studying Spanish because of my disapproval for my weird elementary school’s methods.

I developed an passion for paleontology in 1st grade. I gave nine lectures that year, even to 8th grade. I still remember the geologic time table. On a humorous note, I wrote song called, “Diplocaulus, I’ll Never Stop Loving You,”  a song dedicated to large boomerang-headed amphibian of the Permian.

I developed an interest in Japan in 3rd grade, followed by the Mayas and Aztecs in 4th grade. Seventeen years later, I wrote a M.S. thesis entitled, “Approaching Cognitive-Behavioral and Existential Therapy through Neo-Confucianism.” A few years ago, I downloaded my thesis onto my site at  A Twitter fan since late 2011, my thesis was “favorited” by the South Asian Psychology Conference of Sri Lanka. I added information to “The Boston Confucians,” a Wikipedia site. I was invited to “Friends from Afar”  a closed Facebook group and the Ruist Fellowship–two Boston-based Internet groups; the former has discussions and the latter gives and checks essay homework!

To conclude, I keep up with my beloved Twitter site at bohemiotx, write articles at my two Word Press articles, and work on my textbook. I belong to the East Texas Human Needs Network (ETHNN) and the Community Health Workers Coalition (CHW). Studying and tweeting about my health issues has really gotten me recognized in the health care social media field! I got a big charge the other idea by explaining how to make pho, the national dish of Vietnam, to a veteran on the bus. That same day, I gave a list of Maya cities on the Yucatan Peninsula (after the Toltec invasion) to a newlywed, who could only afford to sail around the coast. Old teachers may retire but they never stop teaching.

Bilingual Academic All-Level Vocabulary (BALAV) with Attention to Cognates & Influence from Robert Marzano

Introduction: Academic vocabulary is more difficult to learn than conversational language. In fact, low intermediate English speakers with some conversational English ability are assumed by the general public to know far more English than they really do. My folksy way of summarizing my thesis for Bilingual All-Level Academic Vocabulary  (BALAV) is the following, “If the newcomer just learned how to say, ‘Mr. Meyer is complaining again.’ then the newcomer better have the chance to read about the recession, tectonics, hyperbole and the quadratic formula in Spanish.” To quote Jane Spalding–a French/German professor: “To understand the culture, you need to understand the language.” This applies to content language too. Dr. Spalding made this remark during her address at the kickoff event for the University of Texas at Tyler’s Global Awareness through Education (GATE) program on September 25, 2011.

One particular situation really bothers me in secondary education for Limited English Proficiency (LEP) students. Beginners often copy material from the textbook, and they have no idea what the book or the teacher is talking about when they are not in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). The study guide for ESOL certification declares that the “linguistic challenge of content should determine the method of instruction; it’s the first consideration of planning.” Fortunately, most secondary Texas textbooks have Spanish glossaries; strangely, English is the major exception. I like the glossaries that do not separate the English Glossary from the Spanish Glossary but instead repeat the same term in English then in Spanish. That way, it’s easier for the student to notice the cognates between the two languages.

I. The National Council for the Teachers of English (NCTE) calls for Limited English Proficient (LEP) students the chance to use their first language to achieve competence in English and develop an understanding of content in the curriculum. “IRA/NCTE 12 Standards for the Teaching of the English Language.” Standard #10 pertains to allowing English language learners to make use of their first language. Cognates study forms a bridge from Spanish to English, and cognates can be grouped by prefixes and suffixes. According to Dr. Jill Mora “Of the twenty thousand most commonly used words in English, four thousand–or 20 percent–have prefixes. Fifteen prefixes make up 82 percent of the total usage of all prefixes.” Here’s a chart with 2000 roots, prefixes, and suffixes.

II. Technical and formal English have roots in Latin and French—the main ancestors and a relative of Spanish—a Romance language. Thus, cognate study is more important for technical and formal English than informal English, which is German in origin. Furthermore, cognates seem to be far more common in essential vocabulary for English and Social Studies than in overall English a difference of roughly 85% to 62% in a preliminary survey. So this program is a type of transitional bilingual education that is never all Spanish. It’s not a dual immersion program.

III Bilingual education is not confined to the U.S. Edmonton, Canada is the leader in bilingual education in North America with several bilingual programs, not just French, but eleven languages at the Institute for Innovation in Second Language Education (IISLE). India is another country with extensive bilingual education programs. Some feel that bilingual education is a case of Americans being too nice and not a legitimate program. Becoming fully bilingual improves mental flexibility.

IV. Bilingual assistance for secondary age children could lower the dropout rate. Concern for the dropout rate is a component of national urban planning together with education. Lessening gaps in achievement between the various ethnic groups and socioeconomic levels seems to be a universal goal for all school districts.

V. Immersion (English only) does not provide comprehensible language. Comprehensible input lowers the affective filter. Success in one’s first language is the best predictor of success in the second language. Once you can read, you can read, according to Dr. Stephen Krashen. This is the transfer of literacy. Go to this article by James Crawford, “Does Bilingual Education Really Work?”

The Tennessee Academic Vocabulary Project by Connie Mayo and Deborah Boyd, is based on the research of Robert Marzano and Debra Pickering, the recognized leaders in vocabulary instruction. Marzano and Pickering wrote a book with even more vocabulary terms that has over 7900 words.

VII. Let’s group vocabulary according to essential as well as unit, chapter, and section. Testing students over essential vocabulary in their native language in past grades would be an important way of assessing their education in their homeland. The LUCHA program at the University of Texas at Austin examines the transcripts of Mexican students, and it offers Spanish courses on-line to help with the transition from Spanish-only to fully bilingual. Furthermore, if a student arrived in this country after the start of the school year, missed essential vocabulary for this year’s subjects could be given to the student.

VIII. Vocabulary instruction compensates for socioeconomic gaps in vocabulary knowledge, according to Marzano and Pickering. Children from poorer socioeconomic levels don’t hear as many as words as those from wealthier backgrounds.

IX. A school-wide vocabulary program could include Bilingual All-Level Academic Vocabulary as a component. Native English speakers would participate in an all-English program. Check out “Using English for Academic Purposes.”

X. At times, we should use the phonetic alphabet since there are more sounds than letters in English. For example, there is a voiced and unvoiced version of the “th” sound. “This” and “that” are voiced while “thick” and “thin” are unvoiced. Also, the “oo” sound when it’s long sounds like the Spanish “u,” such as the “u” in “impromptu” while the “oo” sound when it’s short is like the “u” in “put.”


Suggesting a cognates-oriented bilingual approach for academic vocabulary after fifth grade doesn’t have to be viewed as heresy. Standard #10 of the National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE) proclaims, “Allow English language learners to make use of their first language.” Finding ways to reduce achievement gaps between English learners and native speakers should be a priority—not to mention reducing dropout rates.

Most importantly for the administrator who wants to lessen the ensuing attacks, one could bury the cognates instruction for ESOL students within an overall Direct Vocabulary Instruction program (Marzano and Pickering) for the entire school or even school district. Vocabulary instruction reduces achievement gaps between socioeconomic groups and was a key component of the state of Tennessee winning the first round of Race to the Top—a National Department of Education contest.

The formal and technical roots of English are in French and Latin while informal English is descended from German. Spanish is a Romance language like French, and both are descended from Latin. Thus, academic language naturally lends itself to cognates study.

Make tables of essential vocabulary available for all core courses. I use four columns, starting with the English word and Spanish translation. Then I give a check as to whether the words are cognates or not, something that isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition, especially when two-word terms are present. The last column is for comments, usually left blank, but can mention fine points of difference in grammar between the two languages. Essential vocabulary lists can really help when a student enters the school at a time other than the start of the school year or semester—a bigger possibility for ESOL students. Furthermore, you could quiz the newcomer on the previous year’s vocabulary for your state’s school. I noticed quite a bit of difference in essential vocabulary between Texas and Tennessee.

Refer to the phonetic alphabet. Spanish and English don’t share all the same sounds; some sounds in English don’t even have letters of their own, such as strong and soft “th”, as shown in “Like this and like that, we go through thick and thin.” Many sounds in English can be spelled a variety of ways, such as short “e.”

In short, if the newcomer has just learned to say “Mr. Meyer is writing again,” don’t expect them to understand academic terms, such as stimulus plan, photosynthesis, analogies, and y-intercept without some English-Spanish cognates and direct vocabulary instruction.

BALAV Revisited: When Spanish Instruction Sites Use Cognates Instruction.
My journey on Twitter has led me to Real Fast Spanish @rfspanish, by Andrew Barr. One of their articles is “Words You Already Know: 1001 Cognates.” Since teaching Spanish with cognates instruction is acceptable, then teaching Spanish-speakers cognates isn’t heretical either. I also met Juliana Suarez, founder of Kinder Bilingue @KBilingue and @Bilingualedchat. One of her articles was a bilingual guide for LEP parents to ask questions to their children’s teachers.