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“The Big 4 Clusters of Commonly Confused Words” makes a great first lesson for a Developmental English classes


Language Arts  


4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12  

Title –  Teaching the Big Four Clusters
 of Commonly Confused Words

By – J.D. Meyer
Primary Subject – Language Arts
Grade Level – 4th – College


      This chapter section is from my newly copyrighted textbook:

Developmental English/Writing: With an Introduction to the
North Tyler Texas Cyberlibrary.
The Big Four Clusters of Commonly Confused Words:

      The Big Four Clusters of Commonly Confused Words (CCW’s) or


      , refer to common misspelling problems that can last a lifetime. My teaching method for the Big Four CCW’s reduces the likelihood of these errors. First, I do not group the words according to sound — the traditional method. An example of the usual method is to give definitions for “they’re, their, and there.”
      I prefer to group the words according to shared grammatical features. For example, the possessive words among the Big Four Clusters of CCW’s are “their, your, and its.”
      Another way I group the Big Four Clusters of CCW’s is through “One Spelling – Two Meanings.” The word “too” can be “also” or “more or less than what is desired.” As a teacher who has spent his career in urban Texas, generally I add that “also” means “tambien” in Spanish, while “more or less than what is desired” is “demasiado” in Spanish.
1 Contractions it’s you’re they’re
2 Possessive its your their
3 One Spelling –
Two Meanings
too (also)(tambien) too (more or less than desired)(demasiado)
3 One Spelling –
Two Meanings
to (used before verb
to make it an infinitive)
4 Etc. there two

Teaching the Big Four Clusters of CCW’s:

  • Teaching the Big Four Clusters of CCW’s can be the first lesson in a Developmental English/Writing class, especially if not all of the students have showed up yet. It makes a great spelling/vocabulary lesson in any grade. I explain the twelve words according my categories above. I use a poster on the topic or the chapter section in my textbook for my reference. Then I ask the students to write twelve sentences using one of the Big Four Clusters of CCW’s in each sentence. The twelve sentences will be graded by the next class.
  • Undoubtedly, the most difficult of the twelve words in the Big Four Clusters of CCW’s is its . This word even is misspelled on websites! Things without a gender don’t normally own things. Animals that you know should be referred to by their gender — “his” or “her.” If you don’t know the beast, then refer to their possessions or body parts by “its.”
  • A fun game to play with your students is to split the class into two teams, write one of those homonyms on the board. Ask the first student to raise his/her hand to use that word in a sentence.

    Here is a link to a list of 252 sets of homonyms , grouped by the traditional sound method. It might be included in your current textbook as it is in mine. Playing the game of “Use the homonym in a sentence” becomes more fun and challenging with the greatly expanded range of words.

  • The last part of this lesson is a multiple-choice quiz (see attachment below) on the Big Four Clusters of CCW’s. My Flesch Readability Scale shows that my quiz is at a grade level of 4.6. Teaching the correct spelling of the Big Four Clusters of CCW’s is something that could begin as early as the primary grades and as late as college composition in the first year.

Conclusion: It is likely that English teachers reading this lesson plan have their own ideas of a second or third cluster of commonly confused words. I would like to challenge you to develop lessons based on grammar instead of sound.

Quiz: Big Four Clusters of Commonly Confused Words

  1. They’re/There/Their is gold in those hills.
  2. They’re/There/Their the nicest people I know.
  3. I have they’re/there/their papers corrected, but not graded.
  4. Your/You’re interior decorating ability is outstanding.
  5. Your/You’re going to lose five points for each run-on and fragment in the essay.
  6. She is going to/two/too Grandmother’s House.
  7. I want some candy from the store to/two/too.
  8. Those amplifiers are to/two/too loud for the small club.
  9. I have to/two/too eat garlic and hot sauce every day of my life.
  10. Its/It’s a wonderful day in the neighborhood.
  11. The school needs its/it’s roof fixed.
  12. I want to/two/too pets: a mongrel cat and small purebred dog.

Answer Key:































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