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Ambiguous Headlines

In this activity students look at ambiguously worded headlines exploring double meanings in English.

ambiguous headlines


PRE: Select a number of ambiguously worded headlines.

1: Write one of the headlines on the whiteboard e.g. “Stolen painting found by tree.” Tell students that this is a headline you saw in the paper. In pairs have them tell their partner what they think happened. Hopefully they correctly identify the painting was located next to a tree.

2: Point out that this is one meaning of this phrase. Elicit the other possible meaning (the tree found the painting).

3: Give out the other ambiguous headlines to students in pairs and have them find both the literal and intended meaning of each.

4: Go through the answers together.

Follow on:

After this activity students could pick one of the literal interpretations and prepare some details about what happened. Students could then either present the story in a TV news report or write up the story.

Example Ambiguous Headlines:

Stolen painting found by tree.

Research hindered by lack of brains.

Bridge held up by red tape.

One million get shot to save on loans.

Students cook and serve grandparents.

Criminal lawyers to work together.

Drunk gets nine months in violin case.

Prostitutes appeal to pope.

Miners refuse to work after death.

Complaints about NBA referees growing ugly.

Killer sentenced to die for second time in 10 years.

Man eating piranha mistakenly sold as pet fish.

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