I used to really struggle with teaching context clues. How do you teach kids to understand and figure out what different words mean? It is important to teach them different strategies to determine unknown words so that they can build their vocabulary through their reading.
What are context clues?
Context clues are clues you use to figure out an unknown word. There are different ways to teach your students about the different context clues. They are:
- Does the sentence have helping words? Search for words: like, as, or, is, called, or also known as.
- Look for definitions. Sometimes the following sentence might say what the word means.
- Does the sentence give synonyms or antonyms?
Teach the skills to learn new words
Teach your students the skills needed to figure out an unknown word.
- Reread the sentence. Teach your students to reread the sentence when there is an unknown word.
- Look around the word. What do they see that may help them figure out the word? Are there different words that will help them activate their schema to figure out the meaning of the word?
- Use pictures. If there are pictures accompanying the word or story, look at the picture to see if it helps you make a guess what the word is.
- Guess! Make a guess based off the sentence and the pictures. I once had a reading teacher tell me, “If you didn’t have to be right, what would you say?”
- Reread the sentence. Read the sentence again with the meaning in your head to see if that makes sense.
Read books with context clues
When finding books to teach context clues, make sure to preview the book first. One book that I really like to use for teaching context clues is Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. There are many words in this book that are great for vocabulary building, but that also lend well to the teaching of context clues.
Before reading, I find 4-5 different words that I want us to focus on. Then, I put a little post it with the word on that page so I do not skip it. I have an anchor chart ready for this lesson (see the picture) so that we can dive into these words. It is important to use books so that students can see how to attack these words in their every day reading.
Teach with nonsense words
When I finally started teaching context clues with nonsense words, I saw a lot of growth. Nonsense words are not as intimidating as real unfamiliar words, especially when you tell your students “hey, this word is not real!”. Knowing that that word is not real gives them the opportunity to test their skills of how to figure out the meaning of words.
Teach Context Clues In All Aspects of Readers Workshop
Make sure to not limit yourself to just teaching context clues in your reader’s workshop mini lessons. Teach it in your small groups and with activities as well. Take a look at our activities below:
- Write The Room: In our Context Clues Reading Unit, there are 2 write the room activities available- one for nonsense words and the other for real words. I suggest pairing students for this activity as they walk around the room looking for the cards and determining what the words mean.
- Centers: Use the reading centers to give further practice to your students for figuring out unknown words.
- Small Group Work: It is important to have a warm-up in every small group lesson and a great way to start a group during this reading unit is to determine unknown words. These cards are differentiated for your different groups.
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