Lesson: Maniac Magee: Using Context Clues/Chapters 5-6

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Lesson Objective

Objective: SWBAT identify context clues that unlock the meanings of unknown words

Lesson Plan


Lesson Plan:

Maniac Magee - Using Context Clues/Chapters 5-6



Volunteer student reads: The kids knew Arnold had a case of the finsterwallies because his teeth were chattering and his body was shaking.


Teacher asks, “What might the underlined word mean?”  After a correct response (some sort of condition/disease by which the victim shakes and chatters his teeth), teacher says, “It’s a made-up word, so there’s no way you could have known what it meant before now. How were you able to figure out what it meant?” Student responds.  (“Case” usually means someone has a sickness.  And then you can tell the symptoms of the sickness because the sentence says.)


Teacher says, “Yes, those little clues in sentences are called context clues.  Today, we’re going to practice identifying the context clues that unlock the meanings of unknown words.”


Introduction to New Material:

          Teacher defines context clues as words or phrases that surround an unknown word; they help us figure out what the unknown word means. Students can take notes or highlight on pre-made handout.

          Teacher outlines steps:


1.     Stop when you come upon an unfamiliar word in the reading.


2.     Reread a few sentences before, the sentence containing the unknown word, and a few sentences after.


3.     Underline or highlight key words in those sentences.


4.     Generate some possible definitions for the unfamiliar word.


5.     Substitute those definitions and determine if sentence makes sense.


6.     If time and context allows, double-check your guess with a peer, teacher, or dictionary.


Guided Practice:

Teacher says, “As we read aloud chapters 5 and 6, I would like you to make a farting noise every time we read a word that is unfamiliar to you.  That will be our signal to stop and go through the outlined steps to figure out the word’s meaning.”

Teacher begins reading chapter 5 and models the farting noise as she reads the word infamous in the following sentence, “This, of course, was the infamous address of Finsterwald.” Teacher asks student to complete step #2 (rereading a few sentence before, the actual sentence, and a few sentences after). Teacher asks, “Hmmm…what key words help us to figure out what kind of place this Finsterwald house is? Well, it looks like kids can’t help themselves but go to the house.  At the same time, going near the house has the effect of turning “bright, happy” kids into “poor, nicotine-stained” wretches.”

Teacher underlines those phrases.  “It seems like infamous must mean the house is famous but for bad reasons.” Teacher asks student to reread sentence and substitute that definition. (This, of course, was the address of Finsterwald that was famous but for bad reasons.) “Does it make sense? Okay, let’s move on.”

Teacher continues reading, hoping students make farting noise when she reads “…a child who had the misfortune of blundering onto Finsterwald’s property.”

Students hopefully identify that the key word misfortune signals that going on to the property is always a mistake, and therefore, blunder means mistake.  Students reread sentence with definition, “…a child who had the misfortune of mistakenly going onto Finsterwald’s property.”

Teacher continues reading chapters 5, as students continue going through the steps with her.


Independent Practice:

          Teacher has worksheet with pre-selected sentences from chapter 6 with words she assumes will be unfamiliar to kids.  Students go through the process with these words on the worksheet. Teacher might also go back to opening question and ask students, “So now do you we understand what the Finterswallies is?”  (Condition kids “catch” when they go onto the property of the Finsterwald’s, whereby there is shaking, chattering of teeth.)



1. What went well?





2. What would you change?                                                       


. Kids love the farting noise.


.  Students feel empowered by this lesson.  They can understand better what they read if they know how to figure out meanings of unknown words.










. Depending on the behavior of your class, you will need to set up expectations around making the farting noise, like it should only be 1 second long; if you hear one student make the noise, there’s no need to keep making the noise, etc.  It’s fun but kids are kids so they’ll often cross the line.


. This is a hard lesson to teach.  No ifs, ands, or buts about it.  It is very nuanced and complicated.  Sometimes I won’t use Maniac Magee.  I’ll use another, more simple text to initially teach the concept of context clues.  Then we can use MM for further practice. If they can use the strategy for MM, then you know they’ve got it.











Lesson Resources

Context Clues MM 6 Practice  


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