Revisiting Vocabulary Strategy: Context Clues

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SWABT use vocabulary strategies to figure out the meaning of unfamiliar/key words in their informational text.

Big Idea

Good readers use context clues and other vocabulary strategies to help them make meaning of unfamiliar words.


10 minutes

Summary and Context:

Today, I review the three different vocabulary strategies: context clues, word structure, and apposition. In helping students learn a new skill, it is important to have continuous practice. Today, the practice is embedded within the text they will be reading in depth tomorrow.

I am taking extra care to chunk the reading and the analysis of vocabulary because the text, African-American Inventors, is too challenging for them at this stage of the year, and my students benefit from chunking.

Also, research on vocabulary development suggests that 5-7 words are more than enough for our brain to learn at a time. In working with English Language Learners, I choose to abide by this research. Also, it is extremely important for students to have various encounters with the words. It is known in vocabulary development that proficient readers need about 1-2 encounters with an unfamiliar before they learn it. Students who are reading below benchmark need 10-12 encounters with unfamiliar words. Those students who fall in the middle need 3-7 encounters. The importance of the students having various experiences with the same words is significant. 

Lesson Opening:

I start with my students on the rug and frame the lesson to them by sharing the objective. I ask them to think about the vocabulary strategies I introduced the other day. I have my students pair-share with their carpet partner. They sit knee-to-knee and eye-to-eye. It helps my students to review. Then, I ask a few to share with the whole group.

I do make sure to review the vocabulary strategies: AppostionContext Clues, and Word Structure.

Guided Activity

25 minutes

Students sit at their desks with their materials: anthology, white board, markers and felt pieces they use to erase. I guide them through the process of finding the context clues and the word parts of words that carry meaning. I am directing them as to how to move through the sentence and the clues on the page that support their understanding of the highlighted word. I post the 3 vocabulary strategies on the white board to reference.

To practice the strategies of context clues and word structure, I have chosen two words: instrument and allowed. The first word is a noun and has photographs and words that will help us to figure out the meaning of the word. I am very intentional in choosing what words to use in the practice that make the vocabulary strategies apparent. The second word has the “-ed” ending, which is a common but important ending for students to solidify their understanding of at this stage. 

These are the steps I use to demonstrate the strategies of context clues and word structure for both words:

  1. I tell the students on what page they can find the word.
  2. I ask them to read the paragraph where the word can be found.
  3. I tell them to write the sentence on their white board and to reread the sentence. (When they get to this stage, I write the sentence on the board too.)
  4. I walk around the room to monitor their task and praise their-on task behavior.
  5. I have the students read the sentence with me.
  6. Then I share my thinking aloud, as to what words I was choosing as clues that can help me figure out the meaning of the word.
  7. Next, I write the clue words under the sentence in a row with a plus symbol and equals sign at the end. After the equals sign, I write the word.
  8. Next, I share with them how I scan the page for other clues such as the photograph and the captions.
  9. Finally, I model what the meaning of the word may be with the sentence starter: "I think the word means ______________________."

Expect to go slow when first teaching these strategies. Allow for the time in your planning. It is best go slow and steady to give students a strong foundation than fast and undermine their learning.

I would also suggest that you take a Brain Break after the first 10 minutes. (Brain breaks are quick movements that get students out of their seats. We stretch, we breath deeper to reenergize and refocus.)

Whole Group Share

7 minutes

I bring them back to the rug as a whole group. I pose the question: what did we learn today?

Debriefing is a powerful way of helping the brain make connections from the old knowledge to the new knowledge. It helps them review what just happened and helps them to retain the information. I make sure to review the names of the strategies and how each strategy is used. I let them know that good readers have different tools to help them understand what they are reading. For future lesson on vocabulary strategies, I expect my students to work more independently in using context clues. I will continue to give support for those students who need it.