Using Context Clues to Define Vocabulary

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SWBAT define new words using context clues.

Big Idea

Get a clue! (from the other words in the sentence...)


20 minutes

Through my recent round of district benchmark tests, I've noticed that my students are weak on using context clues.  I decided to teach them seven tips for using context clues and then practice, practice, practice!

1.  Let the rest of the sentence help you figure out the word.

2.  Look at the surrounding sentences for other words with nearly the same meaning.

3.  Look for clues to the word's opposite meaning.

4.  Look for other clues like footnotes or definitions that are within the text.

5.  Look for examples that hint at the meaning of an unknown word.

6.  Plug in each answer (in a multiple choice situation) in place of the unknown word.  

7.  Watch out for multiple meaning words.  

The resource I used is called Buckle Down, and it is a test prep book for Arizona's standardized test (AIMS).  It gives practice examples for each of these tips.  


Chart it

15 minutes

I will have my students make a chart by folding a piece of white paper into 3 columns.  We'll  label the columns Word  Guess and Actual.

The first thing I'll have my students do is highlight all of the vocabulary words in their text, so they stand out.  Then, I'll have them begin reading.  When they come to a highlighted word, they'll write it on their chart and guess and it's definition using context clues.  

I will model the first five words for my students and really focus on the different types of clues the text provides.  Together we'll come up with our guesses.  Once we have completed the first 5, I'll model finding the definitions (in my case, they are in the vocabulary packet) and confirming or adding to them in the "Actual" column.  I'll have students cross out information in their guess that is in accurate and star things that are correct.  

My students will finish working through this on their own and completing the chart.  

I have found that this strategy of guessing and confirming helps students remember definitions.  This strategy is also supported by research and taught in Vocabulary's CODE as part C, "Connecting."

Extend It

20 minutes

When students are finished, I'll give them a list of their words.  They'll cut them apart and do a word sort.  I'll challenge them to form 3 categories using at least 10 of their words.  This is really difficult at first, but it forces the students to analyze the meaning.  They will eventually get it!  I usually stop after about 5 minutes and ask for volunteers to share any categories they've come up with.  I have my students write their category labels directly on their desks using white board markers.  

When students are finished, they will explain their sort to at least one other person.  This is just one more opportunity for students to use and practice their words.