Say What? Learning New Words with Context Clues

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SWBAT read and understand new words by using the other words in the sentence and prior knowledge.

Big Idea

Context clues are something we always talk about with our students, but creating authentic practice is tricky. In this lesson, students use Number the Stars to learn new words.

Skipping Over Words

2 minutes

I start by asking students to think back to first grade. I ask them what they were told to do when they came to a word they didn't know. Many of my students explain that they had to sound out the word. I then asked what they did if they could not get the word even after trying to decode it. They finally admit that they just skipped the word and would read on. 

I then asked what they do now when they come to an unknown word. They go over the strategies that we have practiced. I then asked them to raise their hands honestly if they often just skip over unknown words if they do not decode them right away. 

Today we are going to try to practice how to use context clues to figure out the unknown word. This is a combination of rereading, inferring, and making connections. They are going to use these strategies to help them not skip over a word. 

Reading and Rereading

10 minutes

To practice I do this with our literature story, Number the Stars. The best way for use to learn how to use all of these strategies, that we call context clues, is to actually do them within our book. I begin to read and have students who want to read, read too. I soon as we come to a new vocabulary word, I ask them to stop. 

I point out the word and have them listen and observe what I do to figure out the word. When I do this, I make sure to tell them whether I am inferring, connecting, and rereading. 

The word we found is haughtily, I start by rereading the sentence. I then ask what strategy they are observing me do first. They all exclaim rereading. I then say that I might have to reread the sentence more than once, and I might have to read more than just it's sentence, but also reread the sentences around it. 

Next, I tell them I am going to use connecting and inferring. I read the words and connect to the reading what the character is doing at the time. I infer that she is happy about what she has done because of the situation and the characters actions in the book.

I then put a word that means something similar to it like proud and try it in the sentence. If it makes sense and matches what I the author was trying to explain then I know that I must be close to what the word means. 

To prove my point I look up the word in the dictionary and show them the definition. Sometimes proving that your method works helps them try it out for themselves. 

Authentic Student Practice

10 minutes

To now practice we continue to read and keep our eyes out for new vocabulary words. When we come to the next new word, I ask them to try out finding the meaning using context clues. We follow the same steps I used and prompt them through each one. I have them reread first and then try rereading with a few more sentences that were around the one that contained the word. 

I then ask them to connect to what is happening and infer what the author might be trying to get us to understand. As a class, we choose words we think work until we find just the right one. 

We continue this as we read the chapter and stop a few more times to practice context clues.