Teaching Context Clues

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SWBAT use context clues to determine the meaning of unfamiliar words in an informational text.

Big Idea

Context clues: Which are helpful? And, how do we use text features to help us determine the meaning of a word?


7 minutes

Summary and Context

Today, my students will practice the vocabulary strategy of using context clues to figure out the meaning of unfamiliar words. I am using specific sentences from African-American Inventors to teach this skill because it is a story in our anthology that we are reading as a grade level. Its rich content allows allows me to choose different types of sentences. I invite you to select a text with various sentences to choose from in teaching this skill.

There are different ways to teach students to understand words. Today, I am having my students practice context clues in an engaging way. I will start with the students on the rug reviewing the three different vocabulary strategies I am teaching them: context clues, word structure, and apposition. After reviewing, I will practice a particular process for context clues so that students later on can practice it independently.

There is a role for direct instruction. My modeling of using context clues is an example of direct instruction. I am using this method because this is a challenging topic and process for my students. Applying context clues is not just about looking at the words in the sentences; it is also about keeping in mind the surrounding sentences, the paragraphs on the page, and any relevant text features that may add meaning to the word. For my students to be able to do this on their own, they benefit from much practice.

Lesson Opening:

I start with students on the rug and share the objective. I introduce the three different vocabulary strategies: Context Clues, Word Structure, and Apposition:

  • Context clues: The strategy of context clues helps students to notice/use the other words in the sentence to figure out the meaning of the word. I also help them take notice of the other sentences, text features: pictures, photographs, maps, captions, etc. to help in figuring out the meaning of the word.
  • Word Structure: Word structure is about teaching students to notice prefixes, suffixes, root/base words and any other part of the word that is worth analyzing.
  • Apposition: Apposition is a strategy that helps students notice the definition of a word right after the word. This strategy is most helpful in social studies and science textbooks.

Practicing Context Clues

20 minutes

At their tables students will be using the following materials: white boards, felt, and their markers. I will be using the overhead projector to show a transparency I made of the sentences I will be using to practice the context clues. I have chosen these sentences from the text we are reading, African-American Inventors. It is important to provide practice within a text and in isolation. This practice will help them understand how to use context clues.

I model to make concepts as concrete as possible for my English Language Leaners. The process of modeling involves the following steps:

  1. I have them read the sentences with me aloud.
  2. Then, I ask, "What is the underlined word in the sentence?"
  3. Next, I reference the context clues as the strategy we are using to figure out what the word means.
  4. Afterwards, I ask, "What words in the sentences(s) give me clues about what the underlined word could mean?" If there are students who are ready to answer, I let them share, but at this stage, I am not expecting them to do so.
  5. I proceed with writing some words down on the transparency, and, in between each word or phrase, I write the plus symbol. This + indicates that we are adding all these words to figure out the meaning of the highlighted word.
  6. At the end of the sentence, I write an equals sign (=). The reason for this is to show them these words add up to a particular meaning.

I repeat this process with each sentence. I have five sentences to practice this skill. I may or may not use them all. It depends on how quickly the students pick up the skill, and it depends on whether they are getting tired/antsy. If that becomes apparent it is better for me to move on. I can come back to practicing with them another day and time.

Using Context Clues Independently

17 minutes

Now that I have practiced with them, I give them a word for them to practice the process independently. I developed a graphic organizer for them to use to do this. They will use our process to analyze the word invent. I have chosen a word that has plenty of context clues, including the text features: photographs and captions. I want them to use the content of the whole page for them to provide their own definition of the word invent. In this case, the content supports this process, and that is why I chose this word and this page.  As they finish, I will be having them read their definition to me, and then I will give them feedback.

*Please note: While it may seem this word is an easy word, it is not easy for my students. I also know that this is the first time they are going through the process, so I feel it is best not to use too difficult of a word. You should pick a word that seems right for your class.

I work with a small group of students who need more scaffolding at this time of the year. They need help identifying the context clues. I need to give them step by step instruction. I feel it is important to make this process an interactive one so that they do most of the work: things is a clue word. Our conversation serves the purpose of coming up with a collective definition of the word. This small group of students benefit much from this direct instruction.

Here are examples of those students working independently:

Sharing With Whole Group

7 minutes

We use this time to debrief our learning about using context clues. I have the students do a think-pair-share, and then I have a few share with the whole group.

This time allows me to ask the students whether we met the objective and bring closure to the lesson.