Don’t Skip it—Use Context Clues!

As we focus on vocabulary, I think it is important to really think about our statement to students when figuring out unknown words:  JUST READ AROUND IT.  What? What does that really mean?

Be sure to explain that the word context means “a setting in which something is found.”  A clue means ” a hint.”  Understanding what these words means help you see why we use the term “context clues.”  We are looking to find a mystery word and looking for details or hints that help us see how the word “fits into the setting or sentence” in which the author has put it.

We HAVE to teach our kids what they are reading around for and where around means.  So, around really means before the sentence with the unknown word. I typically have students go back to the beginning of the paragraph unless it is really long and then I have them go up two sentences but tell them they may have to go up more if they cannot find any clues.

Once they find the place to begin, they need to know what type of things they are looking for. Here are a few examples of what context clues look like?

1.  Grammar or Syntax

Teaching students to look at the structure of the sentence for clues is a bit more advanced.  Is the mystery word a noun or verb?  Figuring out the part of speech is a clue that can help. Does the word connect or describe something?  Is the word present or past tense?  All of these small clues can help a reader figure out a word.

2.  Roots/Affixes

Finding the base in a mystery word is often an “AHA moment.”  Teach students how to break the word up and find known affixes. Teaching students prefixes and suffixes is very important as students begin to decode multisyllabic words. When a student comes across a word such as “deconstruction” they can see the base word is construct or even construction which has something to do with build.  If they learned de is a prefix and means down or away, they can get a good idea of the term.

3. Synonyms or Antonyms

Authors often put a synonym or an antonym in the sentence to help clarify a word for the reader. For example,
Richelle is gregarious, not like Kelly who is quiet and shy. Students can be taught to look for key words that signify an antonym such as not like, unlike, different from, or in contrast.  Words that signify a synonym are like, similar, compared to, and or.

4.  Comparisons/Contrasts

Teach students that authors often provide information that shows a comparison or contrast to another person, event or term.  This is very similar to the synonyms and antonyms but is not usually one word but a description.

5.  Explanations, Examples or Definitions

Explanations are the most basic because the answer is clearly given in the sentence. These are great!

6.  Author Techniques or Tools

Author techniques or tools should be taught directly like you would teach text features.  Bold print, highlighting, a change in font are all techniques an author may use to draw attention to a definition or clue. In addition, the hyphen or parenthesis will normally give a definition to the reader.

I know that all of these seem like common sense and for our strong readers–they do this automatically but for our struggling readers–they do not see them.  Take time to show students the smallest clues to figure out unknown words.

If you would like more information on how to make context clues “visible” for your students–stop by and let me know!  I would love to practice some with you so you can be prepared to help your students!



Context Clues Various Resources

I use this one most of the time.context clues graphic organizer (simple but effective)

Resource Packet for Grades 3-5

FCRR K-1 Vocabulary

FCRR 2-3 Context Clues

FCRR 4-5 Context Clues

I know this information is not new to you but wanted to stress the importance of directly teaching what clues look like for our students. If you need examples, let me know and I will send you some written work for your grade level.    If you have suggestions or ideas, please share them!

K-12 Reader has a ton of examples for all grades.

Readworks offers printables for all grades.

Have a great week!


Who Are We Teaching? Generation Z

We classify our “generations” to try to begin understanding their characteristics so we can better serve them as educators. Our current students are the “Generation Z” while the kindergarteners coming in begin “Generation Alpha.”  


Why does this matter you ask?  Students are changing and as educators we must change with them to maximize our effectiveness. What characteristics do these students possess?


Generation Z students are the children of the millennial generation. They are digital natives who have the world and endless information at their fingertips. Spending on average more than three hours a day on screen time. The written word (books) no longer have the value that something posted on the internet has to these children. These students are confident in technology and how to navigate but their ability to communicate in written and spoken word is lacking. Thanks to text message, Twitter and other quick social media sites that encourage quick thoughts, our students often struggle to spell, use punctuation and to see the need for formal written tasks.


Traditional schools provide a structured environment that many students do not have at home. Families are diverse and have complex relationships and situations which are often less bound to routine and structure of years past. This plays a strong role in a child’s ability to adapt in the classroom environment with rules, routines and procedures.


Some of the qualities that our young people possess are:

  • Less focused (they reach for a smart device every 7 minutes)
  • Absorb information in burst
  • Visual learners
  • Multitask (or try) across five or more screens where their parents used 2 or 3


Think of the implications of these!  As a teacher–can you see the need for engagement strategies and to allow student movement and collaboration?


One of the most interesting characteristics of our students is they are much more realistic than generations past. They do not know the world before 9/11, access to 24 hour news and the internet to confirm the details of violent acts. With this understanding that “government, systems and people fail, they have developed a harsh reality of the world.  Adding video games to the mix increases the visual stimulation to violence and understanding that distress that can happen. This increases the need for our students to feel safe. Despite this, they have a willingness to do “good things”and be helpful.


Our kindergarteners coming in are the start of the next generation who have been sitting in front of technology since birth.  They are children of more diverse parents who have faced more struggles financially or on the flip side have had more wealth. There will be a stronger divide of those who have and do not. Their parents are a bit older and more extended than ever.  The future changes are unknown but we will need to continue evolving our practices and ideals.


So What Do We Do?


A few strategies to begin:


  • Break up assignments and lessons to allow for short attention spans
  • MUST teach stamina and how to stick with hard tasks because they are used to quitting when it is hard
  • Use LOTS of visuals
  • Teach strategy to get through long texts without graphics because they do not know how to break up a text into manageable pieces
  • Use  instant feedback which they thrive on due to texting/social media
  • Start with WHY to show relevance (task oriented)
  • Must teach about work quality vs. completion

As educators, knowing WHO we are teaching–helps us know HOW we need to teach them. For me, I see the need for a safe school environment that is welcoming to all students. One that reminds students of the good things happening and how to make a difference. Teaching students that small acts of kindness do matter and that they are special.  Communication both written and verbal are so important for students to gain a strong sense of themselves and where they belong. Most importantly, to use technology as a tool to make their lives better but not to be controlled by it or hide behind it.


Articles read to inspire article:

New York Times online:  Meet Alpha:  The Next “Next Generation” by Alex Williams on September 19, 2015

Caylor Solutions online article:  5 Major Characteristics of Generation Z for Education Marketers by Bart Caylor on February 26, 2018.


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