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 mystery.” 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 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. What do 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.
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.
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.
Context Clues Various Resources
I use this one most of the time.context clues graphic organizer (simple but effective)
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!