You are not alone if your students struggle with reading grade-level texts or unfamiliar words! Teaching types of context clues is one way you can support your student’s journey to becoming stronger readers.
Context clues are information within a text that is used to help the reader determine the meaning of an unknown vocabulary word or phrase. There are five types of context clues that are beneficial for your students to know.
When it comes to teaching vocabulary, we should avoid the following:
- Teaching explicit vocabulary words and then quizzing students on those words.
- Telling students which words will be difficult or tricky for them to understand.
Instead, I encourage you to approach vocabulary instruction in a way that gives your students tools that will help them decipher unknown words they encounter. Giving them a vocabulary tool like understanding types of context clues will help them no longer be limited by just the terms they know.
So, especially in upper elementary, what we SHOULD be doing when it comes to teaching vocabulary:
- Teaching students how to effectively use context clues.
- Teaching students about Greek and Latin roots and word parts.
- Giving students regular (like daily) practice applying these skills to their independent reading.
Now let’s go ahead and get into the five types of context clues your students need to know.
This type of context clue can be the most difficult for students to comprehend and put into practice, but they will encounter it quite often. For this type of context clue, students will infer or guess what a word might mean based on details or hints in the sentence/text.
For example, Mikayla did not like working with Sydney because she always talked about herself. Mikayla found Sydney to be so arrogant. What does the word arrogant mean?
When teaching this type of context clue, it is important to help your students learn how to dissect the sentence the word is in and the sentences before and after! The clues will most likely be close to the unknown word or phrase.
Based on the sentence, we might ask:
- Why doesn’t Mikayla like to work with Sydney?
- What part of speech might the word arrogant be? Noun, verb, etc?
Using questions to help identify clues in the text is key to making an inference. Based on the questions and details in the text, we can assume arrogant describes a person who talks about themselves or is self-centered.
With this type of context clue, an author will include the definition for a word within a sentence or text. Of course, if we don’t explicitly teach our students, this can happen – how will they know to look for it?
Sydney is so arrogant. She believes she is more important than her peers.
When teaching this type of context clue, it is important to have students identify the unknown word, re-read the sentence before, and look for details (clues.) In this example, if a student looks at the sentence with the word arrogant they will not find much else to go on. The author has included the definition in the following sentence.
Instead of giving the definition, sometimes authors will include an example to help students understand the meaning of a word. An example might be a situation or an action that further describes the term.
Sydney is so arrogant. The last time Mikayla was partnered with Sydney, the project could have gone better. Sydney talked over Mikayla the entire time and didn’t think any of Mikayla’s ideas were not worth trying.
In the example above, the author included two examples in two separate sentences to help students better understand the meaning of the word arrogant. I like showing students an example like this because sometimes a student can get caught up in looking only within a sentence for clues, but authors will also write in details in sentences before and after a word.
This type of context clue is my favorite to teach! In my experience, upper elementary students are often familiar with antonyms and therefore are more likely to look for and use this type of clue when reading.
Sometimes an author will use an antonym, or word with an opposite meaning, to help a reader understand a word within a text.
Sydney is so arrogant, and she could learn a thing or two from her brother, who is modest and always respectful of others.
In this example, the author describes a person who is the opposite of arrogant – modest and respectful. Students can use these clues to help them determine the meaning of the word arrogant. This can be tricky because students may use the example as a definition instead of an antonym. Always encourage students to use all the details they’ve learned so far about a person/place/thing as clues when determining the meaning of an unknown word or phrase.
And last but not least, the synonym context clue! Of course, this type of context clue is like when an author includes an antonym. But instead of using words or examples that are opposite in meaning, the author uses words with a similar meaning to the unknown word.
Sydney is so arrogant, self-centered, and overbearing.
Examples like the above are great for helping your students practice identifying synonyms as clues within a sentence. Very often an author will use a series of adjectives separated by commas to describe a person, place, thing, or event. In the example about Sydney, if we don’t know what the word arrogant means, we can certainly assume that it is something similar to self-centered and overbearing.
Grab Your FREE Gift!
Word Of The Day: Context Clue Routine
With this freebie, you’ll get everything you need to get started with word of the day in your classroom. You’ll get all the student and teacher materials for five days. Word of the day will help your students become experts at using context clues.
Once your students understand that there are different types of context clues, teach them to look for every kind of context clue when reading an unknown word. You can do this by teaching them to ask the following questions:
- Does the author include the definition?
- Is there an example close by?
- Do I notice any antonyms or opposite examples?
- Is this word listed in a string of similar words?
And if the answer is no to all of those, they know they have to infer the word’s meaning. But at least they have eliminated a lot of the obvious choices.
After students have mastered the art of guessing a word’s meaning, I strongly encourage you to teach your students the process of confirming their thinking. Confirming the word’s meaning might look like looking up the word in a dictionary, asking a peer if they know it, or using the internet to do more research. Of course, I know this is not possible in all situations, but it is a good practice to introduce to your students.
If you’re looking for an easy way to help your students get daily practice – I have a Context Clue of the Week Routine that will help them get daily practice with the context clues I’ve mentioned in this post!
Put it into practice…
- Download my Context Clue freebie! This freebie will help you get started teaching the five types of context clues from this blog post and give your students more confidence when they encounter new or unknown words while reading.
- Check out Episode #41 of the podcast to learn more about the five types of context clues in this post and why it is important for your students to have these tools.
- Come join us inside The Stellar Literacy Collective. You’ll get access to a resource library filled with reading and writing activities to support your students all year long, including many pre-made high-impact literacy routines like the Context Clue Routine that you can start implementing right away!