Strategies for teaching Context Clues
When attempting to decipher the meaning of a new word, it is often useful to look at what comes before and after that word. The surrounding words can give readers helpful context clues about the meaning and structure of the new word, as well as how it is used.
Using context clues aligns with the following ELA Common Core Standard:
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.4 Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.
Helping struggling students use context clues
There are six common types of context clues (see below), and teachers need to provide struggling students and those with learning disabilities with direct instruction in how to use these clues.
Teachers have found it effective to model a self-questioning strategy to identify the different types of context clues. You can ask questions that are designed to focus attention on the unknown word and the possible clues to its meaning, such as: What are the surrounding words? How do these offer me clues? What does this word mean in terms of the context?
It is also helpful to provide students with frequent reminders and examples of the different types of context clues. Using online tools, you can post the list of context clues (and some corresponding examples) on your class wiki, website, or blog. You can also display the list on the bulletin board in your classroom so that students can easily remind themselves about context clues. Students can also keep examples in their reading or writing portfolios.
Embedded supports in digital text
If students are reading digital texts, they can mark the text in a number of different ways to identify context clues. They can highlight, underline, bold, or vary the font (size, style, or color) of unknown words and/or the surrounding context. They can mark the clues that they believe will help them uncover a word's meaning.
Many supports can also be embedded in the digital text to help students while they are reading. For example, selected words and phrases (the unknown words as well as the surrounding context) can be linked to definitions, synonyms, antonyms, images, and audio explanations. The video, "Embedded Supports to differentiate Instruction for Struggling Students"” provides valuable ideas that can help you use embedded supports to differentiate instruction.