How to Teach Context Clues

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How can you teach context clues, so that is easy for students to master and use!

Effectively using context clues can be the key factor in helping struggling readers increase comprehension. Here are some easy-to-use tips!

How do I teach context clues? How do my students use context clues? If you teach reading, you’ve probably wondered these questions about how to teach context clues.

Simple Ways to Learn Context Clues

You know that decoding word sounds is one of the major obstacles to reading fluency. You also know that there is another major obstacle…using context clues to decoding word meanings.

Vocabulary is a killer in reading comprehension. It is also one of the largest factors in creating strong readers. However, it is not enough to teach words. We have to make it simple to master!

In this post, you will discover these effective context clues strategies:

  1. Questions that Scaffold Understanding of Context Clues
  2. Use Short, Above-Level Texts
  3. Practice Across Genres
  4. Read ample Informational Texts when learning context clues
  5. Use Task Cards to Scaffold Cognitive Resources

[thrive_toggles_group”][thrive_toggles title=”Lesson Idea for Context Clues” no=”1/4″] Here’s a simple lesson idea from on how to teach context clues.[/thrive_toggles][thrive_toggles title=”Step 1: Ask About Tough Words” no=”2/4″] 1. Ask if any students know the meanings of the words “gaunt,” “aloof,” “forlorn,” and “commercial vehicle.” Likely, none will. Tell them that you are going to reveal a powerful detective technique that will sometimes allow them to figure out what these words mean, as well as others, without ever looking at a dictionary.[/thrive_toggles][thrive_toggles title=”Step 2: Provide Context” no=”3/4″]2. Give out examples of those words in sentences. Review the definition of context clues. More on that in this post.[/thrive_toggles][thrive_toggles title=”Step 3: Explain and Attempt” no=”4/4″]3. Explain that there are different types of context clues. Explain that students can use this tool in all of their reading. Explain that when the context-clue approach doesn’t work, students should either keep reading or look up the word in the dictionary. Work through examples with the class. Have students underline the part of the sentence that gives a clue, and then write out a definition. *Later in this post, I’ll share some context clues resource that are specifically designed for this type of practice.[/thrive_toggles][/thrive_toggles_group]

Two Simple Strategies for Teaching Context Clues

Why teach context clues?

Word meanings can be constructed from the clues before, within, and after the sentence with the unknown word. There are also clues within the word.

The context surrounding an unknown word can help a student understand its structure, how it’s used, and ultimately its meaning. Struggling readers need us to explicitly teach these concepts. With clear instruction, they can draw upon multiple approaches to determine word meanings.

[thrive_text_block color=”note” headline=”Research Shows”]Research shows that students who struggle with reading need us to explicitly teach these skills. They can not simply be “discovered” through reading and reading more. [/thrive_text_block]

How to teach context clues?

Sound, evidence-based approaches such as direct instruction, spiral review, choice in reading materials, and varied interaction (including technology) with new words will help students learn to use context clues. There are several types of context clues that students must be able to identify:

  1. Synonyms & antonyms
  2. Descriptions
  3. Syntax (i.e. is the word a noun or a verb in this sentence?)
  4. Word parts (morphology)

[thrive_text_block color=”note” headline=”Research Shows”]According to the Council for Learning Disabilities, “Vocabulary knowledge is the single most important factor contributing to reading comprehension.” [/thrive_text_block]

Resources that Scaffold Context Clues

It’s not enough to teach context clues or to provide practice worksheets. Students need quality practice with resources that amount to more than a worksheet. Scavenger hunts (like this one for text features) and task cards are designed for student engagement.

Students also need practice with more support and intentional scaffolding (Read more about the effects of too little and too much Scaffolding) than just a book.

The best teaching resources scaffold students in understanding how to use context clues!
Context Clues Task Cards that Scaffold Students by Asking for Text Evidence

Make Context Clues Simple with Scaffolding

Scaffolding provides students with just enough support as they struggle through learning context clues. And yes, they should be allowed to struggle through it. The struggle is the mental processing that makes learning stick. But they shouldn’t struggle without scaffolding.

[thrive_text_block color=”note” headline=”What is Scaffolding in Reading?”]In reading instruction, scaffolding refers to a variety of instructional techniques used to move students progressively toward stronger understanding and, ultimately, greater independence in the reading process. [/thrive_text_block]

Use Questions that Scaffold Student Practice

The best scaffolding helps readers by asking text-dependent questions:
  1. Identifying synonyms in the context
  2. Identifying contrast in the context
  3. Understanding descriptions in the context
  4. Using grammar (i.e. this word is a verb, adjective, or a noun)
  5. Looking for examples in the context
  6. Break apart within-word context (i.e. base words, roots, affixes)
With the right resource, with the right text complexity, rigor is achieved easily! #teachingClick To Tweet

Use Short, But Challenging Texts

Short texts allow students to finish the reading process, apply their skills, and receive feedback. Context clues task cards that are written at a higher reading level than students’ independent ranges are perfect.

For 1st-2nd grade, students should be practicing with segmented texts at reading levels 3-5. A shared reading is the ideal instructional format because the teacher shares the decoding responsibility with the students, but they carry the responsibility of comprehension.

In grades 3-6, students should also be reading context clues task cards written at levels 5-8. Why? The texts bring the challenge, yet the segmenting and targeted questioning provide the scaffolding.

Informational Texts are Challenging

A properly prepared context clues task card will provide plenty of complex text that reaches across different curriculum areas. Students receive the additional benefit of building content area background knowledge.

Challenging informational texts provide the best context for learning in these context clues task cards!
Visit at TPT
The best scaffolding helps readers by asking text-dependent questions.Click To Tweet

Provide Context Clues Practice Across Genres

Make practice meaningful by applying context clues strategies in poetry, fiction, and interpreting figurative language. Poetry is perfect for practice because of the context clues are concise.

Context clues in fictional texts are different than those in informational texts. Figurative language (similes, metaphors, idioms) provide an additional challenge because of the amount of interpreting needed.

Task Cards Scaffold Cognitive Resources

If you continue to use segmented texts in resources like task cards, students will be able to focus on context.
Less cognitive load is dedicated to maintaining meaning across a longer text. The shorter text opens working memory. Working memory is devoted to the skill of using context clues.

Poetry and Figurative language provide excellent practice for context clues!

View a variety of context clues task cards that can easily scaffold your students’ success!

We offer task cards that address a variety of genres and types of context clues for grades2-6.

Context Clues Task Cards

View our context clues task cards on TeachersPayTeachers

If you're looking for context clues resources, we've designed a mega set of task cards, tested them in dozens of classrooms, and packaged them for you!

Here's what other teachers say.

TeamTom on TPT

More engaging and fun...

These were absolutely amazing with STAAR prep. It made STAAR prep more engaging and fun.

Jessica S.  //  Aug. 2, 2018

TeamTom on TPT

Students loved it...

Great product! Used for review and my students loved it.

Dwan J.  //  Jun. 24, 2018

What's in the Context Clues Mega Bundle?

Context Clues Task Cards Mega Bundle is 86 task cards for:

  • vocabulary development,
  • understanding unknown words,
  • using context clues,
  • synonyms,
  • antonyms,
  • figurative language,
  • dictionary entries, and more!

It's a mega set of all multiple choice ,quick-to-use, no prep, and rigorous segmented texts!

It includes expository, content-area, informational, poetry, and other genres are included to help students better use context clues! Great for STAAR review, and it's CCSS aligned.

Context Clues Task Cards

View our context clues task cards on TeachersPayTeachers

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About the Author

Matt is a learner, creator, and educator with k-12 teaching, administrative, and research experience. He tracks trends in education, travels the oceans, and fails at fishing.

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