How to Teach Context Clues

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

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


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.


How to teach context clues?

Sound, evidence-based approaches such as direct instruction, 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)


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!
View larger image


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.


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)

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 reach 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

Provide a 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

Related Teaching Strategies and Resources