Context Clues Goal Ideas
- Given a sentence containing an underlined multiple meaning word, NAME will correctly identify the word’s meaning by selecting the correct picture out of a field of 2 with 80% accuracy.
- Given a sentence containing a multiple meaning word, NAME will state the meaning of the word using context clues in 70% of opportunities given 1 verbal prompt.
- Given a sentence with an underlined target word, NAME will identify two clues in the sentence that help him understand the word’s meaning in 3 out of 4 opportunities across 2 sessions.
- Given a sentence containing an underlined target word and a synonym-based context clue, NAME will define the target word using a sentence frame with 75% accuracy across 3 sessions.
- Given a short text that is 2-3 sentences long and a sentence frame, NAME will state the meaning of an underlined word using context clues from the text in 3 out of 4 opportunities.
Read more about my goals here.
Teaching Context Clues in Speech Therapy
One way our students learn new words is by paying attention to the context they read or hear the word in including the words used around the unknown word. Vocabulary knowledge increases each time a word is encountered in context.
For typical learners, it can take between 8 and 20+ encounters with a word before in-depth knowledge is achieved. Students with language or learning disabilities take even more encounters, around 36, to fully learn and understand new words (Storkel el al, 2019).
Rapid growth in word learning and understanding requires that the student is paying attention to the right information and growing their word knowledge with each encounter.
One reason that students that are less skilled readers require more encounters with a word is because they have increased difficulty inferring the meaning of unknown words. Directly teaching about context clues can make this process more explicit and direct. It encourages our students to think about words they encounter, and the clues provided in the text that help to understand the word’s meaning.
According to Michael Graves, “the descriptive research on learning from context shows that context can produce learning of word meanings and that although the probability of learning a word from a single occurrence is low, the probability of learning a word from context increases substantially with additional occurrences of the word. That is how we typically learn from context. We learn a little from the first encounter with a word and then more and more about a word’s meaning as we meet it in new and different contexts”.
The strategy of using context clues is most effective when taught alongside other vocabulary learning strategies so our students have many tools to pull from when learning new words and know what to pay attention to while reading.
The point of context clue instruction is to build from noticing and thinking about individual words (targeting vocabulary) to thinking deeply about a sentence as a whole and how each word in the sentence relates to the others.
Targeting multiple meaning words is a great way to introduce the skill of using sentence-level context as a clue to the meaning of a word. The only way we can correctly interpret the meaning of a multiple meaning word is by using context! I’ve found that it helps students think about the part of speech a word might be using clues from the sentence as well as the overall meaning of the word.
Once students are comfortable with this, I introduce the concept of context clues and teach the different types of context clues one at a time (definitions, synonyms, antonyms, examples, general inference).
I typically teach the different types in that order as I find definitions and synonyms to be the most direct and easy to understand.
The last type, general inference clues, are what I call any context clue that isn’t as specific as the other types. These context clues require you to use the information in the sentence and make a smart guess about what might make sense given what you know. They’re best to save for last as they are less clear or direct. However, they are important to target as most context clues your students encounter in the real world will be more inferential and less explicit (like definition or synonym clues).
To summarize, here’s the steps I typically follow in order to teach context clues:
- 1 – Multiple Meaning Words
- 2 – Definition Context Clues
- 3 – Synonym Context Clues
- 4 – Antonym Context Clues
- 5 – Example Context Clues
- 6 – General Inference Context Clues
- 7 – Mixed Sentence-Level
- 8 – Paragraph
Two important notes about context clues:
1 – Much of the time, context clues don’t fully define a word or give enough clues fully learn a new word. The main thing you should be assessing is whether your students use the other information in the sentence to increase their knowledge of the target word, even if they’re still a little unclear.
2 – Context clue instruction works best alongside (or after!) other vocabulary strategies including affixes and direct word instruction and syntax strategies including defining and familiarity with parts of speech.
Context Clues… In Context
Context clues… in context? Yes!
After following the steps above and directly teaching each type of context clue, it’s time to have your students practice this skill in other activities!
Here’s two ideas for routines or activities to do this:
1 – When you encounter a word in a text, directly teach it (using Direct Vocabulary Instruction strategies). Then, go back to the text and discuss the clues that help you to confirm or integrate the word’s meaning.
2 – Choose a motivating text, like directions for how to do something, a description of a video game they love, or an article on a topic they love or are curious about. Print it out and cover up individual words throughout it (I like to scribble over the words with a Sharpie marker). Then, have your students use context clues to figure out what the covered up words are! I call this activity “Cover Up” and it’s a fun one!
Shop my contextualized language units centered around themes and original stories below!