At first, kids learn that one word goes with one thing. “Dog” goes with their furry pet. “Walk” means to slow down. But eventually they come to realize that words can have more than one meaning, and later still they learn that they can search for the exact meaning of a word by using its context. That is when language becomes really interesting! As kids learn to use context clues, they get their first glimpse into the complexities of our language. Take another look at this image.
According to the picture, which sentence correctly uses the word rock?
A) I found a piece of purple quartz to add to my rock collection.
B) You can rock the baby in his bouncy seat until he falls asleep.
C) Classic rock is my favorite kind of music.
The picture tells you that Answer C is correct. The background (the context) shows a guitarist playing and jumping in the air. He is not hunting for rocks, and he is not rocking a baby. Here is another picture with plenty of context clues.
According to the picture, which sentence correctly used the word line?
A) Line the baking pan with parchment paper.
B) The fish keep stealing the bait from my line.
C) Start from the third line in scene four, please.
Pictures of words with multiple meanings are great for introducing the concept of context clues, but with a little practice, students can learn to find clues to the meanings of all types of words in written text just as easily as in pictures. They just need to know what to look for. It may help them to know that, generally, there are three types of context clues to be on the lookout for: explanation clues, example clues, and contrast clues. Explanation clues are the easiest type; they tell what the word means. Text books often have explanation clues after key words in the text. Example clues are frequently found in informational texts, too. Reading an example also makes it easy for students to infer the meaning of a word. Contrast clues tell what a word is not. These can be trickier for students to deal with because the students have to be sure to notice that the clue is telling them the opposite of the word’s meaning.
Both of my context clues PowerPoint presentations provide clear explanations to introduce this skill along with interactive practice for reinforcement. With Context Clues , students practice choosing the correct word based on the context, defining a word from context, and using the context to choose among multiple meanings of words. With Context Clues – Three Types , students practice finding all three types of context clues and then using them to understand the meanings of the words.
Sharon Fabian, from the Classroom in the Middle blog, has spent over 20 years teaching English, reading, and other subjects to middle school students. She loves having more time now to create and write about resources for teachers – especially materials for teaching reading, vocabulary, and writing to students in grades 4 through 8. Here is the link to her store, also called Classroom in the Middle.