It is no secret that many of our students don’t come to us reading on grade level. I teach some students that could probably perform well in advanced high school classes. I also teach many more students that are not quite on grade level. And of course, I have students that are far below grade level. That’s okay. I’m certainly not complaining about my students, but it does make the job more challenging.
I have found that teaching students to use context clues to determine the meaning of unknown words helps students at all levels. Students regularly run into questions about the meaning of words on multiple choice tests, and while it is impossible to teach them the meaning of every word ever in a year, I can teach them a very important skill that will help them out with these types of questions. I try to incorporate a variety of instruction about context clues on a regular basis in my class.
1. Use authentic examples.
I take a picture or take notes whenever I come across a word that requires me to use context clues. It is usually in novels I’m reading, but it sometimes comes from news articles. I like to display the real-life example in class and have my students try to figure out the meaning of the words. If the word is particularly challenging, I’ll include multiple choice options. My students love seeing that this is a skill that I still use. It also often opens up conversations about what I’m currently reading in my free time. I don’t have a regular schedule for this, but I try to do it once or twice a week. I’ve even had students show me their own examples and I’ve shared them with the class.
2. Stop and focus on it in class.
I pause a lot when we are reading together in class. I know my students don’t love it when we interrupt a good part, but hey, we’re there to build skills. I stop and discuss the meanings of words I think not all students might know as often as possible. Many times it is a word I’ve already picked out. I like to plan ahead, and I’ve been teaching for long enough that I’ve basically got some of the stories memorized. But I will also regularly pause for something based on how my students react. Many students benefit from teachers modeling good reading behavior and pausing to determine the meaning of a word is certainly beneficial to any reader.
3. Have students come up with their own example sentences.
I will regularly give students a list of words and ask them to create their own sentences. They then pass their examples off to a classmate who has to determine the meaning of the word. The students love getting creative with their sentences and having to share them with a partner really motivates them to do well. I’ve found that students develop a better understanding of how to use context clues when they have to create a sentence of their own with them. Requiring students to write their own sentences that are designed to include context clues will help them pick them out when they are reading other texts.
4. Incorporate regular practice using context clues.
When I first realized that I needed to include more context clues for practice, I searched high and low for resources. I needed something quick and interesting that was also challenging. I found some resources that I thought might work, but the words were so easy that almost all of my students already knew the meaning. That wasn’t going to cut it.
I created daily reading passages that told the story of an interesting mystery over the course of a week. Each day included two questions that required students to use context clues to determine the meaning of a word. They were a hit! My students loved the mysteries. Some even researched them on their own! And I was pleasantly surprised to see that my students were performing better on assessments that covered word meaning after this practice. You can find the resource at my Teachers Pay Teachers store here!