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How to Use Context Clues to Improve Reading Comprehension and Vocabulary

Learning how to use context clues to figure out the meaning of unknown words is an essential reading strategy and vocabulary-builder. Identifying context clues in reading is made easier by looking for the key context clue categories within the context of an effective step-by-step strategy. So, here’s the strategy:

When you come to an unknown word, apply the steps of the FP’S BAG SALE strategy in the following order until you get a good clue about the meaning of an unknown word.

Finish the sentence.

See how the word fits into the whole sentence.

Pronounce the word out loud.

Sometimes hearing the word will give you a clue to meaning.

Syllables–Examine each word part.

Word parts can be helpful clues to meaning.

Before–Read the sentence before the unknown word.

The sentence before can hint at what the word means.

After–Read the sentence after the unknown word.

The sentence after can define, explain, or provide an example of the word.

Grammar–Determine the part of speech.

Pay attention to where the word is placed in the sentence, the ending of the word, and its grammatical relationship to other known words for clues to meaning.

The context clue categories:

Synonym–Sometimes an unknown word is defined by the use of a synonym.

Synonyms appear in apposition, in which case commas, dashes, or parentheses are used.

The wardrobe, or closet, opened the door to a brand new world.

Antonym–Sometimes an unknown word is defined by the use of an antonym.

Antonym clues will often use Signal Words e.g., however, not, but, in contrast

Example: He signaled a looey, not a right turn.

Logic–Your own knowledge about the content and text structure may provide clues to meaning.

Logic clues can lead to a logical guess as to the meaning of an unknown word.

Example: He petted the canine, and then made her sit up and beg for a bone.

Example–When part of a list of examples or if the unknown word itself provides an example,

either provides good clues to meaning. Example clues will often use transition words e.g., such as, for example, like

Example: Adventurous, rowdy, and crazy pioneers all found their way out West.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of  the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies.Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, adaptable to various instructional settings, and simple to use. Get multiple choice reading assessments on two CDs, formative assessments, blending and syllabication activities, phonemic awareness and phonics workshops,comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages on eight CDs, 390 flashcards, posters, activities, and games. Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Perfect for ESL and Special Education students, who struggle with language/auditory processing challenges. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance. 364 pages Also, check out the context clue activities/workshops in Teaching Spelling and Vocabulary. 315 pages

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