If you had to list out some of the obstacles that our young readers face when trying to comprehend a text, I bet you would write things like: fluency, decoding words, knowing sight words, and understanding vocabulary. Those are all huge factors that impact our students’ abilities to understand what they read. Over the years, I’ve found that when we teach these concepts, we cannot teach them in isolation but instead we must be constantly referring to and modeling how and why to use strategies to get over these hurdles. Today, I’m going to walk you through some of my context clue strategies to use when teaching elementary students!
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#1: Understanding the POWER of Context Clues
Students need to understand the POWER behind what context clues truly are before they are asked to look for and use them. they need to know how context clues can completely help and change their perspectives on what they are reading without them even try or realizing it. Once they know and see this power, they will be more interested in actually using this skill.
Here’s how I show them this:
Give them a simple sentence like: “Joy got a b____.” Have them create a quick list of words that could fit that blank that start with the letter ‘B’. Then give them a second version of the sentence: “Joy got a b____ for her birthday.” Again, add to or change the list of words that the ‘B’ word could be. Then give them the final sentence: “Joy got a b____ for her birthday. It had a horn on the front and a basket on the back.” With these sentences, aka context clues, students now know the exact word that fills the sentences and they know it because of the context around the word.
#2: Where should they LOOK for the Context Clues
I teach my students where, minimally, they need to read to look for context clues when they come to an unknown word. we use this phrase: “Read 3 around me – before, during, and after!” Students use little hand motions for the quick rhyme and it helps them to remember that they need to read the three sentences around the unknown word. They read the sentence before the unknown word, the sentence during (the sentence where the unknown word is), and the sentence after the unknown word. This gives them a starting place to look for context clues rather than looking all over the text or book. So again: “Read 3 around me – before, during and after!”
#3: Teach the TYPES of context clues with your students.
“Context clues” is actually a large concept – there are many different types of context clues that when students know about and look for, they are looking for more specific words or types of words rather than jut taking a shot in the dark. I teach my students to look for context clues like: the definition, synonyms and antonyms, examples, and inferences. Knowing these and seeing lots of examples of these help them to break down the concept of context clues and have a more concrete understanding what they are looking for.