Monday, July 20, 2015

Using Context Clues

This is the fifth summer that I've taught in my district's summer learning program. One of my favorite parts of teaching in this program is how relaxed it is! No checking email a hundred times per day. No pacing guides or benchmarking schedules to follow. No interruptions. The class sizes are small, the day is short (ours is three hours), and then there are the three day weekends! It's really my school utopia.

This year, I am teaching ELA to my URSA students (you can read about them here). I've had quite a bit of flexibility (and fun!) designing lessons for them!

Several of the lessons I've taught so far have come from the book Reading Reasons by Kelly Gallagher. These ready-to-use lessons (but easily tweaked... because we all know teachers love to reinvent the wheel :) are so important for creating life-long readers and writers, but are often the lessons that get left on the chopping block during the frantic pace of the school year.

This book is full of "reading reasons." It's not so much about teaching kids "how" to become readers, but making them see "why" they should become readers. The first week of the program, we focused on Gallagher's first reason to be a reader: Reading builds a mature vocabulary.

The first couple of days, we discussed using context clues to help us decipher unknown words. I find that students always, always, always struggle with using context clues effectively! And, I've found that being able to use context clues is one of those skills that is crucial for becoming a true reader. If kids are not figuring out the meaning of the words they don't know over and over again while reading a text, they will struggle with comprehension. And a student who struggles with comprehension is almost always a student who hates to read!!

After teaching Gallagher's "reading reason" lesson, I set up several station activities where students could practice using context clues.

At one station, students had to select a card with a nonsense word on it. Next, they had to construct a definition for their word. Finally, they created a sentence that contained enough context clues in it to help a peer figure out the meaning of their word.

The kids really got into this activity. Several realized pretty quickly that they did not provide enough clues to help their readers and therefore had to go back and make changes. This activity also led to a great discussion on synonyms, as students realized that even though their peers didn't get the "exact" definition of the word, their guesses could serve as synonyms to the definition, and this was okay!

It was a great activity and really gave students a different perspective on using context clues when reading.

How do you teach students to better use context clues? I'd love to hear from you!

Also, are you teaching summer school? Tell me about your experience!

Hope to hear from you!

Happy Teaching!!


  1. Oh my goodness I LOVE that idea for teaching context clues! I've been working on a set of task cards for my early finishers that seem like brainteasers but are actually language arts based puzzles. That sounds like a great idea for some cards! Thanks for the tip :)