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Context Clues in Reading and Writing

We teachers love a bargain. Especially a “two-for one” bargain. the two for one skill which can be used in more than one context. We are all about efficiency! Context clues strategies provide that skill which can be used both to improve reading comprehension and writing clarity and coherence.

Reading and writing do have a reciprocal relationship. Check out my Twelve Tips to Teach the Reading-Writing Connection on the Pennington Publishing Blog when you have time. Learning context clues strategies helps students not only understand and apply new words, but also helps students apply more precise vocabulary in their writing to improve clarity and coherence.

So, how can you get students to use context clues in their reading and writing? Teach the memorable FP’S BAG SALE strategy. Click on this Context Clues Worksheets Resource to download the strategy (see below) and two accompanying worksheets (with answers).

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But wouldn’t it be better to teach Tier II (academic) and III (domain specific) reading and writing vocabulary by using the dictionary?

No. The dictionary is a fine tool and should be used to look up words that are critical to the comprehension of any reading and for precise usage in writing. However, the dictionary is not a practical tool for most reading and writing.

So, learning and practicing context clue strategies makes sense. Context clue strategies can be mastered with sufficient practice and can be flexibly applied both to figure out the meaning of many unknown words in reading and to support the use of technical language in writing. Teach students to use the whole FP’S BAG SALE strategy for reading and the last part, i.e., the SALE strategy for writing.

FP’S BAG SALE

  • 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.
  • 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. Example: 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 such as however, not, but, in contrast Example: He promised innovation, not keeping things the way they are.
  • 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 Signal Words such as for example, like, such as Example: Adventurous, rowdy, and crazy pioneers all found their way out West.

When shouldn’t we encourage students to use context clues?

Using context clues to guess the pronunciation and meanings of Tier I words (conversational, not academic English) is not efficient. Teaching students to use the alphabetic code (phonics) to sound out words and syllabication skills plus the conventional spelling rules (encoding) to write these words is essential. Context clues strategies are not useful for the “psycholinguistic guessing games (Goodman)” whole language method of developing word identification and word recognition.

Kylene Beers, in her book When Kids Can’t Read, summarizes the problem of using context clues strategies for word identification: “. . . Discerning the meaning of unknown words using context clues requires a sophisticated interaction with the text that dependent readers have not yet achieved.”

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. 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.

The program is also useful for grade-level syllabication skill worksheets, reading fluency practice, and reading comprehension development. With the tiered grade-level design of the fluency and comprehension worksheets, students will develop confidence reading at increasingly more challenging levels. Perfect scaffolded instruction for a classroom of diverse learners.

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