Especially in middle school, reading comprehension exercises are a common concern for students and parents alike. Often, the problems that students have with reading comprehension can be traced back to their skills in finding context clues. Understanding how to find and utilize context clues in passages is vital in order for students to gain a deeper understanding of the main idea and be able answer questions correctly! We’ve compiled some helpful tips for context clue practice that are sure to help your children. Many students practice these skills all the time without realizing. These tips and practice exercises are especially helpful for middle school, but we are confident that grade-school ages and high schoolers can benefit from these as well!
First, read A Grade Ahead’s recommended strategies for using context clues to figure out the meanings of unknown words. Then, keep reading for a list of context clue practice resources!
Context Clue Practice: A Guide to Educated Guessing
1. Determine the Part of Speech
Before tackling the meaning of an unknown word, first determine if the word is a noun, verb, adjective, etc. Knowing whether a word is a thing, action, or description makes a big difference in being able to understand the word. With the part of speech and the context of the rest of the sentence, readers will be able to visualize the word’s meaning in their heads.
For example, imagine a student is given the following sentence: “The jubilant elf pranced happily around the toy shop on Christmas Eve.”
Let us assume that the student does not know what “jubilant” means right away. First, the student can determine that this word is an adjective describing the elf. Based on what we know about elves, they are typically happy and joyful creatures. The sentence also explains that the elf is prancing happily around on Christmas Eve. Again, based on our knowledge of elves’ jobs, their work would be complete by Christmas. With all of this information in mind, what might the word “jubilant” mean to be able to accurately describe the elf? It must mean something like “proud” or “delighted!”
This may seem like a long process – after all, why can’t we just check a dictionary? Over time and with lots of practice, this context clue exercise will speed and eventually take no longer than a few seconds!
2. Look for Synonyms
If the first method isn’t producing enough new information, students can also replace unknown words in sentences with synonyms (words with similar meanings) to see if, overall, the meaning of the sentence changes or stays the same.
Let’s try with an example: “The carousel at the carnival made me feel dizzy.” If students have never heard the word “carousel” before, this sentence may not make much sense. However, if we replace the word with a word that the students do know and belongs to a carnival, like “merry-go-round,” the sentence suddenly becomes very clear! For some additional examples, try this online game.
This strategy is especially helpful when students are taking a multiple-choice assessment for reading comprehension. Students can replace unknown words with answer choices to see how the meaning of the sentence changes. However, when reading a complicated book, this isn’t an option. We have another idea, though…
3. Study Greek and Latin Roots
A surefire way to determine the meaning of unknown words in a sentence is to locate their Greek and Latin roots. In case you didn’t know, the English language is mostly derived from Greek and Latin, so words relate to their original meanings in subtle ways.
For example, imagine a student is looking at potential science classes for next year. He sees the word “Biology,” but he isn’t quite sure what this class would consist of. All he would need to know is that “bio” is the Greek root for “life.” Therefore, the student can feel confident enrolling in the class knowing that he will learning about living things!
The following website provides many more common examples of Greek and Latin roots: https://www.readingrockets.org/article/root-words-roots-and-affixes. Also, Quizlet has many sets of online flashcards on the topic! These resources also include affixes, which are beginnings and endings to words that can be helpful. For example, “biology” has the suffix “-logy,” which means “the study of.” If a student has a solid understanding of common roots and affixes, it’s hard to imagine a situation in which a word is completely unknown!
4. Sounds and Spelling
When all else fails, students can try to compare the unknown word to words he or she already knows. Often (not all the time), words will have similar sounds and spelling to their synonyms. For example, “estimation” has a lot of the same letters and sounds as “estimate.” If students have heard the word “estimate” before and know that it means “to guess,” they can infer that the noun form, “estimation,” must be “a guess,” as well! Again, this method doesn’t always work perfectly (“breath” does not have the same meaning as “wreath” despite containing the same letters and sounds), but it’s not a bad practice to keep in mind.
As mentioned previously, the best way to build context clue tracking skills is to practice. We suggest that students challenge themselves with advanced reading material in order to experience new words and roots. Also, there are plenty of online games that may be of interest; we have provided a few below!
What do I do if my child still struggles with context clue practice?
Of course, sometimes it takes a bit more than a blog post with some helpful tips to get students to understand complex skills. In that case, we highly recommend an enrichment program. One of the most popular questions we get at A Grade Ahead is about our focus on reading comprehension. Whether it’s 3rd grade or high school, students are expected to use context clue skills to figure out the meanings of unknown words. This is especially important for those high school students who may be looking at PSAT, ACT, or SAT testing in the near future.
A Grade Ahead has a comprehensive English curriculum that will enable your child – no matter what age – to develop these skills in a small classroom environment (or at home!).
Those are all my favorite tips for context clue practice for middle school. What words have your children struggled with? How did they to manage discover these words’ meanings using context clues? Let us know in the comments! Be sure to leave a message below if you have any other awesome ways to do context clue practice for middle school!
Author: Morgan L.
Updated Author: Brenna Waugaman, Curriculum Coordinator at A Grade Ahead
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