K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

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  • Which word is it?: Students will determine the meaning of unfamiliar vocabulary words using Context Clues, a dictionary, and structural analysis within a game format.

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Learning outcomes

  • Using the context of surrounding words and sentences, students will be able to figure out the meaning of new and unfamiliar words to enhance reading enjoyment.
  • Students will practice looking for new and unfamiliar words in prepared sentences and use context to determine meanings of words.
  • After reading a newspaper or magazine article, students will choose new and unfamiliar words and will use context to determine the meaning of these words.
  • Students will use dictionaries to check to see if their meanings are correct and to continue development of dictionary skills.
  • Students will share information with the class to improve abilities to articulate information in a group.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

45 Minutes

Materials/resources

  • Overhead projector and markers
  • transparency of Dictionary Definition
  • Teacher prepared sheets with short passages.
  • Copies of newspaper or magazine articles.
  • Pencils and paper for students
  • Dictionaries

Pre-activities

Silent reading of passages with new and unfamiliar words before teacher begins the teaching of the lesson on context clues.

Activities

Introduce lesson

  1. Say “Students, today we are going to learn more about using the words, sentences, and other information around new and unfamiliar words to determine the meanings of these words. This is known as using context clues. Often we do not have a dictionary on hand when we are reading, and we want to know what a word means.”
  2. Show dictionary Definition transparency of a word with multiple meanings. Say: “Even when we do have a dictionary, a word may have many different meanings depending on the context. For example, the word ‘fly’ has many different meanings. That is when knowing how to look at the context around the word is very helpful in figuring out the meaning of that word.”
  3. Show students the sentence, “He caught the fly” and ask them what the meaning of the word “fly” is in each sentence. Ask them to explain how they know what the meaning is. Then have them rate their confidence in their answer by raising their thumb up (very sure), thumb sideways (maybe), or thumb down (just a wild guess).
  4. Then show them the second sentence, “The outfielder caught the fly” and ask what they think the meaning of “fly” is. Then have them rate their confidence in their answer by raising their thumb up (very sure), thumb sideways (maybe), or thumb down (just a wild guess). Again, ask them to explain how they know what the meaning is.
  5. Repeat the procedure with the remaining sentence pairs below:
    • He had a fly on his pants.
    • He swatted the fly on his pants.
    • Those are fly pants.
    • Those are fly pants, but the shoes are ugly.
    • She went fly fishing.
    • She prefers to go fly fishing because she doesn’t like to use worms for bait.

Identify the steps

  1. Ask students to identify the steps they used to identify the correct meanings of the word in context. They can use the same strategies to identify the meanings of unfamiliar words. First look at the pictures, words, phrases, or sentences in the passage that surround the unfamiliar word.
  2. Next, using these clues ask yourself, “What word do I know that would make sense in the place of the new word in this sentence?”
  3. Then substitute the familiar word in the sentence and read the passage to see if the word makes sense in the passage.
  4. Show students an overhead transparency of a sentence with an unfamiliar word. For example: “The jury could not leave the room until it had reached a consensus on the defendant’s guilt or innocence.” Ask students what words in the sentence give them clues about the meaning of the word “consensus”? What familiar word can they substitute for “consensus.” Does the familiar word make sense?
  5. Guide students through an example using a nonsense word. For example, “John traveled a long distance to get to his friend’s home in California. The TALXIA took three days on the bus. He was exhausted when he arrived in California and was very happy to end that bus ride. He was glad to find his friend waiting for him at the bus station.” Ask, “What word could you put in the place of the nonsense word TALXIA in this sentence based on the clues in the passage? Clues: traveled, bus, distance, California, etc. Answer: trip or journey “Now, read the sentence using the familiar word and see if it makes sense.”
  6. Give students worksheets with three short paragraphs using new words which have been underlined. Instruct them to read the paragraphs, look closely at the underlined words, and use context clues to find the meaning of unfamiliar words.
  7. Go over passages with the students and check for understanding.
  8. In small groups, give students copies of a short newspaper or magazine article of interest to the students and have them choose five unfamiliar words to use context clues to figure out the meaning of the words. Have students write on paper the five unfamiliar words and the words they substituted for them. Then have students check their words with their groups members and come to a consensus on the meaning of each word. Once the whole group has reached a consensus on their five words, groups will look in the dictionary to pick the definition that most closely fits the meaning of the word in this particular context. Monitor students as they work.
  9. Let students share the articles they read with the class and tell what unfamiliar words they chose and what context clues they used to figure out what the the words mean.

Assessment

  • Students’ sharing of articles, unfamiliar words, and the meaning of the unfamiliar words.
  • Test with short passages using underlined unfamiliar words. Students will choose from three answer choices the word to use in the place of the underlined word.

  • Common Core State Standards
    • English Language Arts (2010)
      • Language

        • Grade 4
          • 4.L.4 Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade 4 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies. 4.L.4.1 Use context (e.g., definitions, examples, or restatements in text) as a clue...
        • Grade 5
          • 5.L.4 Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade 5 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies. 5.L.4.1 Use context (e.g., cause/effect relationships and comparisons in text) as a...
        • Grade 6
          • 6.L.4 Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade 6 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies. 6.L.4.1 Use context (e.g., the overall meaning of a sentence or paragraph; a word’s...
        • Grade 7
          • 7.L.4 Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade 7 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies. 7.L.4.1 Use context (e.g., the overall meaning of a sentence or paragraph; a word’s...
        • Grade 8
          • 8.L.4 Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words or phrases based on grade 8 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies. 8.L.4.1 Use context (e.g., the overall meaning of a sentence or paragraph; a word’s...

North Carolina curriculum alignment

English Language Arts (2004)

Grade 4

  • Goal 1: The learner will apply enabling strategies and skills to read and write.
    • Objective 1.03: Identify key words and discover their meanings and relationships through a variety of strategies.

Grade 5

  • Goal 1: The learner will apply enabling strategies and skills to read and write.
    • Objective 1.02: Select key vocabulary critical to the text and apply appropriate meanings as necessary for comprehension.

Grade 6

  • Goal 5: The learner will respond to various literary genres using interpretive and evaluative processes.
    • Objective 5.01: Increase fluency, comprehension, and insight through a meaningful and comprehensive literacy program by:
      • using effective reading strategies to match type of text.
      • reading self-selected literature and other materials of individual interest.
      • reading literature and other materials selected by the teacher.
      • discussing literature in teacher-student conferences and small group discussions.
      • taking an active role in whole class seminars.
      • discussing and analyzing the effects on texts of such literary devices as figurative language, dialogue, flashback and sarcasm.
      • interpreting text by explaining elements such as plot, theme, point of view, characterization, mood, and style.
      • investigating examples of distortion and stereotypes.
      • recognizing underlying messages in order to identify recurring theme(s) within and across works.
      • extending understanding by creating products for different purposes, different audiences and within various contexts.
      • exploring relationships between and among characters, ideas, concepts and/or experiences.

Grade 7

  • Goal 6: The learner will apply conventions of application of grammar and language usage.
    • Objective 6.01: Model an understanding of conventional written and spoken expression by:
      • using a variety of sentences correctly, punctuating them properly, and avoiding fragments and run-ons.
      • using subject-verb agreement and verb tense that are appropriate for the meaning of the sentence.
      • applying the parts of speech to clarify language usage.
      • using pronouns correctly, including clear antecedents and correct case.
      • using phrases and clauses correctly, including proper punctuation (e.g., prepositional phrases, appositives, dependent and independent clauses).
      • determining the meaning of unfamiliar vocabulary words using context clues, a dictionary, a glossary, a thesaurus, and/or structural analysis (roots, prefixes, suffixes) of words.
      • extending vocabulary knowledge by learning and using new words.
      • determining when and where dialects and standard/nonstandard English usage are appropriate.
      • applying language conventions and usage during oral presentations.
      • choosing language that is precise, engaging, and well suited to the topic and audience.
      • experimenting with figurative language and speech patterns.

Grade 8

  • Goal 6: The learner will apply conventions of grammar and language usage.
    • Objective 6.01: Model an understanding of conventional written and spoken expression by:
      • using a variety of sentence types, punctuating properly, and avoiding fragments and run-ons.
      • using subject-verb agreement and verb tense that are appropriate for the meaning of the sentence.
      • applying the parts of speech to clarify language usage.
      • using pronouns correctly, including clear antecedents and case.
      • using phrases and clauses correctly, including proper punctuation (e.g. prepositional phrases, appositives, dependent and independent clauses.)
      • determining the meaning of unfamiliar vocabulary words using context clues, a dictionary, a glossary, a thesaurus, and/or structural analysis (roots, prefixes, suffixes) of words.
      • extending vocabulary knowledge by learning and using new words.
      • evaluating the use and power of dialects in standard/nonstandard English usage.
      • applying correct language conventions and usage during formal oral presentations.