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Read for Word Meanings
March 16, 2021
Informational text often includes difficult terminology and content-specific vocabulary. Struggling readers can get bogged down by unfamiliar words, slowing their reading fluency and decreasing their ability to comprehend the text. This is where context clues come into play.
Define “context” as the sentences literally just before or after a word/phrase they don’t know. “Context” is simply the surrounding sentences. Then explain the reverse and fast-forward process.
Reverse—When students come across an unfamiliar word, encourage them to reverse their reading direction and reread the 1-2 sentences that precede the word. Going back over the sentence or sentences right before the word can offer some clues as to what it might mean.
Fast forward—In the same way, as students see a word they’re not sure of, instruct them to then read beyond it for a sentence or two to see if they can figure out what might make sense.
Now define “clues.” Within the 2-4 sentences of context near the unfamiliar word, students need to be looking for clues as to its meaning. Authors often embed definitions and explanations within the surrounding words and sentences. This can look a variety of ways:
- Authors sometimes print a simple definition to an unfamiliar term.
- Sometimes an author will restate the word in a simpler way.
- Explanations can come before or after the term.
- Sometimes authors include a literal translation of the word’s meaning.
- Authors may describe the purpose of something to make it more clear.
- Authors include an example of the term to help to clarify meaning.
- Authors often put related words/ideas in a series separated by commas. The recognizable words may be a clue as to the meaning of the unfamiliar word.
- Authors might define a word by using an antonym in the same or nearby sentence.
Print and share this downloadable handout with your students. Discuss these common strategies and review the excerpts included from informational texts. Teach your students to read around unfamiliar words to better learn their meanings.