Context Clues

Last week I read What Really Matters for Struggling Readers:  Designing Research-Based Programs by Richard L. Allington.  I highly recommend it as an addition to your teacher library.  Here’s what is taught about context clues and focusing attention on words:

“Beers (2003) provides four types of clues that readers might use to figure out the meaning of an unknown word.

  1. She begins by looking at the definition clue.  Authors often introduce a new word and then define it.  For example, an author might write, ‘Cowboys often wore chaps, leather trousers without a seat, over their pants to protect their legs from thorns.’
  2. Authors also provide restatements of information, typically using a more common vocabulary.  For instance, ‘The soldiers looked haggard after the long march from Fredericksburg.  General hooker decided that these soldiers were too tired to begin an assault that day.’
  3. Another strategy authors use is to provide a contrasting, but more common word to help explain the new word: ‘ General Lee was fastidious about his personal appearance, but General Grant was something of a slob.’  Here students need to notice but, a signal for the contrast.
  4. Finally authors provide gist clues to help with unknown words.  Readers have to use the sense of the passage and their prior knowledge to figure out new word meanings.  For example, ‘They had marched on dirt roads for three days straight with the sun, the hot July sun, beating down on them.  Each man was carrying not only his weapons but supplies as well.  This 60 pounds of extra weight made the marching even more difficult.  And this arduous journey was not yet over. . . . Here, the reader has to put together a variety of pieces of information–the heat of the summer sun, the dirt roads, the weight of the baggage each carried . . . in order to infer the meaning of arduous” (2012, p. 138-9)

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