Context Clues in Writing and Reading

Context Clues in Writing and Reading
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College-Writers blog provides bountiful information and practical tips to improve students’ skills in academic writing. In this article, we’ll walk through the context clues in writing and reading.

All teachers like assignments that allow them to ask students to use two skills instead of one. Teachers also like efficiency and contextual solutions. Context clues allow students to develop a useful skill that can make their writing more clear. In addition, students get an opportunity to make their reading more comprehensive.

Reading and writing are in a strong relationship. Context clues strategies allow students to expand their vocabulary and to learn how to use the new words properly. Having a good vocabulary makes reading easier and allows students to write more coherent and solid papers.

In reading, the understanding of context clues allows students to better understand the meaning of the material, even if there are many unknown words. Students can learn different text formats, types of tone and mood, grammatical constructions, logic, etc. In writing, context clues allow students to make their technical papers easier to read.

Some teachers state that a context clue is a structural analysis of a certain word. This type of analysis relies on morphemes — word parts that have crucial meaning (e.g. Latinates, Greek), as well as inflections, syllabication, and other things that allow students to understand what the unknown word means. Many teachers also underline the importance of outside hints that allow students to learn more about the context of the word.

Perhaps, now everyone wants to learn more about context clues, and how to use them in both writing and reading. What do students have to do to learn context clues strategies? Many students think that all they need is just a regular dictionary. The truth is that a dictionary is a useful tool if you need to look up some unfamiliar word, and the dictionary is crucial for the understanding of any reading. However, this tool is not always a good choice when writing.

Students can benefit from learning context clues strategies because they can master them quickly and apply them in different situations. Here is a step-by-step strategy for reading and writing which is very flexible and will be appreciated by different students.

  • Stop reading a sentence and see how the unknown word fits in it.
  • Read this word out loud. Sometimes, you may better understand words when you read them out loud.
  • Break the word into syllables and examine each particular syllable.
  • Read the first part of the sentence, which ends with the unknown word. This part of the sentence may have a hint on the meaning of the word.
  • Read the second part of the sentence, which starts with the unknown word. Sometimes, the following words may explain the word or provide an example.
  • Try to figure out what part of speech this word is. Look at the grammatical relationship between this word and other words in the sentence.
  • Try to find a synonym to the unknown word that would fit the sentence and its context. In a text, synonyms often follow each other, being separated with commas.
  • Sometimes it’s easier to figure out what some word means by thinking of its antonym. You can also look for antonym clues — they often contain such words as “but,” “however,” “in contrast.”
  • Your overall understanding of the context and the text structure can help you understand the meaning of a certain word. Look for logical clues in the text.
  • Look for examples that may explain the meaning of the word. They often include such words as “like,” “for example,” “for instance,” etc. These words serve as signal words.

When Is It Better Not To Use Context Clues?

If you want to guess the meaning or pronunciation of Tier I words, which don’t belong to academic English and are used in conversations only, context clues may not help you. Students should be able to use phonics (the alphabetic code), conventional spelling rules, and syllabication. Context clues also shouldn’t be used for word recognition and word identification in “psycholinguistic guessing games.”

The problem of using context clues is addressed in Kylene Beers’ books. For example, this author states that not all readers are able to remain the necessary level of interaction with the text to use context clues correctly.

Mark Pennington, the author of Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits, wrote many works on students’ reading abilities. He is also the author of Teaching Reading Strategies. This is a reading intervention curriculum. It is easy to adapt to various settings. This curriculum is a great choice for Response to Intervention because it provides a multiple-choice evaluation of spelling and reading. In addition, this curriculum includes phonemic awareness activities, phonics workshops, syllabication and blending, spelling pattern worksheets, fluency passages, various games, vocabulary cards, posters, etc.

We also suggest familiarizing yourself with Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. There are eBooks, printed, and digital versions intended for teenagers. There are 54 books, each of which is devoted to a certain instructional sequence from Teaching Reading Strategies. These books are also aimed to train spelling patterns and include comprehension questions. Your students will certainly appreciate fun stories from these books about three friends and their dog.

Many teachers will also agree that it makes sense to combine both programs at the same time, especially when dealing with struggling readers. Such an approach will be a good solution if some students read below current grade level, as well as in the case of a response to intervention programs, ESL, ELD, ELL, and when working with special education students. Properly chosen activities, YouTube videos, and simple guidelines will make this curriculum effective even when working with completely unprepared students. You can also choose a full-year program or an intensive program that takes 6 months.

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