Context Clues Activities

Instructor: Bethany Calderwood

Bethany has taught special education in grades PK-5 and has a master's degree in special education.

These activities help upper elementary or middle school students practice using context clues to discover the meanings of words. Activities address both reading and writing context clues and can be adapted for group or individual work.

Using Context Clues

Reading comprehension is a complex ability that will serve students for their entire lives. There are many skills we can teach students to build up their reading comprehension, and one such skill is using context clues. Carefully reading a text and using context clues to determine the meaning of an unfamiliar word takes practice. These practice activities work for upper elementary or middle school classes, depending on the materials you select.

Activity: Modified Balderdash

Objective: Use context clues to determine the meaning of unfamiliar words.

Materials: Index cards with each containing an unfamiliar word used in several sentences as well as the definition of the word

  • Pick an index card and write the unfamiliar word on the board, then read the sentences that go with that word.
  • Have each student write a definition for the word.
  • Then, one at a time, have each student read their definition aloud.
  • If the other students feel that that definition is correct, they should write that student's name on their paper.
    • As students continue to take turns reading their definitions, the other students can change their mind about which one they think is correct, but at the end, they can only have one choice
  • After everyone has read their definitions, students vote for which definition they believe is the correct one.
    • You can keep a tally on the board.
  • Reveal the answer. Students get a point if they chose the right definition and a point if someone voted for their definition.
  • Talk about which context clues in the sentences pointed toward the word's true definition.
  • Repeat as time allows - this game could be played for a block of time or used one word at a time as a filler activity between other lessons and events.

Activity: Word Detectives

Objective: Use context clues to determine the meaning of unfamiliar words.

Materials: Excerpts from articles or short stories containing unfamiliar words, highlighters or colored pencils, dictionaries

  • For this activity, allow students to work individually or in small groups.
  • Give each group copies of a different article excerpt or short story. At the top of the copy, write an unfamiliar word.
  • Groups read their article or short story.
  • First, groups find and highlight the unfamiliar word they were given.
  • Next, groups highlight any context clues that give them hints to the word's meaning.
  • Third, groups write a possible definition based on the context clues they found.
  • Finally, allow groups to check a dictionary to compare their definition hypothesis with the dictionary definition.
  • Optional: Groups share their words and meanings with the class.

Activity: Writing Context Clues

Objective: Create context clues to help others determine the meaning of a new word.

Materials: Dictionaries or individual index cards with an unfamiliar word and its definition

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