Context Clues Games for 3rd Grade

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Learning to understand the meaning of words from context clues is so important for being able to build vocabulary. This lesson gives you some ideas of games you can play with your third graders to teach them context clues.

Why Context Clues Games?

Many third graders are in the process of expanding their vocabulary, or their repertoire of known words. Sometimes, it can help to simply teach students vocabulary words, but other times, it is more important to give them strategies for developing vocabulary on their own. One great way to develop vocabulary is through the use of context clues, or hints in a sentence, paragraph or story that help a student understand what an unknown word means. When children know how to use context clues, they can learn new words without being instructed in them explicitly, and their reading comprehension also becomes more advanced and independent. The games in this lesson are designed to teach students to use context clues in their own speaking, reading and writing.

Speaking Games

In spoken language, it can be hard to figure out new vocabulary words without some good strategies. These games show children that conversation is an important part of vocabulary development, and they can figure out new words from paying attention to important clues even when the words seem beyond their level.


What kid doesn't love listening in on grown-up conversations? To play this game, you will want to play students a brief audio clip of two or three adults in conversation. Make sure the clip involves at least three potentially unknown words. Team students up and ask them to use the context of the conversation to try to figure out the mystery words, then share with the rest of the class.


Pair your students into partnerships and give each partner an index card with one new word as well as its definition. The partners should not show one another the card they are holding. Instruct the partners to have casual conversations but incorporate their own new word into the dialogue. The partners should try to guess the meaning of the unknown word based on the clues their partner provides via the context of the chat. After five minutes, they should share their words and their guesses. When they are comfortable with these words, you can give them new ones to try.

Shout It Out

In this game, students get a chance to use outdoor voices to work with context clues. This works best when students have a list of 10-20 new words, such as content area vocabulary or words related to a story they will be reading. One student gets to stand in front of the class and describe one of the vocabulary words using only context clues but not the word itself. Students may shout out their guesses as to which word it is. The student who is first to correctly shout the word then gets to come to the front.

Reading and Writing Games

Context clues can also help students with reading and writing. These games will engage students in the new vocabulary they encounter as they develop in literacy.

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