Context Clues Lesson for Kids: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Jeremy Cook

I have been teaching elementary school for 16 years. I have extensive experience in lesson and curriculum development and educational technology.

Have you ever been reading and come to a word you don't know, but somehow you still understood what the sentence was talking about? If you have, you've used context clues to figure it out. This lesson will teach you what context clues are and how to use them to understand what you're reading.

Let's Figure It Out

There are many times that we come across a word that we either cannot pronounce or do not know the meaning of. When this happens, the first thing that we try to do is to figure it out using context clues. Context clues are when you look at the words that come before and after a word you are unfamiliar with in order to try to understand the meaning.

Context clues can come in a few forms.

  • There can be an example of the word given in the sentence.
  • There can be a synonym of the word, which means another word with the same or similar meaning.
  • There can also be an explanation of the word in the sentence.

Context clues take some detective work
Book Clues

Using Context Clues

Sometimes when you use context clues, it happens without even thinking about it. Your brain uses the clues, and you just understand the sentence without knowing the meaning of every word. But sometimes you have to stop and think. Let's look at an example of how we can use context clues.

For this example, we are going to use a fake word. The fake word is 'flibbit'. If I were to write the sentence:

  • My flibbit barked all night and kept the family awake.

Do you know what the word 'flibbit' means? I would guess that you could quickly figure out that a 'flibbit' is a dog in this case. Since dogs are the only animal around a family that barks, it would make sense that a 'flibbit' in this sentence would mean a dog.

The word bark in the sentence helped us see that it was a dog.
Dog yard

Sometimes the sentence that contains the unknown word is too short to use the words around the unknown word as context clues. When that happens, we can simply try using the sentences that come before or after the sentence with the unknown word to see if they can help us. Look at the three sentences below.

  • I stared and frowned at my plate. I 'loathed' peas with a passion. I hate them because they make my stomach feel sick.

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