Cueing Systems: Graphic, Syntactic & Semantic

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  • 0:00 Cues
  • 0:40 Graphic Cues
  • 1:47 Syntactic Cues
  • 3:24 Semantic Cues
  • 4:32 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

What happens when you're reading, and you come across an unfamiliar word? In this lesson, we'll explore the three major cueing systems for reading: graphic, syntactic, and semantic. We'll also discuss activities to teach each system.


Hilary is learning to read, and she is struggling. The problem is that sometimes she'll be reading along just fine, and then bam! She runs into a word that she doesn't know. Hilary's teacher is trying to teach Hilary cues, or clues that help a student figure out what a word means. That way, when Hilary comes across a word she doesn't know it's not a big deal. She'll be able to figure out the word and move on.

Let's look at the three main types of cues - graphic, syntactic, and semantic - and how Hilary's teacher might choose to teach each one.

Graphic Cues

When Hilary reads, she picks up a book and looks at the words on the page. She knows what most of the words mean just by looking at them.

Graphic cueing involves using visual clues to figure a word out. For example, if Hilary runs into a word that she doesn't know, she can look at the letters that make it up. She knows that certain letters represent sounds, so she can then sound the word out. In this process, Hilary is using the visual clues of letters to help her figure out the word.

There are many things Hilary's teacher can do to help Hilary with graphic cueing. When Hilary sounds out a word or guesses its meaning based on how it looks, her teacher can ask her, 'Does that look right?' If Hilary says that the word is 'hot,' even though it's spelled h-a-t, then her teacher can ask if h-a-t looks like the word 'hot.' She's getting Hilary to ask herself about visual clues.

Other things that Hilary's teacher can do to promote graphic cueing include working on phonics, root words, syllables, and punctuation. All of these things can help Hilary read visually.

Syntactic Cues

Graphic cueing isn't the only reading strategy that Hilary can use when trying to figure out a word, though. Sometimes when she's reading, Hilary guesses a word that doesn't really fit into the sentence. For example, she might guess a noun when a verb is needed in the sentence.

Syntactic cueing involves using structural clues to figure a word out. By structural, I mean the basic structure of a sentence. Sentence structure is sometimes called syntax, so this cueing is syntactic.

For example, if Hilary is reading a sentence and she mistakes the word 'hat' for 'hot,' she might read the sentence, 'Jerome put on a purple hot.' That doesn't make sense. In that sentence, Hilary needs a noun, but she's chosen an adjective.

To help Hilary with syntactic cueing, her teacher might want to ask her, 'Does that sound right?' We are trained to hear abnormalities in structure, even though we can't always explain them. For example, Hilary might not be able to say that she needs a noun instead of an adjective, but she knows that something is off in the sentence structure when she reads that Jerome puts on a purple 'hot.'

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