Teaching Vocabulary in Context

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Universal Grammar Theory: Definition & Examples

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
 Replay
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:02 Why Context Matters
  • 1:15 Finding Clues in Sentences
  • 2:25 Making Connections
  • 3:41 Interactive Strategies
  • 5:09 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Timeline
Autoplay
Autoplay
Speed Speed Audio mode

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor
Ryan Hultzman
Expert Contributor
Sasha Blakeley

Sasha Blakeley has a Bachelor's in English Literature from McGill University. She has been teaching English in Canada and Taiwan for six years.

Learning vocabulary in context helps people make connections for better comprehension. We'll look at a variety of learning strategies that can help students understand and incorporate new words effectively. After the lesson, test your new knowledge with our quiz questions!

Why Context Matters

Imagine yourself facing forward, repeatedly bending your knees, and then jumping as you extend your arms, pushing upward at a 45 degree angle. This might seem to be a pointless exercise until you are handed a basketball and learn that this motion prepares you to make foul shots and earn your team points.

Or, imagine yourself viewing a screen on which a woman has tears streaming down her face. You would likely wonder why she is crying. Are her tears from the loss of someone? Are they tears of joy or relief? Is she in physical pain? Until you see the full situation that explains her tears, you do not understand the reason for them.

As these examples show, a person's limited knowledge prevents one from fully understanding how a single aspect of the situation functions within the framework of the scene. Likewise, learning vocabulary words outside of the context in which they are used prevents a person from fully understanding how the word functions within the framework of our language. To best understand a word, knowing its context, or circumstances, is key.

Finding Clues in Sentences

When determining the meaning of an unfamiliar word, it is often helpful to see the word used in a sentence and to find clues within the sentence that suggest the word's meaning. For example, consider this sentence:

The radiance of the electric light display almost blinded the audience.

To determine the meaning of the word 'radiance,' one can identify other words such as 'electric,' 'light,' and 'blinded' as clues. Considering the word's part of speech, a noun, also helps to determine meaning.

Avid reading is probably one of the larger determinants of vocabulary success. The more often you see a word in context, the more likely the word will find its way into your internal lexicon. Based on the context of the previous sentence, can you determine the meaning of 'lexicon?' If you thought 'dictionary' or 'word list,' that is correct. As people build up their vocabulary banks, they will encounter many unknown words, so to help make those meanings stick, there are some key methods for successful comprehension and retention.

Making Connections

A crucial tactic in effectively learning vocabulary is finding a personal, relevant connection to words. When people can make a clear link between a word's definition and something familiar to themselves, they will be able to remember and use the word more readily.

Take the word 'ambivalent.' It means 'undecided' or 'unsure.' To remember this meaning, you could connect the first syllable to another word with the same first syllable, i.e., Amherst, Massachusetts. Making the connection that your friend was ambivalent about accepting a job in Amherst would help you recall the word even when it was used in a different context.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Additional Activities

Create Your Own Vocabulary Challenge

Now that you've completed this lesson, you have plenty of strategies for absorbing and understanding new vocabulary words. These strategies are applicable no matter what context you're learning in; whether you're learning English as a second language, studying for the SATs, trying to learn new vocabulary for your biology test, or even learning a new language besides English. For this assignment, you can use any vocabulary lists that you're currently working on, or if you want a challenge, choose a few words from this list of SAT vocabulary: https://www.vocabulary.com/lists/191545

Reflect

Now that you have a list of words to learn, what kinds of strategies do you want to use? Remember the list of interactive methods listed in this lesson. You can also expand that list by considering your own learning style. Would it be helpful for you to incorporate games into your learning? What about discussing words with a partner?

Develop

Using your list of words and your chosen strategies for introducing context, create a vocabulary challenge for yourself. That might look like a list of words that you have to put into sentences or define in your own words, or maybe a set of words that you have to use in an essay. Maybe you will pull words out of a hat and use mnemonic devices to remember the context for the words, and then draw visual representations of each one. Get creative! Use whatever strategies help you to learn.

Test

Now that you have prepared the challenge, try it out! Have a classmate or parent quiz you on the definitions of some of the words you've learned. Which strategies worked for you, and which ones didn't? Use your new understanding of vocabulary-building exercises and the importance of context to your learning in the future.

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account
Support