When you read new material, you might find words you don't recognize. You won't always want to use a dictionary. Did you know you can also use context to help you learn the meaning of a new word? Find out more in this lesson.
Reading a Challenging Book
Let's say your friend Melissa loves to read. Over summer vacation, her teacher tells her to read a book that's challenging to her. Melissa picks an exciting science fiction book, and she can't wait to read about far-away planets, aliens, and spaceships. When she looks at the first chapter, she sees some words she doesn't understand. So, how will she read this book? Let's look with Melissa at a strategy for recognizing and understanding new words.
Context Clues: Word Recognition
When Melissa sees a new word, she can use the context to help her figure it out. Context means the words and phrases surrounding a word. One way to use context is to recognize a word that you've never seen in print before. Not all words look the way they sound.
Let's look at an example from Melissa's book.
- When she became an astronaut, Ella was given several psychological tests to determine how her mind might be affected by the stress and loneliness of outer space.
Melissa sees the word ''psychological,'' and at first, she doesn't know what the word means off the top of her head. It reminds her of the word ''physical,'' but Melissa knows that physical has to do with the body and the sentence is talking about the mind. Then Melissa remembers that she has heard the word ''psychological'' before, when her aunt went to a psychologist to talk about the stress she was feeling about her job. This sentence also mentions stress. Melissa uses the context, the words surrounding the unknown word, to help her realize that the word is ''psychological'' and to make a connection with a time she has heard the word before.
- Ella's first job to prepare for the mission was to inventory the supplies that were already on the spaceship.
Melissa reads this sentence and guesses that the word is either ''inventory,'' meaning 'to count,' or ''invent,'' meaning 'to create something new.' She decides that in this context, the word must be ''inventory,'' since Ella counting supplies would make the most sense.
Context Clues: Understanding Words
Another way to use context is when you find a word you have never seen or heard before. Sometimes you can guess what the word might mean by looking at its context. Let's see what else happened in Melissa's book.
- After days of traveling through the endless dark of space, Ella was shocked to look out the window and see a luminous star.
Melissa knows she has never seen or heard the word ''luminous'' before. When this happens, it is a good idea to re-read the sentence. In this sentence, there seems to be a contrast; it was dark, so Ella was surprised to see something different. ''Luminous'' must be different from ''dark.'' Melissa also notices that ''luminous'' is describing a star. Melissa correctly guesses that ''luminous'' is a word that means ''light or bright.''
- Ella hated the food on the spaceship. It was bland, and there was no variety. She missed the spicy, tasty food her mother used to cook.
''Bland'' is another word Melissa doesn't know. But using the context, she sees that ''bland'' must be the opposite of spicy and tasty. She correctly guesses that ''bland'' means 'flavorless and dull.'
All right, let's take a moment to review what we've learned. When you read an unfamiliar word, you can use context, or the surrounding words and phrases, to help you. Context clues can help you recognize a word you haven't seen in print before as well as help you figure out the meaning of a new word. This means that, even if you've never seen a word before in your life, you could probably figure out what it means by looking at the other words surrounding it and putting the pieces together based on what the entire sentence is saying.