Using Context for Word Recognition & Understanding: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Bethany Calderwood

Bethany has taught special education in grades PK-5 and has a master's degree in special education.

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? Read this lesson to find out more.

Reading a Challenging Book

Melissa loves to read. Over vacation, her teacher told her to read a book that is challenging. Melissa picked 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. How will she read this book?

Let's look with Melissa at a strategy for recognizing and understanding new words.

context

Using Context Clues for 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 have 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 the word. 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 her stress. 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.

Using Context Clues for Understanding New 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 travelling through the endless dark of space, Ella was shocked to look out the window and see a luminous star.

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