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Strategy #2: Reading context clues

Using the context that surrounds an unknown word helps to reveal its meaning and therefore increases reading comprehension. While strong readers will often unknowingly use context clues to determine meaning, struggling readers may overlook or be unable to recognize them. Context clues are not always in the same sentence, so the good word sleuth needs to be patient and examine several sentences in the same paragraph in order to ferret out the unknown word's meaning. Here are some of the more common context clues:

blue=context clues   red=unknown word

1. Definition Clues: The unknown word is defined by other words in the sentence or in a nearby sentence.
Example: Female deer, or does, seldom give birth to more than two fawns at one time.
2. Synonym Clues: The unknown word is defined by nearby synonym(s).
Example: Rude, sometimes even churlish, Phil was unpleasant to be around because of his mean-spirited complaints.
3. Comparison Clues: A comparison is presented which reveals the meaning of the unknown word.
Example: Like frenzied locusts,the ravenous bargain hunters swarmed into the mall the day after Christmas, tussling over clothes, gadgets, ornaments, decorations and mismatched items, all of them hungry for the cheapest and the best, duking it out for the title of most frugal.
4. Contrast Clues: A contrast is presented which reveals the meaning of the unknown word.
Example: "You might think this had happened in the 1970's when the idea was still relatively new to those teaching in the profession. Or that those professors were 'old fogies' who were trained under an antiquated system. Anyway, so they were against new ideas. What would you say if I told you that this happened to me in 1989? The surprising thing was that the two most vocal opponents to the proposal were relatively new and young professors, so even the old fogies excuse cannot be applied" (p.27).

Passage from Mio, J. S., Barker-Hacket, L., Tumambig, J. (2005). Multicultural psychology. St Louis, MO: McGraw-Hill.

5. Example Clues: The unknown word is defined by examples or instances. Example: In older versions of fairy tales, many of which were designed to frighten children out of misbehaving, horrific atrocities awaited people and animals who were "bad"--beheadings, drownings, scaldings, being cut open or boiled alive, and the abduction, abandonment, bewitchment, imprisonment, attacks upon, and even implied murder of small children.