Examples of Context Clues

Lesson Plan: Examples of Context Clues

Remember when you asked your eighth grade teacher what a word meant and she inevitably answered, “look it up in the dictionary.” What I didn’t realize was “look it up in the dictionary” was code for “I don’t know what the word means either, so I’ll save face by making an appeal to the dictionary.”

A more appropriate response would have been “Gee, let’s use context. First we’ll examine the different types of context clues. After looking at examples of context clues in context (followed by a slight chuckle acknowledging the pun), we can apply it to what you’re reading and figure out what the word means.” Not only would that have sent a powerful message on the importance of context clues, it would have motivated me to look the word up in a dictionary next time.

Here are the types of context clues my teacher should have bored me with.

ELA Common Core Standards

Since you came here looking for ELA Common Core Standards lesson plans I thought I could at least provide the ELA Common Core Standards covered by this lesson.

  • L.9-10.3 Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.
  • L.9-10.4 Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grades 9-10 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies. Use context (e.g., the overall meaning of a sentence, paragraph, or text; a word’s position or function in a sentence) as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase.
  • L.9-10.4d  Verify the preliminary determination of the meaning of a word or phrase (e.g., by checking the inferred meaning in context or in a dictionary).
  • L.9-10.5b  Analyze nuances in the meaning of words with similar denotations.

Examples of Context Clues: Definition and Restatement

Sometimes a writer will directly define a word that is probably unfamiliar to the reader. For example, the following sentence contains the word (isn’t it amazing how you can never think of a word when you’re writing a silly little example. Of the 10,000 words in the English language, it took me seven minutes to think of… encomienda.

  • Spanish noblemen lived in large estates called encomiendas, or
  • Spanish noblemen lived in encomiendas, estates given to Spaniards in the new world beginning in 1503.

Writers don’t always state the definition directly. Often he or she will restate the word in a less precise form with other types of context clues mixed in.

  • Juan de Valdez de Ortega de Ramone governed his large estate magnanimously from the third floor of his mansion as natives worked the fields and scrubbed the high walls. His encomienda was the cleanest in the country.

Words signaling definition or restatement include or, which is, that is, in other words, also known as, also called.

Examples of Context Clues: Example and Comparison

Writers often provide examples that unlock the meaning of an unfamiliar word. The following sentence contains the word infamous followed by several examples of infamous people.

  • Comparing Barry Bonds to infamous figures such as Al Capone, Benito Mussolini, Sadaam Hussein, and Art Modell is a bit extreme, don’t you think? All he did was cheat in a baseball game.

Words signaling examples include like, for instance, this, including, such as, other, these include, for example, these, especially.

Another type of clue is comparison. Writers often place difficult words with other, more familiar words. By noting similarities between words described unlocks word meaning. The following sentence uses my favorite word, troglodyte. Its association with like words make it’s meaning easy to infer.

  • Whether you call him a caveman, troglodyte, neanderthal, or barbarian, I don’t care. Just don’t call him on my phone.

Words signaling comparison include like, resembling, also, identical, related, similar to, in the same way, as, likewise.

*I strongly recommend teaching context clues using the context clues challenge lesson plan. This is easily the most effective method I’ve seen for context clue instruction.

Lesson Ideas

Use these lesson ideas for teaching context clues.   

  • Make identifying the type of context clue part of the context clues challenge.
  • Instruct students to write new vocabulary words with different types of context clues.
  • Have students identify types of context clues on standardized tests.

Not all clues are as obvious as the ones we’ve discussed, nor can they be tested with simple questions. Often, readers must read more than just the sentence or two surrounding the word. Sometimes a group of words several sentences away may unlock the meaning. Sometimes the supporting details in a paragraph must be examined together to help the reader infer the meaning of a particular word. This is called inference from general context.

A continuation of this lesson can be found by clicking on Examples of Context Clues a few inches below.

Context Clues and Other Lessons

There are many ways of teaching vocabulary that don’t involve a dictionary.

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