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Context Clues

Why Use Context Clues

How many times have you read something in a book or some other text and came across a word whose meaning you did not know? Did you become frustrated? Did you skip over the word? Did you try to determine the meaning of the word?

Good readers use clues to determine meaning of unknown/unfamiliar words. Using context clues is a means of determining meaning of unfamiliar words. There are specific strategies that can help you attack these new words, understand what you read, and thus, become a better reader.

What are Context Clues

Textbook authors want you to understand what they have written. When they
use words that they think might be unfamiliar to the reader, they often help the
reader by providing context clues. Context clues are words in a sentence or paragraph
that help the reader deduce (reason out) the meaning of an unfamiliar word.
Such clues are called “context” clues because context refers to the setting in which
something occurs. In this case, it refers to the rest of the sentence and the paragraph
in which the unfamiliar word appears.

There are four types of context clues.

Type 1: Examples

With examples, the author will give you specific examples that explain the word you may not be familiar with. Look for words such as for instance, such as, and including.

Example: Raul is a lenient father. For instance, he lets his daughter stay up late and she can eat all the candy she wants.

In the example above, there are key clues to help you determine the meaning of the word lenient. First, the words for instance give you a hint that specific examples are going to be given for the word. Secondly, you are given the examples of Raul allowing his daughter to do as she pleases. She can stay up late and do whatever she wants. Therefore, we can determine that by being lenient Raul is easy-going or not strict.

Type 2: Synonyms

With synonyms you may encounter an unfamiliar word where the author assists you with the word by giving you a synonym for the word. Synonyms are words that mean the same.

Example: We thought that the mother would be very distraught or sad at hearing of her husband's accident; however, she took the news quite calmly.

In the example above, there is one key clue that helps you determine the meaning of the unknown word. The words "or sad" inform you that sad can be easily exchanged for the word distraught . Examples such as these are typically very easy for readers since a more familiar word or synonym, one in your vocabulary, may be given to help you understand the meaning of an unfamiliar word.

Type 3: Antonyms

Antonyms are words that mean the opposite. At times, an author may give you an unfamiliar word and you must figure the meaning by observing clues that mean the opposite of the given word.

Example: She thought her husband would like her new haircut, but he loathed it.

The word but is what lets you know that the author is going to tell you something that is the "opposite" of what has been stated. The wife thought one way BUT what she thought was NOT the case. She thought he liked the hair cut BUT he loathed it. This means that loathe is the opposite of like . Therefore, he did not like the haircut.

Type 4: General Sense

Many times, you have to understand what the situation of the sentence or passage is in order to define an unknown word. This is when you are using general sense as a context clue.

Example: During those first bewildering weeks, the thoughts of a college freshman drift back to high school where he was “in,” knew everyone, and felt at home. A feeling of nostalgia sweeps over him.

In order to determine the meaning of the word nostalgia, you need to understand the situation of the person in the sentence. He is thinking about high school when he was popluar and knew everyone. The idea of reflecting on that time in his life leads to the idea of nostalgia being a time where people reminisce or think back on a particular situation.

Often, general sense context clues are most difficult. You truly have to piece together information based on what you are told to determine the meaning of the unknown word.

Context Clues Practice

Example 1: The department store carries a variety of breeches; for example, they carried Levis, Wranglers, and even some plain unlabeled brands made of cotton.

Based on what you have read, what are breeches? Is this an example, synonym, antonym, or general sense context clue?

Example 2: The river was full of noxious, very poisonous materials.

Based on what you have read, what are breeches? Is this an example, synonym, antonym, or general sense context clue?

Example 3: She walked away from her closet and quickly slipped a jersey over her head. She smoothed it into place over her hips, added a belt, glanced at the mirror, and left for

Based on what you have read, what are breeches? Is this an example, synonym, antonym, or general sense context clue?

Context Clues Video


You should have viewed the wiki above that explains the 4 types of context clues.
You should have viewed the video above on context clues.

At the end of the video, there are 4 practice questions called a mini quiz. You are given the answers to the questions.

For your assignment, you must explain what clues help you know the meaning of the words from the mini-quiz. Submit your answers via www.engrade.com in the turn ins section.

For example, let's say this is your sentence from the mini-quiz

The students' tomfoolery caused the teacher to yell and call the office for the principal. She just couldn't take it anymore.

Tomfoolery means playfulness or misbehavior.

For your assignment, you would say this: The clues for the meaning of the word tomfoolery come from the fact that the students were doing something that made the teacher yell and call for the principal. We were also told that the teacher could not take it anymore. All of this lets you know the students must have been doing something that was wrong or bad. They were obviously misbehaving.

Remember, there are 4 mini-quiz questions. You must explain what the clues are in EACH of the 4 questions. You will receive a grade for this. Late assignments will automatically receive a 20 point deduction.