Help students independently investigate and interpret unfamiliar words using context clues.
When it comes to reading, one of the most significant challenges students face is vocabulary. If students come across a word they don’t know while reading, it can have a substantial impact on their comprehension and their confidence. I witnessed this as a classroom teacher, and I’ve heard it from many of the teachers I now coach.
Searching for clues
One of my most tried and true strategies, which I used in my own classroom as an elementary teacher, and one I continue to offer to teachers, involves encouraging students to read texts like a detective who is searching for clues. Asking them to engage in this way encourages students to look for clues that can help unlock meaning, offer insights, and assist them in interpreting unknown words.
But these clues — often referred to as context clues — go beyond the language immediately surrounding unknown words. Clues might be found in the paragraph before or after an unknown word or phrase. Sometimes there are clues in the text features, including pictures, visuals, captions, or word boxes. We need to support students in treating the whole text as a series of clues that can help them become familiar with specific vocabulary words as they read independently.
Monitoring for meaning
Our Monitoring for Meaning resource can support students with this process, particularly when it comes to identifying and investigating difficult words. It offers a helpful template that prompts students to:
This resource asks them to use their best guess and then either confirm or revise their thinking after using a dictionary. Furthermore, it prompts students to lean on their prior knowledge to help decipher new words.
Literacy teachers have the demanding and important task of teaching reading, and while there is no single strategy that can guarantee success, encouraging curiosity and investigation while reading is a high leverage way to support students in becoming competent, confident readers.