Context Clues: Fun Lesson Plan to Grow Vocabulary

It's important for upper elementary students to learn how to decipher what unfamiliar words mean when they're exposed to new terminology in books or other materials they are reading. Use this context clues lesson plan to help your students discover how to do just that.

student working on context clues lesson plan student working on context clues lesson plan

Context Clues Lesson Plan Objective

As a result of completing this lesson, students will be able to identify four types of context clues. They will also be able to use context clues as a tool to determine the meaning of new vocabulary terms.

Discussion: Introducing Context Clues

Explain that context clues are information provided in text that can help readers decode what unfamiliar words mean.

  1. Explain to students that there are four types of context clues.
  2. List the four types (below) on the board, then lead a discussion about each one, with your goal being to clearly define each one, with student input.
  3. Note that there are suggestions to gamify the discussion surrounding each type of context clue to help improve learner engagement and interest.
  4. Write correct definitions and examples of each type of context clue on the board for students to put in their notes.

Synonym Context Clues

Tell students that synonyms are the first type of context clue. Ask students what a synonym is, providing feedback and following up with questions to get the correct answer. When students specify that a synonym is a word with the same meaning as another word, discuss how synonyms can serve as context clues.

  1. Write the definition on the board: A sentence has synonym context clues when it contains a word (or multiple words) that mean the same thing as an unfamiliar term.
  2. Write an example of a sentence that uses this type of context clue on the board. For example, "She was in a melancholy state of mind; she felt so sad and down."
  3. In this example, "melancholy" may be an unfamiliar term; the synonyms are "sad" and "down." Discuss how someone who knows what "sad" and "down" mean can use that information to infer the meaning of "melancholy."
  4. Repeat with another example that will allow students to come up with more fun and upbeat synonyms. Write something like "He was overjoyed;" then ask students to work in pairs to come up with synonym context clues that could be used to clarify "overjoyed" to readers. Have students write their suggestions on the board, then have the class vote on their favorites.
  5. Use more examples of synonyms to illustrate the point; provide students with a word that readers might not know and ask them to brainstorm synonyms that could be used with it as context clues.

Antonym Context Clues

Share with students that context clues can also be antonyms. Ask students what an antonym is, again leading a discussion to get to the correct answer. When students indicate that antonyms are words with opposite meanings, discuss how antonyms can provide context clues to unfamiliar terms.

  1. Write the definition on the board: A sentence with antonym context clues has words that clearly mean the opposite of the unknown word in the sentence
  2. Provide an example of a sentence with an antonym context clue. For example, "My sister is such a nuisance, but my brother is a joy to spend time with."
  3. Here, "nuisance" may be an unfamiliar term. Because "joy" comes after "but" to describe a different person, you can infer that "nuisance" means the opposite of "joy." Discuss what this can be used to determine the meaning of "nuisance" in this sentence.
  4. Call out words and ask students to brainstorm antonyms for them. Write the word and the antonyms students come up with on the board. After a good selection of words and their antonyms are written on the board, have students work in pairs or small groups to write sentences featuring context clues. Ask students to read their favorite sentence out of what they came up with to the class.
  5. Share additional examples of antonyms to help students understand.

Example Context Clues

Explain that synonyms and antonyms aren't the only types of context clues. Let students know that writers often provide examples as context clues to help readers figure out the meaning of a term that isn't familiar to them.

  1. Write the definition on the board: A sentence with example context clues includes specific examples that clarify the meaning of an unfamiliar term.
  2. Write a sentence with an example context clue on the board. For example, "This book includes a lot of figurative language, such as metaphors and symbolism."
  3. In the example, "figurative language" is an unfamiliar term that students will likely recognize and understand in the context of the examples listed ("metaphor," and "symbolism").
  4. If the figurative language is a bit advanced for your class, consider substituting examples of homophones, with a few word pairs as examples.
  5. Ask students to think of words they have studied that would be easier to understand if paired with examples. If they need a prompt to get started, use terms that they have studied in science or social studies, like mammals or states. Then, have them make a list of as many examples of each as they can think of in 5 minutes. Award stickers or other small prizes to everyone who comes up with at least 5 examples of each, or to the student with the most examples.

Explanation Context Clues

Share that writers sometimes directly explain unfamiliar words rather than using synonyms, antonyms or examples as context clues. This is most common when the writer knows that the intended audience isn't likely to know the meaning of a certain word, such as a technical or scientific term, jargon or words beyond readers' grade level.

  1. Write the definition on the board: With explanation context clues, the unfamiliar word is explained in the sentence.
  2. Give an example of a sentence with an explanation context cue. For example, "The writing award is very prestigious; it is a great and rare honor to receive such a high award."
  3. In this sentence, the unfamiliar word is "prestigious." The sentence could have ended after that word, but the writer goes on to explain the meaning of "prestigious" by describing the award as "a great and rare honor" and a "high award."
  4. Assign students to read a magazine or newspaper article and circle words that they are uncertain of. Lead a class discussion in which the meanings of the identified terms are discussed, then assign students to work in pairs to rewrite the sentence in which the word appeared to also include an explanation of the term. Have students share their sentences with the class. Ask students to vote on which ones are the most helpful to readers, awarding 1st, 2nd and 3rd place ribbons or stickers.
  5. You may find it helpful to provide students with additional ways to define what explanation means.

Lesson Plan Activity: Context Clues Video

Once you have thoroughly covered context clues and addressed any questions your students might have, it's time to reinforce student learning. Use this quick, age-appropriate video to provide multimedia reinforcement. The video lasts just under four minutes long.

Video Discussion and Brainstorming

Once students have watched the video, lead a discussion and brainstorm.

  1. Ask students what they learned from the video and discuss as a group.
  2. Encourage students to share unfamiliar words they've seen in books or movies.
  3. Have the students brainstorm ways to provide appropriate context clues for those terms.
  4. Let students select a few of the unfamiliar words they came up with as a group, then have students work in pairs to write sentences that feature context clues.
  5. Have them share what they come up with, either in small group discussions or with the overall class.
  6. Have students vote on the best sentences in categories (such as most creative, easiest to understand, best explanation, and similar).

Lesson Plan Activity: Identifying Context Clues

Assign an activity in which students are tasked with identifying context clues. You can do this as an in-class group or partner activity, or assign it as homework.

Context Clue Activity Task

Provide students with the following sentences and ask them to write a definition of what the bold word means based on the context clues in the sentence. Tell them that their task is to come up with a definition that will help a second or third grader understand the overall meaning of what they're trying to get across.

  1. My aunt is a bit eccentric; she's a lot of fun to be around, but she isn't a typical aunt. You never know what she might do next.
  2. I'm feeling rather queasy today; I'm nauseous and don't feel like I should eat more than a few crackers.
  3. It can be difficult to remember irregular spellings, such as rules like "i" before "e," except after "c" or when to change "y" to "ie" before adding "s."
  4. My sister is very excitable; it doesn't take much for her to start squealing or jumping up and down with joy.

Context Clues Activity Answers

Answers may vary; review to ensure that students have gotten the gist of each of the unfamiliar words, providing feedback as needed. Answers may include:

  1. eccentric - unusual, unpredictable, different, wacky, atypical, not typical (or similar)
  2. queasy - ill, sick, sick to my stomach, weak, unsteady (or similar)
  3. irregular - things that don't follow a pattern, unusual, different, exceptions (or similar)
  4. excitable - enthusiastic, impulsive, reacts emotionally (or similar)

Provide feedback to students specific to their answers, being sure to ask them to consider if they would have understood the definition they came up with when they were in the second or third grade. Allow students who need additional practice to try again by re-doing the assignment.

Expand the Lesson Plan: Enhanced Book Report

The next time you assign a book report, expand the assignment to include a context clues component. In addition to the standard book report format, instruct students to include a context clues section.

  1. Assign students to identify and list at least two unfamiliar words that were used in the book, including the full sentence and page number.
  2. Ask them to identify what type(s) of context clues (synonym, antonym, example, explanation) the author used to clearly communicate the meaning.
  3. Ask them to state whether they think the author did a good job providing context clues for the selected words, with an explanation of why or why not.
  4. Provide individualized feedback when scoring and returning book reports.

This activity will help get students focused on looking for context clues as they read and analyze what they have read.

Class Discussion: Lesson Debrief

Once you have covered the content in this lesson, ask students a few questions to help them know when and how to apply what they have learned. Consider leading a discussion that includes any or all of the following topics. Provide feedback throughout the discussions, keeping students engaged but ensuring that concepts are being reinforced accurately.

  • Why are context clues important? (Look for responses like: improved understanding, learning new words, not having to stop reading to look up words, as well as other relevant points.)
  • What should you do if you can't figure out what a word means from context clues in the same sentence? (Look for things like: read further to see if there are clues in future sentences, look up the word in a dictionary, uses a thesaurus, ask a teacher or someone else who might know, or similar suggestions.)
  • When should you include context clues in your own writing? (Look for ideas such as: when I'm using words that readers might not understand, when I'm using words that could be interpreted more than one way, when it's not clear what the word means in the sentence without more context, or similar.)

Make the Lesson Plan Your Own

Like many lesson plans, this one can be tweaked in order to fit your individual needs. However, this model is a framework for you to use in its entirety or to take bits and pieces to create a lesson plan on context clues that is appropriate for the students in your class. Review these tips for writing lesson plans for suggestions or how to expand this lesson plan or write your own.

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