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Use Context Clues to Decipher Unfamiliar Words

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Readers use information from text to decipher unfamiliar words. They examine clues from the selection to define unfamiliar words and phrases. Context refers to the words that come before and/or after an unfamiliar word. Sometimes when an author is introducing a concept, she will use synonyms (words that have similar meanings) to help readers make connections. Sometimes when an author is introducing a concept, she will use antonyms (words that have opposite meanings) to help readers make connections. Context may include a definition provided within the article. Examples are often provided to give readers clues about a concept. Authors often help readers visualize story ideas with descriptive details. The picture painted by the author’s description may provide clues to an unfamiliar word. If context does not provide sufficient clues, readers use reference materials to define words.

Questions that help students use context clues to decipher unfamiliar words:

  • What do you think the word means?
  • Which clues did you use to help you predict the meaning of the word?
  • How did the author help you understand new words?
  • What synonyms or antonyms help you define new words from the selection?
  • What examples did the author write to help readers understand new ideas?
  • Did the author use comparisons to help describe new ideas?


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