Context Clues

Context Clues Workshop

  • If you do not understand the meaning of a word when you read it in a sentence or a phrase, you may first want to look up the word’s meaning in a dictionary.
  • There are other ways, however, you can find out the meaning of a word in a sentence. You can attempt to understand its meaning by looking for clues.
  • The other words, sentences, and ideas that surround the unknown word can help you understand the unknown word’s meaning.
  • In general, there are six main types of context clues:

(1) Inferential.

  • This type of context clue is used when a word is not defined or described directly in the context of the sentence or phrase.
    • For this type of context clue, use your prior knowledge (what you already know from past experience) to understand the unknown word’s meaning.

(2) Definitions, which provide an explanation of the word used in the sentence or phrase)

Skyscrapers, really tall buildings, seem to touch the sky.

The indigo water is shown deep blue. Indigo means blue. The word ‘blue’ has given the reader a clue as to the meaning of the possibly unknown word ‘indigo’.

The dangling branch was hanging down over the roof. Dangling means to be hanging down. The reader sees a partial definition within the sentence to understand the meaning of the unknown word ‘dangling’.

(3) Synonyms (or restatements of the word used in the context of a sentence or phrase.)

The scorching fire was burning. Scorching is hot. Since the reader could know that burning could be a synonym for the unknown word ‘scorching’, the reader can realize that ‘scorching’ means ‘burning’.

(4) Antonyms, which are used to contrast the meaning of another word used in a sentence or phrase.

  Although some teachers are loquacious in public, they are often quiet in their spare time.

  While eating fast food makes me feel quite lethargic, eating fruits and vegetables makes me feel very energetic.

(5) Examples. Sometimes, examples are given in the sentence or phrase to help the reader understand the meaning of a word, or an idea.

Dogs like the chihuahua, pit bull, and poodle, love flavored dog biscuits.

(6) Word Parts (prefixes, suffixes, and/or Latin and Greek roots)

“I love learning about humans and humanity; I want to become an anthropologist”.

              “Anthropo-” means “human”. An anthropologist is someone who studies the history and behavior of humans.

“Unlike an infection that can be cured, back pain is usually chronic.”

“He told us the story backwards, instead of in chronological order”.

              “Chron-” means “time”. The word “chronic” is an adjective that means “something that is ongoing or continuous”.

The word “chronological” is an adjective that means “something that happens in order from beginning to end, or start to finish”.


This concludes the workshop on context clues. Please go back and re-read the information contained in this workshop before completing the context clues worksheet.

Now, it’s time to test your knowledge on context clues. Please complete the worksheet titled: Context Clues Worksheet. You’ll find it on our website. Just click on the Literacy Resources section, then select Worksheets.

We hope you enjoyed this reading and writing workshop.

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