Context Clues

Word Detective

This song teaches four ways to define unknown words using context clues: synonyms, antonyms, explanations and examples.

Oh, look. A word I don’t know. Well, I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be looking for clues in the context.

When I find a new word that’s written in a sentence,
I look around to see if a similar one is mentioned.
That’s a synonym
— the first clue I use, like:
The actress read through a book and perused
A newspaper and then she took a snooze.
Peruse? That’s new, so I search for a clue,
I see she was reading. Could it be true?
Peruse must be a synonym for “read through.”
But if I can’t find the answer, then
Maybe there’s an opposite word, or an antonym, like:
Langston was jubilant when he got the news,
Before he found out, he was depressed with the blues.
Jubilant and depressed must be antonyms,
Depressed means sad, jubilant must mean happy then.
Two new words: peruse, jubilant,
With synonyms and antonyms, you don’t have to Google it.

On a top-secret mission, check the method,
Treat words I don’t know like a word detective.
Search within the sentence, look for synonyms,
Antonyms, explanations, examples.

Detectives, when reading through phrases,
You might find the third clue – an explanation.
Let’s take a look and try to crack this case then,
The mansion was dilapidated.
The windows were broken, the paint was faded,
I’m pretty sure a pack of rats had invaded.
Those lines explain the word that I didn’t know,
Dilapidated means falling down and old,
Clue four — I look for examples of the word
That might illustrate how to define the term.

Eating sweets was against Capone’s wishes,
Just fruits and vegetables which are nutritious.
I know fruits and vegetables are healthy dishes,
These examples lead me to the meaning of nutritious.
All these examples and explanations,
Are clues to crack the case like Perry Mason.

On a top-secret mission, check the method,
Treat words I don’t know like a word detective.
Search within the sentence, look for synonyms,
Antonyms, explanations, examples.

Context clues are hints in a sentence or passage that can help you define a word you don’t know. The clue may appear in the same sentence as the word you don’t know or in a nearby sentence. This is a useful strategy because it helps you understand what you are reading, and it allows you to easily learn new vocabulary.

Sometimes you may need to look up the word in a dictionary. But other times, context clues will help you figure out the word on your own!

Sometimes a challenging word or phrase is explained in simpler language. Look for a synonym: a word or phrase that has the same meaning as the unknown word.

Example: My pet peeve is people chewing with their mouth open—it’s so annoying!

So a “peeve” is something that annoys or bothers someone.

Sometimes we can figure out the meaning of a word by looking for a word with the opposite meaning nearby. Look for an antonym: a word or phrase that has the opposite meaning as the unknown word.

Example: Though some students are insubordinate, others obey their teachers and follow all the rules.

So “insubordinate” describes someone who disobeys or doesn’t follow rules.

Another way to be a word detective is by breaking the word into parts: roots, prefixes and suffixes. These word parts hold the key to the word’s meaning.

disobey: “dis” means opposite + “obey” means to follow the commands or guidance of

helpful: “help” means assist + “ful” means full of

thermometer: “thermo” means heat + “meter” means measure

To learn more about these kinds of word clues, check out units on suffixes, prefixes and roots.

Sometimes the meaning of a word or phrase is explained immediately following its use. Look for an explanation for the unknown word in the sentence or in sentences nearby.

Example: My friend was so forlorn when her dog died that she cried for a week.

So “forlorn” means very sad.

Sometimes specific examples in the sentence help define the term.

Example: Whales and sharks are my favorite aquatic animals.

So "aquatic" means “in water,” since both whales and sharks live in the sea.
What is the name for a word that is similar in meaning to another word?
What does the word “peruse” mean?
Read through
What are two healthy dishes in the song?
Fruits and vegetables
What was against Capone’s wishes?
Eating sweets
What does the word “dilapidated” mean?
Falling down and old
What kind of mission is the speaker of the song on?

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