Context Clues

Word Detective

Teacher's Guide

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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.

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

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

thermo meter: “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.

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