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Context Clues

I'm going to write this post as I would a lesson:

Connect & Reflect

Every reader struggles. No matter the level of your education, the depth of your vocabulary, how well you can problem-solve, there are going to be text that you encounter that you might find confusing or difficult to understand at times. How do you overcome that confusion? You might use a dictionary or a thesaurus. You might ask questions. You might try to find word parts to understand the word whole. You might reread the text to find clues. But what clues are you looking for specifically?


There are four types of context clues readers need to learn how to find: definition clues, synonym clues, antonym clues, and gist clues. Hopefully, the first three clues are easy to define. Sometimes the author gives the definition of a word within the sentence or paragraph, sometimes similar words or examples are used to help add meaning, as well as antonym clues or examples. The tricky context clue is a gist clue where you infer the meaning of the word based on the general idea or context of the sentence or passage.


Using the following paragraph, see if you can determine which type of clue you need to find the meaning of the underlined words. Remember the context clue types:

  • Definition Clues

  • Synonym Clues

  • Antonym Clues

  • Gist Clues

I begged her to turn around, "Please face me! I need to apologize! I need you to understand my sincerity." When she turned I was shocked to see the fury written in her eyes. She did nothing to restrain her anger. This shocked me because it's usually my brother who is prone to angry eruptions, not my sister who is typically thoughtful, choosing her words carefully. At this moment, however, they spilled out in violent bursts, surprising us both. Part of me understood her anger. I wronged her, but I was sorry for my actions. How could I help her see it? I asked, "What can I do to make it up to you?" After I asked her that question I watched her face soften and she opened her arms to embrace me. The gratitude I felt for that hug was more than I could describe.

Let's think through each of these words in turn:

  • Definition Clue: Face is used twice in this paragraph. The first time the person telling the story asked her sister to face her, which is actually defined two sentences later with, "When she turned..." The second time face is used it describes her facial features after her angry outburst.

  • Gist Clue: There are a few things in this paragraph to help us understand sincerity. The main character wanted her sister to understand something. She wanted her to understand that she was truly sorry. She told her she needed to apologize and she also asked how she could make it up to her. This tells us how serious she was about wanting her sister to understand her apology. How could these clues help us understand the word, sincerity?

  • Synonym Clue: Fury has a word in the next sentence that shows us what it means. She had fury in her eyes, and she did nothing to hide her anger.

  • Antonym Clue: Restrain is used to describe what her sister did with her anger. She usually did what with it? She was typically thoughtful and chose her words carefully. But what did she do with her anger this time? It erupted which is the exact opposite of how she usually handles things. Eruption is another Definition Clue because her words were violent bursts.


Taking your own book find a word you do not know or do not know well. Use the clues to determine its meaning.

Teacher Notes:

This was one of my favorite lessons to do with my junior high students! I was always amazed at how well they did and how giving them the tools to identify the meaning of unknown words boosted their confidence.

Here is the lesson in its entirety: Context Clue Lesson

I hope it benefits your readers as much as it did mine!

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