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The Use of Context Cues in Reading (page 2)

By — LD Online
Updated on Apr 11, 2011

Using context in comprehension

The use of context in comprehension refers to something quite different from the use of context in word identification. Returning to the previous sentence about D.W., now assume a child can read every word in the sentence, including the word pale; however, she does not know the meaning of this word. If the child looks at the picture or uses sentence context to infer that pale means whitish, she has used context as an aid to comprehension. Other uses of context to aid comprehension include understanding words with multiple meanings (e.g., fly meaning an insect vs. the verb to fly) and recognizing pronoun referents in a text (e.g., which character is being referred to when the word he or she is used). The use of context to aid comprehension should be consistently encouraged by teachers, although some contexts are more helpful than others for this purpose. (For example, a sentence such as "The mysterious stranger had black hair, brown eyes, and a long, pale face" is not particularly illuminating for determining the meaning of the word pale.) Use of context to determine word meanings also must be accompanied by a program of direct instruction in vocabulary, as use of context will be insufficient for many children to acquire all the word meanings they need and is often especially inefficient for the children who need it most (i.e., weak comprehenders).

Implications for children with learning disabilities in reading

Because youngsters with reading disabilities typically have problems involving poor phonological skills, they generally benefit from instructional approaches that provide highly explicit, systematic teaching of phonemic awareness and phonics. However, if children are taught systematic phonics in one part of the reading program but are encouraged to use context to guess at words when reading passages, they may not apply their phonics skills consistently. Thus, the phonics component of the reading program may be seriously undermined. Also, children must be placed for reading instruction in books that are a good match to their word identification accuracy and phonics skills. If they are placed in reading materials that are too difficult for their current skill levels, they may be left with few options other than guessing at words.

However, like normally-achieving readers, children with reading disabilities do benefit from encouragement to use context as an aid to comprehension. This kind of context use can occur when children are listening to text as well as when they are reading. For instance, in reading stories to children, teachers can encourage the use of sentence context or pictures to determine the meanings of unfamiliar words by modeling this process aloud: "Hmmm, what can I do if I am not sure what the word pale means? Well, the sentence says that D. W. put baby powder on her face to look pale, so I can think about what baby powder looks like ¬¦." Because youngsters with reading disabilities usually have listening comprehension that far outstrips their reading skills, oral comprehension activities often are the best ways to challenge and develop their comprehension abilities.

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