Recommendations to Teach Context Clues

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

A.  The best way to teach students to use context clues when they are reading independently is to teach them the word-attack strategy shown below.


  1. Say the beginning sound.
  2. Read the rest of the sentence.  THINK.
  3. Say the parts that you know.  GUESS.
  4. Ask someone or skip it and go on.

When encountering an unknown word, step 1, “Say the beginning sound” (phonics), is the one most students will do automatically if they have had any phonics training at all. This is fortunate because beginning sounds are often the most helpful clue in decoding an unknown word. (Students who have had no phonics training may guess wildly and insert any word that might make sense.)

Step 2, “Read the rest of the sentence,” requires the student to use context clues before applying additional phonics or structural analysis. In most cases the combination of initial letter sounds and context will result in correct identification of the unknown word. Step 2 requires the student to read to the end of the sentence to take advantage of the context clues that may come after the unknown word. Words that come after are often more helpful than those that come before unknown words.

If the student still has not decoded the word, step 3, “Say the parts that you know,” entails using other word-analysis clues, such as ending sounds, vowel sounds, and structural analysis. The student is encouraged to guess, if necessary, so as not to spend too much time trying to decode a single unknown word. The last step, “Ask someone or skip it and go on,” encourages the student to ask for help or continue reading if all else fails. It is quite possible that context clues picked up in reading further will permit the student to identify the unknown word. If students must resort to step 4 often, they should be given easier material to read. Similarly, if students encounter more than one unknown word in a single sentence, this word-attack strategy is likely to break down, indicating that the material is too difficult.

  1. To teach the strategy, you should use the following steps:
  2. Present the steps, using a written chart that students can remember and to which they can refer.
  3. Model use of the steps yourself with sample sentences.
  4. Assure students that the strategy works.
  5. Provide students with sentences that they may use to apply the steps as you provide guidance.
  6. Ensure that students use the steps as they practice in the act of reading.

At the end of this paragraph is a list of sentences that you may use to teach and give students practice in the four-step word-attack strategy. The numbers after each sentence indicate which steps are likely to assist students. It is not possible to determine exactly which steps will help students. Some students will recognize unknown words at sight. Others will use only one or two steps. Some may not succeed at all. You will need to provide other examples for students based on their specific needs.

  1. The light is read.  (1, 2)
  2. I will take you there. (1, 2)
  3. I cannot remember you name.  (1, 2, 3)
  4. I like chocolate cake.  (1, 2, 3)
  5. The cat is my pet. (1, 2, 3)
  6. The hamster is my pet. (1, 2, 3)
  7. The armadillo is my pet. (1, 2, 3, 4)
View Full Article
Add your own comment
DIY Worksheets
Make puzzles and printables that are educational, personal, and fun!
Matching Lists
Quickly create fun match-up worksheets using your own words.
Word Searches
Use your own word lists to create and print custom word searches.
Crossword Puzzles
Make custom crossword puzzles using your own words and clues.
See all Worksheet Generators