EL Support Lesson

Vocabulary in Context

In this lesson, students will improve their skills in using context clues to determine the meaning of difficult words. Use it as a stand-alone lesson or as support to the lesson Journey on the Underground Railroad.
This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for the Journey on the Underground Railroad lesson plan.
Grade Subject View aligned standards
This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for the Journey on the Underground Railroad lesson plan.

Students will be able to use terminology related to the Underground Railroad correctly in context.


Students will be able to determine the meaning of unknown words with context clues using strategic partnering and teacher modeling.

(2 minutes)
  • Ask students to discuss with a partner any particular strategies they use when they come across a word they do not know. Invite students to share with the whole class.
  • Inform your learners that today they will learn a specific strategy to figure out the meaning of a tricky or unknown word by using context clues, which are words or sentences near the unknown word that guide us to its meaning.
(15 minutes)
  • Display a copy of the Context Clues: Finding Word Meanings worksheet and distribute them to students.
  • Read the directions to students and think aloud as you read the first sentence, pausing to emphasize the underlined word. Circle the word "laughed" and tell students that this is the context clue in this sentence that helps you figure out that "witty" means funny.
  • Pair up students and have them determine the meaning of the rest of the words. Go over the answers as a class to clarify any errors.
  • Distribute a blank Glossary to students.
  • Tell students to choose five of the words from the Context Clues: Finding Word Meanings worksheet to include in their own Glossary of new vocabulary words.
  • Model how you complete a row in the Glossary, using one of the words from the worksheet. Tell students to write the definition in their own words and draw an image to go with it. Note: In the last column of the Glossary, have students write a sentence using the word or write the word in their home language if they are literate in their L1.
(15 minutes)
  • Tell students that they will now practice using context clues to find the meaning of new vocabulary before they reuse the same vocabulary word in a different setting.
  • Distribute the Nonfiction Comprehension: Context Clues & Text Features worksheet to students.
  • Read the passage aloud once and instruct students to read it again with a partner. Provide definitions for any unknown words not listed in the glossary.
  • Invite student volunteers to read the words and their definitions in the glossary on the right of the worksheet. Give students time to find the words in the passage to underline.
  • Assign students strategic partnerships, such as a beginner EL with an intermediate or advanced EL, or two ELs that speak the same home language.
  • Instruct each pair to work together to use context clues to find the best term from the word bank to complete the sentences.
  • Assist students as needed.
  • Mention to students that context clues can also appear in the form of text features such as images and captions, such as those in the worksheet. Point them out and tell students to discuss the answer to the last question on the worksheet about these text features before writing their answer in a complete sentence.

No sentence level focus for this lesson plan.


  • Allow beginning ELs to use home language resources such as online dictionaries as they complete the tasks.
  • In the formative assessment, provide beginning ELs with answer choices for the meaning of the word "soggy" (e.g., "A. completely wet, B. muddy and dirty, C. stormy and dangerous, D. ruined from the storm").
  • Have students use the Vocabulary Cards and Glossary as a visual aid to help strengthen students' understanding.


  • Have advanced ELs share their thinking of how they used the context clues to help them figure out word meanings.
  • Allow advanced ELs to complete the exercises independently, without a partner.
  • Have students share their answers and thinking with beginning ELs.
(5 minutes)
  • Write the following scenario on the board and read it aloud to students: "After a few days of rain, my little brother and I wanted to go outside and explore. I put on my rain boots to go outside. I knew the grass was still going to be soggy even though today was dry. I didn’t want to get my sneakers muddy and wet because I went into the wet grass."
  • Ask students to answer the question: What does the word "soggy" mean as it is used in the passage? What are the context clues that help you determine its meaning?
  • Distribute a sticky note to students. Have them write their answer on the sticky note, and use it as an exit ticket.
(3 minutes)
  • Have students share their favorite new vocabulary word learned in the lesson and why, using the sentence stem, "My favorite new word I learned today is ____ because ____."
  • Go around the room and have all students quickly share their word one at a time.

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