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)

B.  Encourage practice in the act of reading. Such practice is essential for students to learn to read for meaning. Provide time, appropriate (easy!) materials, the proper setting, and encouragement for sustained silent reading.

C.  Show (demonstrate to) the student that it is possible to derive the meaning of words from their context. Provide specific examples.

  1. The careless boy did his work in a haphazard manner.
  2. He felt that although his work was imperfect, it was still good.
  3. When he tried to insert the letter into the mailbox, the mailbox was too full.
  4. They called in a mediator to help settle the problems between labor and management.

D.  Have students preread material silently before reading orally. Discuss troublesome vocabulary.

E.  Set purposes for reading. Stress accuracy in reading, not speed.

F.  Use short, easy selections. Have students stop frequently to explain what they have read in their own words.

G.  Use high-interest material, including student-authored language-experience stories.

H.  Have students scan for important words. Have them guess the content and then read to see if the guess was accurate.

I.  Construct sentences or short paragraphs, omitting selected words that students should be able to determine by their context. In place of each key word, insert an initial consonant and then xs for the rest of the letters in the words. See the following example:

When Jack ix in a hurry, he always rxxx home from school.

When students have become proficient at this, advance to the next step, which is to replace key words with xs for each letter.

When Jack xx in a hurry, he always xxxx home from school.

After students are able to get mos tof the omitted words by replacing the xs with letters, leave blank lines to replace entire omitted words.

When Jack ______ in a hurry, he always _____ home from school.

J.  Use multiple-choice questions in which the student fills in blanks: “Jack _____ a black pony (rock, rode, rod).” Using words that look alike also will give the student practice in phonic and structural analysis.

K.  Make tape recordings in which key words are omitted. Give the student a copy of the script and have him fill in the blank spaces as the tape is played.

L.  Create a series of sentences using words that are spelled alike but may have different pronunciations or meanings, such as read and lead. Have the student read sentences using these words in proper context.

He read the book.
He will read the story.
It was made out of lead.
He had the lead in the play.