You want to improve your students’ reading comprehension but don’t know where to start. There is a never-ending list of things to focus on and so many areas that need improvement. You want to throw your students a life preserver, but you feel like you’re drowning yourself.
Today, I’m going to help you keep your head above water with one skill that will have an impact on your students’ ability to comprehend all genres: context clues.
Why is the ability to use context clues so important for our third graders?
Anita Archer tells us that our students’ ability to comprehend what they read is determined by a few broad abilities.
“Students have to be able to read the words, know the meaning of the words, have appropriate background and focus on the critical content.”– Anita Archer, PhD1
While context clues is not a substitute for direct vocabulary instruction, it is certainly a tool worth putting in their toolbelts. Helping our students use context clues to determine the meaning of unknown words and those with multiple meanings will aid their comprehension when they run across words that are unfamiliar in text.
Are you tired of hearing your third graders groan when you hand them another boring context clues worksheet?
Let’s turn those groans into cheers with these fun context clues activities.
You want to give your students repeated and varied practice using context clues all year without using boring worksheet after worksheet. And you don’t want to sacrifice all your weekends creating fun and engaging practice.
These context clues activities are designed to help you provide practice and references that your students can use all year with minimal effort and prep from you.
1. Make Your Context Clues Anchor Chart Work for You
If you’re like me, you use anchor charts for everything. I’ve even used an anchor chart for how to behave in the bathroom, but that’s a different story for another time. So, as with everything else, my context clues instruction has always started with an anchor chart. I’ve found them to be most helpful when you make them with the kids instead of ahead of time and make them interactive.
One of my favorite ways to do this is to have the kids make their own anchor charts in their reading interactive notebooks. I give them a framework and they add to it with me. (Examples below) This helps them focus on the important parts of the concept and gives them a personal reference to look back on when they need a refresher.
It doesn’t have to be anything complicated or cutesy. All you need to do is think about the most important things you want them to remember about using context clues and work around that.
Make your large context clues anchor chart interactive by leaving pieces of it blank for the students to fill in with their work during stations.
Departmentalized? Have the kids use post-it notes to save the anchor chart for the next class(es).
2. Don’t Underestimate the Power of Context Clues Task Cards
Context clues task cards can be incredibly versatile and they offer a lot of short, digestible practice. They can be used during stations, as bell-ringer activities or morning work, or be projected for a whole-class review. Here are a few of my favorite ways to use them:
Make Your Own Context Clues Game for Your Literacy Stations
New games not in the budget? No problem! Did you know you can turn regular board games like Jenga, Connect 4, and Candy Land into context clues games just by adding task cards? The rules of the game stay the same with one minor modification: the students must complete a task card before taking a turn. Yep, it’s that simple. And the kids will love it!
Get Your Whole Class Up and Moving with a Scoot
Kids love it when we let them get them up and move around the room. Practicing context clues with a scoot activity is fun and engaging. It’s also super quick and easy to set up. Just post context clues task cards around the room, in the hallway, or even set them up outside. Pass out some recording sheets and set your expectations for how you want your students to move from card to card.
Transform Them into a Game by Going Digital
Save your time by purchasing a context clues task card set that comes with digital options. These can be in the form of Boom Cards or Google Slides and really make answering task cards feel like a game. Your students will have so much fun they’ll beg you to “play.”
Another incredible benefit of going digital is the option to include audio support that provides oral admin. No more running around the room like a chicken with its head cut off trying to provide accommodations!
3. Add Seasonal Context Clues Activities and Games to Your Stations
Everything is more fun when it’s turned into a game. Seriously, what kid doesn’t jump at the chance to play a game during class? Games are great for targeting specific concepts such as homophones, prefixes & suffixes, etc. You can also use them to spiral context clues practice throughout the entire year! The kids really love when the context clues station games are changed up for seasons and holidays. It just adds a little festive feeling to stations.
You don’t have to spend a fortune on these. Both of the games shown below are available for under $5.
Adding a color by code mystery picture takes what could have been a boring worksheet into a fun and engaging context clues activity. Plus, these babies are self-checking by nature.
5. Word Collections
Frequent independent reading of rich and varied texts is a HUGE component of an effective vocabulary program. This is where it all comes together, really. Students use the context clues strategies you taught them as they encounter new words in their own reading lives. We can promote an appreciation for these new words by helping the students create personal collections of their favorite new words. Donovan’s Word Jar by Monalisa DeGross is a great mentor text to help you start a conversation about the power of words with your students.
These FREE word jars for interactive notebooks give students a fun place to store their newly acquired vocabulary words and can even help them incorporate them into their writing. They can also be used in a vocabulary station or as a whole class collection.
Pin It for Later:
1 Stewart, Laura, host. “Interview with Anita Archer.” Teaching Reading & Learning: The Reading League Podcast, season 1, episode 7, The Reading League, 6 April 2021, https://www.thereadingleague.org/teaching-reading-and-learning-the-podcast/