Many standardized tests for middle school students include questions that require the use of context clues to define words. Once you have taught students how to look for context clues while reading, they will need to practice this skill throughout the school year. You can use games and activities with vocabulary words from novels, science textbooks or history books.

Context Clue Game

One way to teach middle school students context clue skills is to turn the lesson into a game. Write a list of 10 to 15 vocabulary words on the chalkboard along with page numbers where the words appear in novels or textbooks. Students must define the word correctly in the context used in the text and without using a dictionary, thesaurus or other tool. Students can work on their own or in teams, depending on your preference. For each correct definition, students receive one point. The students or teams with the most points go on to a bonus round. For the bonus round, write a word on the board with a page number. The first student or team to find it in the text and define it correctly is the winner.

Text vs. the Dictionary

Another context clue activity is "Text vs. the Dictionary." In this activity, put students with partners and give them a list of words either from a novel or textbook. One student must define the word using context clues; the other student must look up the word in the dictionary. (The student with the dictionary should read the word in context first since many words have several definitions.) While partners are defining words, they do not discuss definitions with each other. When they are both sure of their definition, they compare results to see if they agree on the definition. If they do, they switch roles. If not, they must re-read the word in context and use both tools to find a correct definition. When students define all words, they turn in a defined vocabulary list.

Content Area Study Guides

On the Just Read Now! Web site, one context clue activity suggests asking students to define words without using either a dictionary or context clues. This is a "prior knowledge" activity where students and teachers can gauge how much they already know about a certain term. You can do the prior knowledge activity in conjunction with using content area study guides to work on context clues. Give students a study guide at the beginning of a new history or science unit. On the study guide, list vocabulary words that students will find in assigned texts. Before students read or are instructed on these terms in class, ask them to write down a definition—their best educated guess. As you teach the unit and assign different readings, students should use context clues to define these vocabulary words. With a different color pen, students write down the definition they come up with after reading the text. At the end of the unit, students should have been introduced to each vocabulary word and their definitions should be checked.

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