Fifth-grade students often use context clues to define and understand unfamiliar vocabulary words and terminology. Teachers can use guessing games, nonsense words and newspaper or magazine articles to help students identify unknown words in the context of specific sentences or paragraphs. You might incorporate context clue activities into a variety of subjects, such as language arts, social studies and science.
"Thumbs Up" Exercise
Instruct your class to put their heads on their desks, close their eyes and raise their thumbs up if they understand a specific word in a sentence you read, put their thumbs down if they don't understand or hold their thumbs sideways if they think they might understand. For example, say "The jury could not leave the room until it had reached a consensus on the defendant’s guilt or innocence,” suggests the University of North Carolina School of Education. Using the thumb rules, ask your class if they understood the word "consensus" in the context of the sentence. Have students raise their heads and open their eyes. Ask a student who gave you a "thumbs up" to explain her understanding of the word. Repeat the exercise with other sentences, using vocabulary words or science and social studies terms from fifth-grade textbooks. Prepare the sentences in advance so you don't have to come up with them on the fly.
Missing Word Sentence Completions
Write 10 sentences on your blackboard or white board, leaving a blank space to signify a missing word in each sentence, such as a noun, verb, adjective or adverb. For example, write "The trapeze artist struggled to maintain her "blank" as she walked the tightrope." Ask students to volunteer answers that might fit in the blank, such as "balance," "composure" or "confidence." Repeat the exercise with your other sentences. Explain to students that they are using context clues to come up with words that would make sense in the sentence. Add interest to the activity by asking your class to vote on the "missing" word they like best for each sentence.
News Article Substitutions
Divide your class into pairs and ask each group to choose a current event from the resources you provide. Gather some recent newspapers and magazines from the school library or allow your class to use the Internet. You might combine the activity with your social studies lesson for the day. Tell each group they must write down five unfamiliar words from their article and choose a synonym -- or a short substitute phrase -- that makes sense in the paragraph. Encourage your class to use the surrounding words to figure out the context of the unfamiliar words.
Make up several sentences with silly nonsense words and ask your students to explain the meaning of the made-up words using context clues. For example, say "Joanie loved to fly on airplanes, but the bouncy motion made her stomach feel herky." Ask students to explain the likely meaning of the word "herky". Have them write short paragraphs about their visit to the grocery story and include five nonsense words in their stories. Divide the class into groups of three or four students each and have them read their paragraphs to one another. Students must take turns explaining the likely meaning of the made-up words in their classmates' stories.
As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.