Learning to use context clues is a key component of vocabulary instruction. Students use context clues to help them determine the meaning of unfamiliar words by looking at the way the word is used in a sentence or paragraph. The words or phrases surrounding an unknown word provide the reader with clues. Common types of context clues include examples, synonyms, antonyms and comparisons. Context clues often contain signal words that the reader can use to help them learn the meaning of new words.

Synonyms and Restatements

Synonyms and restatements help the reader learn the meaning of an unknown word by presenting an alternate term or phrase that means the same as the word. Signal words include "also known as," "sometimes called," "that is" and "in other words." These phrases let the reader know that the other word or phrase has the same meaning as the unknown word.


Antonyms help the reader find the meaning of an unfamiliar word by presenting an alternate word in context that has the opposite meaning. Contrasting signal words for antonyms include "even though," "however," "in contrast," "unlike," "but" and "different." Once students recognize signal words to find the antonym, they can use the definition of the antonym to find the opposite meaning of the unknown word.


Context clues that contain examples can help students learn the meaning of an unknown word. Some signal words that indicate an example are "such as," "including," "for instance" and "for example." When students see these signal words, they learn what the word means because the example helps to explain and define the unknown word.


Signal words that indicate a comparison also help students find the meaning of unfamiliar words. Students can learn the meaning of an unknown word by comparing it to a known word or phrase in the context clue. Signal words for comparisons include "like," "as," "also," "too" and "similar."

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