How to Teach Context Clues Effectively

Teaching Context Clues

Context clues is one of those skills that it seems like students can never get enough practice with. The skill is vital to overall reading comprehension, so it makes sense to revisit it multiple times. I taught and retaught context clues over-and-over throughout the year. Here are some strategies that can help your students succeed with this important skill and help boost their overall reading comprehension.

Introducing Students to Context Clues

As with any skill, it is important to begin teaching context clues by introducing the skill to students in an engaging and coherent manner. There are many ways to introduce reading comprehension skills, but here are a few methods that I like best.

Model Context Clues using Real Books

Modeling through read alouds is a great way to introduce many skills, and it’s no different with teaching Context Clues. Students need to see how real readers use context clues in their everyday reading. As you are reading, stop after you come to a challenging word. Think aloud “What does ____ mean? I’m going to go back and reread before and after the word to see if I can figure it out.” After you have found a context clue, model replacing the definition in this sentence and asking yourself out loud, “Does this make sense?”

Teach the Various Types of Context Clues

Context Clues Activities and anchor chart with colored pencils and a purple ribbon

Explicitly teach your students the different types of context clues. The explicit types of context clues include definition, examples, synonyms, antonyms, and word parts. Using anchor charts is a perfect way to introduce these ideas to your students. To make things easy, I included the anchor chart to the right in my Context Clues Targeted Practice Series for 2nd & 3rd grade and 4th & 5th grade.

After teaching the various types of context clues, have your students practice sample questions broken down by each context clue type. My Context Clues Targeted Practice for 2nd & 3rd grade and 4th & 5th grade contain exercises that are perfect for student practice.

Another way to practice the different types of context clues is to use task cards and have students work in groups. Ask them to sort the cards by Context Clue type. My Context Clues Task Cards for 2nd & 3rd grade and 4th & 5th grade are perfect for this exercise.

Teaching Context Clues task cards with highlighters and paper clips on a purple background

Practicing Context Clues Skills

Context Clues Reading Passage showing teacher's hands reviewing a passage with images

Once students have an in depth understanding of the different types of context clues, they are ready to practice them in context.

At this point, it is best to provide passages that contain a variety of context clues. Students can then answer questions or fill out a graphic organizer to determine the meaning of challenging words.

Teaching Context Clues Skills for the Real World

Finally, students need to transfer their learning to their independent reading. After all, our goal is to teach these skills so students become stronger readers! At the beginning, you can monitor student’s application of context clues skills using a graphic organizer in student journals. You can also use sticky notes. After independent reading time, invite students to share their learning!

Skill Based Assessment

After students have had ample practice with all types of context clues, give students the mixed practice. This can also be used as an assessment.

After students master practicing with context clues in passages, you can give them a passage based assessment, such as the ones found in my Context Clues Core Comprehension packets.


If your students are still having difficulty with this skill or need more differentiation and support, try these additional teaching context clues strategies:

  1. Provide sentences with blanks and have students put a word in the blank. For example: Jamal has a sister and a _________. Kasey did not study, so she failed her ______.
  2. Allow student pairs to go on a scavenger hunt to search for different types of context clues in their books. Have students notate what type of context clue the author uses.
  3. Assign your students different passages. If your students are below level, try assigning passages aligned with a lower grade level. Once they master the skill with simpler passages, continue to scaffold them up.

Finding the Right Resources

When teaching context clues, the right resources can make all the difference. I recommend using a variety of resources including supplemental resources and real books/literature. You can check out my wide range of Context Clues Resources, which includes reading comprehension passages, task cards, targeted practice modules, and mentor text supplements.

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