Monday, February 22, 2016

Teaching Context Clues Using My Own Literature

To a struggling reader, unknown words are like a huge wall they cannot climb over.  But if they don't climb over it, the sentence won't make sense. If the sentence doesn't make sense, then possibly the paragraph won't either. Unfortunately for struggling readers, decoding and comprehending unknown words is such an obstacle that they quickly lose interest in reading that piece of text. Can you imagine how hard this is on a daily basis?

How can we teach context clue strategies in a way that struggling readers will understand? Fluent readers decode easily and use context clues to figure out words they don't understand, but struggling readers just struggle with them. What will get their attention and stick with them?

A funny or coincidential thing happened to me a few days ago that gave me an idea for the lesson I was going to teach that day on context clues. I was reading a chapter in a book I recently started and I came across a word I had never heard or seen before. This is pretty unusual because I am a huge reader and I love words, so I notice them everywhere. So, even if I don't exactly know what a word means, I have probably seen it somewhere. But I came across a word that stopped me in my tracks. The word was comestibles.  Hmmm, I thought, what is that?  Here it is........

By the way, the book is titled, Delicious and it's about a young girl who goes to work at a food magazine. So, the book is about food and this paragraph is a description by one of the magazine's writers about a visit to Tuscany.

Now, I am a huge Googler - I google everything!  But for some reason, I decided not to that day. I decided to bring my book to school and use this for my context clues lesson. When I began my lesson, I explained to my class my situation with this word and that I wanted their help. So I read the paragraph to them and we talked about what we thought the definition of comestibles was. We discussed all the clues around the word and they were amazing! They debated and discussed why they thought their definition was correct. I asked questions and made them defend their answers. It was really fun!  Finally, I googled it and it is food. Yep, the word comestibles just means food. Simple right?  But, it tripped up a seasoned reader and word lover - me. 

So, can you imagine how hard it is for a struggling reader? I think letting all my students know that sometimes really good readers (like their teachers) don't know word meanings either ~ helps them feel better and maybe try harder. 

We went on to making a class anchor chart for Context Clues and the kids were so engaged and interested in it that they pointed out context clues to me all day!  I love that!

Not Pinterest worthy - but it's a great visual
of five different context clues strategies!

So, the next time you are teaching a difficult skill or one that you are having a hard time getting across to your students - try bringing your own experiences as a reader out into the open for your students to see and hear about. It's what makes some lessons stick with your kiddos!

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