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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

ELLs Need to Learn HOW to Use Context Clues for Word Meanings in Informational Text


With class sizes of 30+, teachers sometimes have students go to dictionaries to locate meanings of unfamiliar vocabulary.  Though a dictionary does serve a purpose from time to time in developing vocabulary, it should never really be the first place a student turns to when s/he doesn't know what a word means.  Why?  Frequently, students are presented with several definitions for one word.  Not all the definitions equally fit the bill so to speak.  In fact, many English speakers are confused on which choice is correct and why so imagine what an English language learner must feel trying to process all this information in foreign language.

Good readers in any language use context to arrive at a workable definition of unknown words.  Will such results be a detailed as those found in the dictionary?  Probably not, but they will be close enough to continue reading with understanding.  After all, proficient readers build their vocabulary base this way all the time, and by doing so, they maintain their focus in doing their reading.  Such readers turn to a dictionary when they can't follow the context (not a frequent occurrence however). 

What about having students memorize random vocabulary words with the belief that such a practice leads to a richer deeper vocabulary base?  This process is the least successful.  Memorizing words outside of context is rarely, if ever, retained because this is not how good readers develop word knowledge.  Instead, teachers need to model how to use context clues to arrive at a working definition.  This is skill that will travel with them to university or to the workforce.  It is effective and efficient.

Below are three videos on how to teach this skill. 

TEACHING CONTEXT CLUES  This one seems to be aimed at students at the elementary school level.

HOW TO BE A WORD DETECTIVE  Here, nonsense words are the ones students work with in trying to following a story.  Dictionaries won't help here since the "words" are not real.  This is great because students can't run to the dictionary.  This may be aimed at middle school learners.

USING CONTEXT CLUES TO ARRIVE AT WORD CHOICE  Here, an older student audience is the target.  The techniques provided are ones that assist students in high stakes testing, reading informational text, reading newspapers, reading anything.

Such skills will support students in tackling the new common core standards:)

Denise

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