Using Synonyms and Explanations as Context Clues

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Language Arts, Reading, Vocabulary, Reading Comprehension

Grade 5- 8


Students learn about using context clues to help them


Synonyms (sin-o-nims) are different words that have nearly the same meaning, as in this sentence: "It was a hot, sultry day."
The way they are used here, "hot" and "sultry" mean much the same thing. And you can guess from the first what the second word means. As a rule of thumb, when two adjectives are used to describe the same thing, they often have similar or related meanings.
Another kind of context clue consists of explanations provided by the author. Authors want readers to understand what they write. When they use a word that readers may not be familiar with, they often explain it. This is especially true for words that belong to a special vocabulary. A special vocabulary means any group of words that is used mainly by one group of people. Doctors, for instance, have a special vocabulary. It includes words like arteriosclerosis, hypertension, thrombosis, and so on. The average person may not know these words. They don't have to, because they're not doctors. So when authors use one of these words, they often explain it for readers in context.
Watch how the term "cardiopulmonary resuscitation" is explained in the context of this next article:
Teen Saves Life at Reunion
ORANGE--Chris Walker knew just what to do when his aunt, Wilma Walker, collapsed of a heart attack at the Walker family reunion Sunday. The 16-year-old immediately began cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to circulate blood and provide oxygen until heart and lung function could be restored.
Notice how the term cardiopulmonary resuscitation is explained for readers. It's something you do "to circulate blood and provide oxygen until heart and lung function can be restored."
New words are often explained this way in textbooks too. The authors of textbooks don't expect you to know all the words they use. Nor do they expect you to stop and look them up. So they explain many of them as they go along.
Take the following passage from a biology book, for example. It introduces the word metabolism. This is a new word for most students. So the author defines it for readers in context. Watch for its meaning as you read the passage:
Malaria is a dramatic disease. In a typical attack, the victim first feels a severe chill. Gooseflesh forms, and his teeth chatter violently. Several hours later the sufferer feels very hot. He probably has a terrible headache and a feeling of nausea. Still later he begins to sweat. Clearly, the person's metabolism-that is, the way the parts of his body are working together-has been greatly upset by the disease.
Notice how the author defines the word metabolism for the reader. Metabolism means "the way the parts of the body are working together." As an example, the author describes how the disease upsets the normal process.
Distribute the activity sheets to students and have them use what they have learned about context clues to complete the activity.


  • Using Synonyms and Explanations as Context Clues activity pages
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