Multilingual Learners often read text without fully comprehending all of the words that they are reading. Using context clues are one way to help MLs increase their overall comprehension of the text that they are reading. Many of the strategies for teaching context clues to MLs are similar to when a native English speaker learns this strategy. There are some differences though.
Search the Text for Clues
There are many vocabulary words where the text has clues to the words meaning. Sometimes the clues are synonyms or a deffinition. Model for students how to underline or highlight context clues in a text that give hints to a words meaning. For this to be succussful, it is necessary to preselect the words that you will to using to teach context clues. A text does not have context clues that explain the meaning of all words, and a begining ELL may not yet have the vocabulary to understand all of the words even it if does.
Use Picture Clues
For begining English Language Learners (ELLs), picture clues are a helpful strategy for learning the meaning of unfamiliar words. If you are teaching students how to decode a new word you want them to focus on phonics skills, including the sounds that the letters make and not on pictures. When a student is trying to gain meaning from text, pictures can be a big help. Choose texts that contain strong picture support for begining English Language Learners. This allows students to use their vocabulary knowledge and pair it with the words in a text. When prompting students have them first attempt to read the text (or read it outloud to them) and then have them use the picture to gain meaning.
Match the text to the students reading level
The text that you are using needs to be at the students reading level and not contain to many unfamiliar words. Otherwise your student may become easily frustrated and decide that context clues really mean making random guesses. This is particularly true for ELLs at lower language levels.
Model using context clues through read alouds
Modeling allows you to show students that text often has clues that tell a words meaning. Preselect a text that contains context clues. Then use a think aloud to tell students how other words around the unknown one helped you to infer or make good guess about the words meaning.
Preselect words for students to practice finding examples of context clues with
When introducing context clues I find it helpful to preselect the vocabulary words students will be using. I learned over time that students often choose words that were unfamiliar but where the text did not provide enough clues to that words meaning. This is particularly true for lower language level students. After working with preselected words in a small group then students are better able to choose words independently.
I created simple sentences with a more challenging word so that ELLs could practice using context clues a number of times. So that students could use these cards independently I made three different levels. One set has pictures (a great context clue resources in many picture books). One set has just the sentence. A third set has answer choses. These context clue task cards are yours to use for FREE.
Read Read Read
The more students read, the more vocabulary they will acquire. I think it is important to tell students this fact. Even if they are not great at using context clues currently, simply reading will help them improve their vocabulary. Having a larger vocabulary will make it easier to correctly guess the meaning of unfamiliar words. As a teacher this connects back to providing students time and high interest reading material so they can casually practice reading skills they are learning in books that they choose and want to read.
Skip Over Words
Sometimes a text will not provide context clues to a words meaning. When students are reading a text of their choosing it is very likely they will encounter words without context clues, or will not have the vocabulary skills to benefit from the context clue. Encourage students to keep reading. This allows them to keep the story flow going in a fiction text.