Using Context for Clues


With our Using Context for Clues lesson plan, students learn how to define words using context clues in writing.

Included with this lesson are some adjustments or additions that you can make if you’d like, found in the “Options for Lesson” section of the Classroom Procedure page. One of the optional additions to this lesson is to add another activity to the lesson where you use students’ current reading material or other content and have students use context clues to define the new words they find.

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What our Using Context for Clues lesson plan include

Using Context for Clues teaches students how to use context clues to figure out the meaning of new words that they read. At the end of the lesson, students will be able to use context as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase. This lesson is for students in 5th grade.

Classroom Procedure

Every lesson plan provides you with a classroom procedure page that outlines a step-by-step guide to follow. You do not have to follow the guide exactly. The guide helps you organize the lesson and details when to hand out worksheets. It also lists information in the green box that you might find useful. You will find the lesson objectives, state standards, and number of class sessions the lesson should take to complete in this area. In addition, it describes the supplies you will need as well as what and how you need to prepare beforehand. The only supplies you will need for this lesson are dictionaries and the handouts. To prepare for this lesson ahead of time, you can gather the dictionaries, copy the handouts, and pair students for the lesson activity.

Options for Lesson

Included with this lesson is an “Options for Lesson” section that lists a number of suggestions for activities to add to the lesson or substitutions for the ones already in the lesson. If you’d like to adjust the activity worksheet, you can create nine groups of students and assign each group a different type of context clue. Each group will use words to create examples and will exchange examples to determine the meaning of the words. If you’d like to add another activity to the lesson, you can use students’ current reading material or other content and have students use context clues to define the new words they find. 

Teacher Notes

The teacher notes page includes a paragraph with additional guidelines and things to think about as you begin to plan your lesson. This page also includes lines that you can use to add your own notes as you’re preparing for this lesson.


New Words

The Using Context for Clues lesson plan includes three content pages. The lesson begins by asking students what they do when come across a new word. They could look it up using the internet or other technology. But those source won’t understand the context of the word, and might not know which definition they’re looking for. The lesson uses the word level as an example. If you use Google, it might tell you that the word level means a horizontal plane, but the word might be used in a different way in context, like as a verb. In this case, the meaning they’re looking for is to tear down.

You can figure out the correct meaning of a new word using context clues. These are the hints that you find throughout a sentence or paragraph that help you define new words. Learning how to use these context clues will help expand your vocabulary.

You won’t be able to expand your vocabulary if you don’t bother trying to define new words. Once you learn a new word, you should practice using it in writing or when talking to people. If you just skip over an unfamiliar word, you might not understand the full meaning of the sentence or paragraph. We have several strategies that we can use to determine the meaning of new words.

Strategies for Using Context Clues

The various strategies for using context clues all require you to look at and consider the surrounding words, sentences, paragraphs, and passages. It might take some word to figure out the meaning of a new word, and you might not be able to figure it out right away. You have to look for the clues in the surrounding words. It’s also important to remember that many words have multiple meanings. You might find a word that you’re familiar with that doesn’t make sense in context. In that case, it’s likely that the writer is using a different definition of that word. You can find the correct meaning using context clues.

We have a few different types of context clues and strategies, which are listed along with examples in the lesson. The first is using word parts. For example, for the word circumvent, we know that circ means circle or around. Therefore, the word circumvent means to find a way around.

The second is using a definition or description. The words the celestial bodies, for example, might be followed by the phrase that is. When we see the phrase that is, we know that whatever comes after it is going to be a definition or description of the preceding word or phrase (definitions can also follow dashes or parenthesis).

The third is examples. We might find an example of the unknown word near that word, and it might include the phrases such as or for example. We can then use that example to determine the meaning. The next strategy is synonym restatement, where authors use familiar words with the same meaning later in the sentence or paragraph.

Strategies for Using Context Clues – Page Two

The next is contrast or antonyms, where words like but, however, and others indicate an opposite meaning. Another strategy is mood or tone. Sometimes, the meaning matches the tone or mood of the passage, paragraph, or story. If we can identify the tone or mood of the story, we can use that information to figure out the meaning of new words.

The next strategy is experience, where readers use their own experiences of how people or things act as a clue. Next, we have inference, where we have enough clues to make an educated guess about the meaning of the unknown word. The final strategy is cause and effect, which means that the writer explains the reason or result of the word. They might use the words because, since, thus, or so to show cause and effect in their writing.

All of these strategies for using context clues require practice. The more you use them, the more words you will learn and the better you will get at using context clues to define new words. Remember not to skip over or ignore unknown words!


The Using Context for Clues lesson plan includes three worksheets: an activity worksheet, a practice worksheet, and a homework assignment. You can refer to the guide on the classroom procedure page to determine when to hand out each worksheet.


Students will work with a partner to complete the lesson activity. Each pair of students will use a dictionary to find 10 words (that they are unfamiliar with) and definitions. They will then use each word in a sentence or short paragraph that includes context clues that someone else can use to determine the meaning of the word. They will underline the word and will swap their sentences with another pair of students. The second pair will read the sentences from the first pair and use context clues to determine the meaning of each underlined word.

Students may work alone or in groups for this activity if you’d prefer.


For the practice worksheet, students will read sentences and determine the meaning of the underlined words using context clues. They are not allowed to use references to complete this worksheet.


The homework assignment asks students to read an excerpt from a story and use context clues to define all of the bold words.

Worksheet Answer Keys

This lesson plan includes answer keys for the practice worksheet and the homework assignment. If you choose to administer the lesson pages to your students via PDF, you will need to save a new file that omits these pages. Otherwise, you can simply print out the applicable pages and keep these as reference for yourself when grading assignments.

Additional information


5th Grade


Language Arts

State Educational Standards


Lessons are aligned to meet the education objectives and goals of most states. For more information on your state objectives, contact your local Board of Education or Department of Education in your state.