Activities to Teach Context Clues for Third Grade

By Abby Slutsky
Using context clues reduces the need to find definitions in a dictionary.
Using context clues reduces the need to find definitions in a dictionary.

Reading helps readers expand their vocabularies. By third grade, many students have mastered reading, but still have difficulty understanding unfamiliar words that they see in the text. Because using a dictionary is often tedious, many third graders simply skip over unfamiliar words. Fortunately, third grade readers can learn to comprehend unfamiliar words by using context clues or words around an unfamiliar word to help them understand what the word means. Successful mastery of the use of context clues can help students become better readers, retain new vocabulary words and perform better on reading comprehension tests. Teachers can use a number of activities to teach students how to use context clues.

Short Passage Reading

Encourage children to read short passages. Highlight a word that they may not understand. Place a synonym of the word after the highlighted word. At the conclusion of the paragraph, ask students to explain the meaning of the highlighted word and use it in a sentence. Expand your third graders’ vocabularies by asking them to brainstorm antonyms for the highlighted word, and then to use them in their own sentences.

Missing Word Activity

Play a fill in the word game with students. Read a sentence with a missing word. Ask each student to write down a word that makes sense in the sentence. Let children share their words and discuss the meanings of any unfamiliar words, if appropriate. Make the sentence more specific and ask students if they think of a different word that would complete the sentence better. Students can write down their new words, share them, and discuss why they are a better choice for the new sentence.

Using Illustrations

Third grade students enjoy hearing stories. When reading stories, stop frequently and initiate discussions about the book that ensure the students understand difficult words. Show students pictures from the story because illustrations are also context clues that can help students identify the meaning of words.

Context Clue Games

Third grade students can play computer games that reinforce using context clues. Some games use context clues to give students an opportunity to answer questions about sentences based on vocabulary they understand. Students can win fake money or progress to more advanced levels of the game with harder vocabulary. These games help students to successfully define words used in sentences. You can also use a blank game board and create cards with passages that students can read for meaning. Students can read and answer questions about what they read, and then move spaces on a game board when they get correct answers.