context clues games online

5 Best context clues games for practice

How many times has the meaning of a word flown right over your head? Is it in a song? A book? A poem? Or just simply conversations with people?

One of the biggest challenges of English Vocabulary has to be context, but we’re here to solve that problem. Here we give simple and easy activities to help develop the ability to use the context of an unfamiliar word—i.e. the text surrounding it—as a clue to the word’s meaning.

These context clues games online and activities can work as context clues games for 5th grade and context clues games for 4th grade. They can also work for adults too. If you need more activities that adults can participate in, check out these Learning games for adults.

  1. Make it a game – Whenever you are reading to – or with – your child, start the session by saying, “We are going on a treasure hunt!” Explain that while reading, your child will come across words she doesn’t know. Then go on to explain that whenever an unknown word shows up, they’ll know the game is about to begin. Tell them that the treasure you are seeking is the meaning of that unknown word, and the clues to that treasure are right there in the sentence where they found the word. You may have to take them through the process step by step at first, perhaps even finding the “clues” yourself and pointing out how you can define the unknown word using them. Once they get the idea, however, let them seek – and find! – those treasures on their own.
  2. Use it every day – Reading material literally surrounds all of us every day. On the Internet. On cereal boxes. On advertisements plastered on the side of the bus. Use these moments to discuss context clues. Point out a sign, for example, that has a word you suspect your child doesn’t know. Let them read the sentence or phrase. Then encourage them to guess at the unknown word’s meaning. You can even point out that the pictures on the sign or cereal box give us some hints at the word’s meaning, as well.
  3. Make use of substitutions – When learning to use context clues – especially early in the learning process – you can use reading material that your child already knows well. A favorite bedtime story is a good place to start. Pick one that your child has heard many times. Now choose a sentence in that story and take one word out as you read it and substitute an appropriate replacement word. Choose a word that your child doesn’t know yet. For example, put a word like “azure” in for the word “blue.” Or use “exhausted” instead of “tired.” Then ask your child what this new and unknown word means. Since they have heard the story before and knows what word belongs in that sentence, it should be easy for them to guess at the new word’s meaning. When they do guess correctly, point out to them that they didn’t know that word before, but hearing it in a sentence allowed them to make a correct guess.
  4. Buy a game – There are some really great games out there that can help kids practice using context clues. Some of them are so artfully designed that they really do seem like a game, not just grammar practice in disguise. One of them, “Hidden Hints,” uses the theme of solving a mystery and comes packaged as a briefcase filled with sleuthing tools like flashlights, magnifying glasses and footprints. The game can be played at a variety of levels, all designed to help kids practice using context clues in a reading passage to identify new words. A quick Internet search will probably turn up many more useful games.
  5. Make it “hands on” – Young children are often very tactile learners. This means that they learn best when they can handle something during the learning process. One way to engage this hand-to-brain learning while teaching context clues is to print the “answers” to the word riddles you’ll be presenting your child on small slips of paper. Start by identifying several of the words you know they’ll struggle with in the passage they’ll be reading. Put simpler versions of those words on your slips of paper. “Mad,” for example, would be on a slip of paper if “angry” was one of the words you know will give them trouble. Make sure to include four or five new words. Then, while reading, let your child use the slips of paper to cover the unknown word they come across. Once the word is covered with one of the slips of paper, they can read the sentence again – using the new word – and see if it makes sense. If the sentence makes sense, they have found the meaning of the new word!


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