Context-Clue Strategy: Teaching Students Word Solving Skills-Part 2
Timothy G. Weih, Ph.D.
University of Northern Iowa, USA
January 2017

Note: This is the second part of a two part article. See Part 1 for the beginning information.

Instructional Delivery

Each version of the Context-Clue Strategy should be taught separately and practiced by students within mixed ability small groups for at least a week, and then when students have demonstrated understanding, have them work independently apart from their group to gauge success before moving on to the next version. It works best to begin with the Plain Version followed by the Challenge and then the Interpretive, as each one becomes more difficult. During the week of instructional delivery and practice, multiple types of text should be used to familiarize students with the texts that are normally assigned for them to read. Instructional delivery is most effective if the following pattern is followed: introduce the strategy by telling students what it is and how they can apply it to their reading assignments; model or show students how to do the strategy by working through an example as a whole class; guide practice or have students work in small groups with teacher guidance; and independent practice or have students work alone for the sake of demonstrating individual capabilities and learning.

Modeling. During the modeling phase of the instructional delivery, it's crucial for teachers to point out to students how to use context clues for gaining understanding of the overall meaning of the passage. This is accomplished through reading the passage more than once, or as many times as it takes in order to understand what it's about (developing background knowledge). In addition, it's critical that teachers point out how students can add context to solving unknown words (which are represented in the passages by blanks) in real texts within authentic reading assignments, by re-reading the words before and after the unknown word (i.e., the missing word) in the sentence. Moreover, that they can use their background knowledge about grammar by re-reading the passage aloud to see how it "sounds." Reading aloud is how young students first begin to learn language, and it continues to be an effective way for older students to check their language accuracy.

Student Directions

Each version of the Context-Clue Strategy has the same basic instructional directions for students when completing them within their small groups. These directions are as follows:

1. Read the whole passage silently by yourself.
2. Re-read it again aloud chorally together with your group saying "blank" for the blank spaces.
3. Talk out loud in your small group to figure out what the missing words could be.
4. Write the missing words on the blanks within the passage.
5. Re-read the passage aloud again with your group including saying the word choices that you made, and think about how each sounds and looks.
6. Make corrections if necessary.
It works best to include the directions on each Context-Clue Strategy worksheet given to students, and to also have them displayed on a poster in the classroom for students to refer to while working on authentic reading assignments in class.

Even though students are working on the strategy within their small groups until they can demonstrate independence, it is important that each student have his own copy of the worksheet to work with. This practice promotes student-engagement, responsibility, and accountability. If a student disagrees with his teammates about the choice of a word, he can write his own choice.

When students read the whole passage to themselves silently, they are developing topic-specific background knowledge. As they read the passage aloud together, they are enhancing their listening comprehension abilities. Discussing their ideas for what the missing words could be engages the students in the benefits of social learning. Writing their answers onto the worksheets aids in establishing student-ownership. As students re-read the passage aloud they utilize their background knowledge about grammar. Finally, when students are allowed to make corrections, they learn the importance of reflective thinking about text.

It's important to explain to students that when they are working on a Context-Clue Strategy by themselves, that they follow the same basic directions making sure to use a soft, whisper voice for reading aloud and of course, not to talk to anyone about what the missing words could be.

Additionally, point out to students that the missing words in the passages represent unknown words that readers encounter while reading, and in order to solve what they mean, readers perform certain tasks which are represented by the Context-Clue Strategy directions, to solve for the meaning of the unknown word. After readers practice the directions, they become more automatic or internalized thereby making reading comprehension more fluent.

Observation and Modifications for Students with Special Needs

It's imperative that teachers observe their students closely while they are working on the Context-Clue Strategy and to collect their worksheets for further evaluation. Students who are struggling need to be identified, and receive additional, intensified, or modified instruction. These students can be grouped together for more direct teacher guidance. Modifications could include giving them below grade level reading passages, shorter passages, and the teacher reading aloud chorally with them several times for each passage. When students demonstrate success, increase the grade level of reading passages, and reduce the amount of teacher involvement until they are able to demonstrate independent success.

Benefits for Students

The Context-Clue Strategy holds many benefits for students. It gives students a concrete, specific strategy that they can apply when trying to figure out unknown words in their reading assignments. Their vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension abilities will usually increase over time. The strategy provides for a social learning context in which students can learn from each other's reading strengths. It makes apparent to students the relevant connections between their background knowledge in topics they read and know about, the grammar of language, and sentence structure. They learn a reading comprehension strategy they can apply to authentic reading experiences throughout their lives. The strategy is also extremely useful for students to apply when they are taking tests that ask students to read passages that have missing vocabulary words and they have to select the correct words from a list of possibilities.

Closing Comments

The Context-Clue Strategy should not be used as a formal quiz or test until students have been taught everything there is to know about how it works and how to apply it to their reading assignments.


DiCamillo, K. (2000). Because of Winn-Dixie. New York, New York: Scholastic.

Taylor, W. L. (1953). "Cloze procedure": A new tool for measuring readability. Journalism Quarterly, 30, 415-433.

Copyright © 2016 Timothy G. Weih, Ph.D.
University of Northern Iowa, USA

About Author / Additional Info:
Timothy G. Weih is an associate professor of education at the University of Northern Iowa, USA, and teaches elementary teaching methods courses.