Using Context to Build Vocabulary | Reading Tips

Using Context to Build Vocabulary

A child’s vocabulary grows as they read more and more books.  However simply reading harder and harder books will not necessarily increase a child’s vocabulary.  Vocabulary involves understanding and being able to use a new word.  A child can read a word and not understand it at all.  Teaching a child to use the context the word is in can help them figure out the meaning of new words on their own.

What is Context?

Context focuses on the meaning of the words in a paragraph of story as a whole instead of individually.  Context allows us to understand figurative language such as metaphors and idioms that would otherwise seem confusing.  When a child is reading they can use the context around an unfamiliar word to learn what that word means.

Using Context to Build Vocabulary: Determine Meaning

Children must be taught how to use context to understand new words.  It is not something they will naturally be able to do.  Start by listening to them read a book that is slightly above their grade level. (You want the book to have some unfamiliar words in it.)  As they come to a word that is new to them, let them finish reading the paragraph.  Point out the word and ask if your child knows what the word means.  If they can tell you what it means, let them keep reading.  If they don’t understand the word, have them reread the paragraph around the word looking for clues as to what it might mean.  After rereading the paragraph, encourage them to tell you what they think it might mean based on the clues they found.  Finally either tell them they were right about the definition, or tell them the correct definition and explain how the clues pointed to that definition.

Keep Practicing Using Context

It may take a while, but your child will begin to get more and more definitions correct as you continue this process over and over.  At first you may need to model the process several times for them.  Once they start getting many definitions right without your help, you can know that your child is using context to learn new words as they read.

You will be so encouraged to hear and see your child’s vocabulary increase just by reading.  Using context is hard for children, but it really pays off once they truly get the concept.

How do you teach your children to understand context?

Elementary Reading Curriculum at Smart Tutor

Photo by Pratham Books

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