C is for Context Clues


If your homeschooler is working on improving their vocabulary or reading level, they may benefit from explicitly learning about how to identify context clues. Context clues are hints embedded in language that help a listener or reader define unfamiliar words. The I.D.E.A.S. acronym is a common tool used to help learners know what to look for when stuck on new vocabulary. Here is how it works:


Inference: When the meaning of a word is not given, it can usually be understood by reading the text around it. In this example, the reader can infer that a textile is a fabric like silk or satin. EX: The tailor replaced silk with satin as the most fashionable textile of the season.


Definition: Sometimes the speaker or author will write the definition of the word in the sentence where it first appears. Ex: He was an empathetic father who always showed a great ability to understand the feelings of his children.


Example: Other times the speaker or author will illustrate the word using examples in the sentence or in sentences around the word that will help you define it. Ex: They grew many crops such as corn, beans and squash.


Antonym: In some cases, a word with the opposite meaning is used to help define a new word. Ex: The store clerk was cranky and unapproachable, but their dad made the shopping trip easier because he was empathetic.

Synonym: Finally, some speakers or authors will use words with similar meanings to help you decode new vocabulary. Ex: It’s important to be knowledgeable of all the newest available textiles in the fashion world. The types of cloth and fabric people wear on their bodies can be very important to their health and image.


For younger readers, picture books are a great way to teach context clues because the illustrations almost always give away what is going on in the text. I taught my first child to read by simply asking them to tell me what was going on in the pictures and then helped them build their story with transition words like first, next, then and finally. We began to use context clues like the ones found in the IDEAS chart above as they were able to identify sight words and more text. I hope this helps you in your homeschool journey!


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-Laurie Gracia-Alikhan The Homeschooler Post Editor