Using Context Clues

Male detective wearing a trench coat and a hat holding a magnifying glass up to their left eye

Purpose: To have students use context to find the meaning of words and the main idea of the overall passage.

Transitions Integration Framework category/skill/sub-skill:

·         Learning Strategies

o   Skill 3: Apply appropriate strategies to compensate for and fill in gaps in knowledge

§  Sub-skill  c: Use context and what you know to figure out or guess meaning of language


Preparation time: 10 minutes

Materials needed: A GED-level excerpt

Preparation: Select an excerpt (one to three paragraphs) from a GED source. Retype the passage. Go back and change at least a handful of words with words that you make up. Some of them should be key words; however, the meaning should still be able to be interpreted from context. Print copies of the excerpt with the made up words as well as copies of the actual version to hand out to students at the end of the activity.


*Make the words sound believable! Add appropriate endings to the words to match common endings for that part of speech (-able, -tion, etc.)

**While this is similar to a cloze activity, it has actual words that are unrecognizable, simulating a very real situation on the GED test. Students should not get caught up in the pronunciation of these words or “shut down” because they do not know what the word is.



1.     Hand out the excerpt with the words you made up. Tell the students that you are going to read this with the goal of finding the main idea. DO NOT tell them that it contains made up words!

2.     Ask for one or more students to read the excerpt aloud. Assist them with the pronunciation of those words you made up without letting on that they are not real. Encourage them to keep reading if they pause for too long.

3.     Once you have read through the excerpt a couple of times as a class, ask students which vocabulary words they do not know. Make a list of them on the board (most, if not all, of them will be the ones you made up). Still keep it a secret!

4.     Tell students to disregard those words and to see if they can figure out the meaning of the sentences through context. Take the sentences one at a time and solicit input from the students on what they think each word means (or even if it sounds like a good thing/bad thing/a description/etc.).

5.     After you have gone through each sentence containing one of those words, ask students to individually write down what they believe the main idea of the passage is.

6.     Come together as a class and ask for students to volunteer their answers. Make sure the correct answer is given.

7.     LASTLY, point out to students that even though they didn’t know several words from the passage, they were still able to come up with the main idea. This practice is how they should approach texts on the GED test (and in life). NOW you can tell them that you made up those wordsJ You might get some sighs, but tell them you were trying to make a point. Students couldn’t have looked them up if they tried! They had to rely on context.

8.     Pass out the excerpt that contains the actual words and have students compare what they thought the meanings/words were with the real words.

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