for EFL teachers / in English · 11 listopada 2014

Context clues – reading comprehension exercise

Probably, just like me, you want your students to read English texts better. I have met hundreds of elementary to pre-intermediate students who are very insecure when it comes to reading. Preoccupied with the belief that you must know all of the words to understand what you read, such students struggle with deciphering the meaning and are not able to fully appreciate the content of the book/ passage. That poses a serious threat to learning in general, as a lot of knowledge we acquire through reading. contextclue

What is more, joyless reading does not make sense in real life, thus in the classroom does not bring the motivation and feeling of purpose of reading. This is one of many cases when false beliefs concerning learning have a detrimental effect on the learning outcomes.

What we can do to change these hidden destructive assumptions is to focus on practising the comprehension of the overall meaning rather than looking for details. Another way to combat the great need to know all the words is to make students more aware of the context clues in studied fragments. Working with context clues is a method by which the meanings of unknown words may be obtained by examining the parts of a sentence surrounding the word.

Many coursebook writers usually know when it would be favourable to use a word that will be new to their readers.  To make the things clear and provide students with learning opportunity they often include other words or phrases to help with the understanding of the new word. These words or phrases are referred to as context clues. They are built into the sentences around the difficult word. If students become more aware of the words around the difficult words they encounter in their reading, they will save themselves a lot of trips to the dictionary. That will make them more proficient readers and independent learners. Context clues include: definition/explanation clues, restatement/synonym clues, contrast/antonym clues, and inference/general context clues.

Cutting the long story short, there are certain activities which may help cater for the understanding demanding passages even without knowing a lot of words. There are two of my favourites which I learnt more than 14 years ago in the Teachers Training College in Ciechanów.

The first is aimed at pre-intermediate students and consists of a passage including some nonsensical, made-up words.  A series of comprehension questions is a follow-up activity, probably with some guessing about the meaning of those made-up words.

Read the following passage and answer the questions after the reading.
Raffil and Dindel lived in a little tubblem at the edge of a large torplet. Their tublem was clean and neat, but it torked swilish. The two little flimbies were very prulty in their little tubblem until one unprulty day.
A bebble from the next torplet came up to the fence around their hucklid and pabt, ‘This is a very swilish tublem… the nicest I’ve ever seen. And to prove it – well I will quintab twenty sinbobs for it. What do you flimbies say about that?’
The flimbies torked at each other and shook their gruxes. There was no way they would consider a mere twenty sinbobs for it. They had always pabt that it was forty sinbobs at the very least.
After that day Raffil and Dindel were always unprulty. Their tubblem no longer torked swilish. They could only paab about moving to another torplet and building a new tubblem.

1. Where did Raffil and Dindel live?
2. What torked very swilish?
3. Who are the flimbies?
4. How many sinbobs did the bebble want to quintab for the tubblem ?
5. Why were the flimbies so unprulty about the bebble’s twenty sinbob teker?

It is a quite easy but entertaining exercise, even for more advanced students, and with them could be used as a kind of warm-up activity. Y

Next post will be devoted to another activity helping students hack through  unknown vocabulary in reading