Tips for Learning New Vocabulary Words

Using Context Clues to Determine Definitions


Learning to use context clues successfully when determining definitions is an important skill to develop. This technique can be used by beginning as well as advanced readers whenever coming across an unfamiliar word.  Using the context clues provide in a sentence simply means understanding the general meaning, including all of the other words, to get a basic understanding of what the unrecognized word means.  Students who learn to use this skill well will not have to open the dictionary as often in order to improve reading comprehension.

Synonym Context Clues
A synonym is a word with a similar meaning as a given word.  When a writer is purposely trying to introduce a more difficult word to young readers, he or she may include a synonym to help the student understand the meaning of the difficult word. Usually, the synonym is placed directly after the word as another way of saying something.  As readers become accustomed with this technique of learning a new word, they will learn to look for synonyms in all their reading material when they come across new words.

Antonym Context Clues
An antonym is a word that means the opposite of a given word. Often, writers will use antonyms when introducing new words to young readers. They do this by first describing something and then describing a second thing using a more common antonym.  As readers learn to recognize antonyms within the context of a sentence or paragraph, they will be able to understand the meaning of new, challenging words.

Summary Context Clues
Students can often learn the meaning of new words when looking for summary context clues. This is when the author introduces a new word and then summarizes the meaning of that word in the following sentences. The sentences are not blatant definitions of the word, rather they are filled with more details about the new word.  For example, a paragraph may include the word “impertinent” when describing someone. The following sentence might describe the rude behavior of the impertinent person.

Description Context Clues
Sometimes an author will introduce new words in a description about a character or thing.  The sentence containing the new word is typically followed by other sentences that continue to describe an aspect of the person or thing in order to make sure the difficult word is understood.  For example, the sentence might describe someone as “superficial”. The following sentence might list the superficial attributes of the person, such as being shallow.

As students learn to use context clues while reading, comprehension skills as well as enjoyment will increase. Fewer trips to the dictionary mean fewer interruptions during reading and more satisfaction with the material. As a result, learning these techniques from authors who have deliberately placed context clues in material for young readers is a good way to develop a skill that benefits readers for life.