Types of Context Clues

There are so many words to learn in life! Therefore, students can get frustrated and overwhelmed when they do not know what words mean. Furthermore, comprehension and full understanding are negatively impacted when students struggle with vocabulary. Hence, it is essential for students to learn about context clues! There are a variety of context clues types that will help students to gain the confidence to use a variety of strategies to make an educated guess on a meaning.

What are Context Clues?

Context clues are hints to help readers understand unfamiliar words. The hints may be within the sentence, paragraph, or passage. By utilizing context clues, students gain a better understanding of the writing. 

Context Clues Types

Math has different formulas to solve equations. Additionally, there are often multiple ways to complete a science experiment. Similarly, there are numerous types of context clues to understand an unfamiliar term. Thankfully, this means that students can apply different techniques to improve their understanding. 


Explanation Clues/Definition

Oftentimes, a sentence provides clues to understand the challenging word. Thus, this means that the explanation or definition is actually offered. However, students need to learn how to tell if the definition is within the writing.

To teach students this technique, here are a few great examples of this context clue type: 

  1. The doctor’s writing was utterly illegible; no one could read those scribbles.
    • Example: Illegible and no one being able to read the scribbles
  2. Bill felt remorse, or shame, for his harsh words.
    • Definition: remorse=shame 
  3. His rancor, or hatred, for socializing resulted in a life of loneliness and boredom.
    • Definition: rancor=hatred 


Antonyms are another type of context clue.  As crazy as it may sound, antonyms, or words that mean the opposite, actually provide meaning for unknown words! Hence, students can truly understand the meaning of unfamiliar words by learning what the word is not.

To teach students this technique, here are a few great examples: 

  1. Our sweltering summer days were quickly replaced by the cold flashes of fall. 
    • Opposites: sweltering summer & cold flashes of fall 
  2. My dog is so overweight that he is obese. He has not been thin since he was a puppy.
    • Opposites: obese & thin
  3. Marty is gregarious unlike his brother, who is quiet and shy.
    • Opposites: gregarious & quiet/shy
    • Gregarious is a HARD word! However, students will be proud of themselves after using the antonyms to predict the meaning. 


In contrast to the above, sentences may also contain synonyms, or words that mean the same, to help learn unknown words. Thus, with this type of context clue, students will learn more challenging words by utilizing vocabulary they already know. 

To teach students this technique, here are a few great examples:

  1. It was an idyllic day – sunny, warm, and perfect for a walk in the park.
  • Same: idyllic & sunny, warm, perfect 
  1. She hums continuously, or all the time, and it annoys me.
    • Same: continuously & all the time (also a definition example)
  2. Tim explained, “I am starving.” He was famished because he had not eaten all day.
    • Same: starving & famished 



As another method, sentences may also provide students with an example to help illustrate what the word means. Depending on the age, students may also use transition words to understand when an example is provided. Common phrases include For instance and For Example.

To teach students this technique, here are a few great examples of this context clue type: 

  1. The team was elated because they just found out they were placed in the semifinals.
    • Example: I would ask my students to imagine proceeding to the next round of their favorite competition. Then, we would discuss how that explains the definition of elated. 
  2. The vase is delicate because it can break easily.
    • Example: I would ask my students why they need to be careful when carrying anything glass or fragile. Then, we would discuss delicacy. 
  3. The manager disliked obsequious behavior, such as fawning and groveling.
    • Example: I would ask my students what type of behavior a manager may not like. Now, examples may include being late or calling off. However, it could also mean being too excessive to agree about something. Thus, this sentence provides two examples (fawning and groveling) of what obsequious means. 


Context Clues Resources 

To apply the techniques above, students will need a lot of practice. However, this will be time well spent as they gain knowledge on a skill utilized throughout life. Thankfully, there are plenty of resources created to ensure students gain confidence at using different types of context clues! For instance, there is a context clue learning bundle for grades 2-4, grades 3-5, and grades 4-6. Gratefully, these bundles will help ensure students of all ages gain so much knowledge on defining unknown words. 


Using context clues is an essential skill that all students need to learn! Ultimately, they will constantly be exposed to unknown and unfamiliar vocabulary due to how many words are in the English language. Thus, conflict clues will provide students the skills needed to understand, reflect, and analyze what is read. 

If you do not want to miss any of the upcoming lessons, join my email list to be notified of all the interactive lessons coming up! By joining the email list, you will also receive FREE Context Clues Anchor Chart & Worksheets for blog exclusive subscribers! 

I am Kirsten Tulsian, an elementary educator with 18 years of experience as a teacher and counselor. My passion lies in empowering students to discover their inherent brilliance through the use of engaging, rigorous, and meaningful activities. I look forward to connecting with you!

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