Author: Belay Haileyes Asaminew (Ethiopia) | Published on 1 September 2022



Vocabulary in context refers to the sentences or the whole paragraph surrounding an unfamiliar word. There are six different types of context clues:

  1. Knowledge of the world
  2. Punctuation
  3. Example
  4. Comparison
  5. Definition
  6. Contrast

Step 1 Prepare: Using knowledge of the world

Teacher: read the example: “I didn’t sleep well because my neighbor’s dog was yapping all night.” 

We can guess the meaning of yapping by thinking about our knowledge of dogs and our knowledge of sleep. How can dogs wake us up? They can jump on us or make a noise. So, we can guess that yapping is some kind of noise, probably like barking.

Learners: In pairs, guess the meaning of the underlined word.

  1. My tea was tepid, so I put it in the microwave. 

Tepid probably means [not very warm]

Step 2. Prepare: Further Context Clues

The teacher gives the following examples:

1.  Punctuation Clues

With punctuation clues, the meaning of a word is explained immediately after the word between brackets, commas or dashes. 


Sleet (half rain and half snow) can be very difficult to drive in due to poor visibility. Sleet is [half rain and half snow]

2. Definition Clues


Many new businesses go bankrupt, which means they lose everything. To go bankrupt is [to lose everything]

3. Example Clues


The reporter talked to many auto-industry executives, for example, company presidents and vice-presidents.

An executive is [someone in a top position in a business]

4. Comparison Clues

Words like similar, as well as, both and likewise show that two or more things are alike. For example:


Washing windows is a tedious job. Similarly, cleaning the oven is very boring.

5. Contrast Clues

Connecting words like however, yet, on the other hand, instead ofbut, while, and although are used to show that meanings are opposite.


Although some old people abhor change, most of them enjoy new things and experiences.

In this sentence, the word although shows that there are opposite meanings in  the two parts of the sentence. Both parts are about old people and their attitudes to change. The opposite meanings must be abhor and enjoy. Abhor probably means the opposite of enjoy. So, abhor probably means dislike.

Step 3: Practice

Ask learners to use different context clues to guess the meaning of the underlined words.

Teacher: “Use your knowledge of the world, punctuation clues, definition clues, example clues, comparison clues and contrast clues to  guess the meanings of the underlined words.”

1.When Henry Gonzalez was elected to congress, many of his Spanish-speaking constituents, the voters in his district, felt he would fight for their rights. Constituents are_________________ 

2.Many restaurants serve molluscs – for example, snails, oysters and clams. A mollusc is _______________ 

3.This is the story of a young orphan (both her parents are dead). An orphan is _______________     

4.They want a boy to help with the farm chores such as planting crops, chopping wood and picking apples. A chore is ________________ 

5.However, Anne is a very engaging child. She interests Matthew and he won’t send her back. Engaging means ________________                        

6.Anne has become an exemplary young lady. For instance, she has won a scholarship, she has saved a young child’s life, and she has a beautiful personality.  Exemplary means ________________

7.Although Anne tries to be obedient, she gets into lots of scrapes.These difficult situations often lead to some funny results.A scrape is _____________________

8.Anne has very red hair and she’s very self-conscious about it. Similarly, she’s very embarrassed by her freckles – small brown spots on her nose and cheeks. Self-conscious means ____________ andfreckles are ________ 

9.Spot cleaners as well as other bleach products are good at getting out stains or dirt.  A spot cleaner is  ____________ 

10.One time Anne tried to dye her hair black. Unfortunately, she changed the colour to green instead. To dye is ______________                   

11. Mary finds playing tennis relaxing in the same way that Daniel finds reading soothingSoothing means ___________________ 

12. Reliable scientific theories are based not upon careless work, but rather upon meticulous research and experimentation. Meticulous means  ___________________ 


Punctuation: Marks in a text that show divisions between phrases, clauses or sentences.

See also