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Explore the slideshow below to learn how to identify the meaning of domain-specific words and phrases using context clues given by the author. You will also learn how to use synonyms and antonyms as well as common prefixes and suffixes to aid in determining the meaning of vocabulary. You will learn how to consider any visual information and how it affects your understanding of important vocabulary words. Finally, you will learn how to demonstrate your understanding of newly acquired vocabulary.

Speaker plays audio

Understanding Vocabulary in a Text

student working at laptop with words meaning, central idea and main topic/main point

The following steps and strategies will help you to uncover the meaning of unknown words and phrases.

Begin by reading the text and thinking about the overall meaning. Ask yourself:

  • What does the author want me to understand?
  • What is the central idea?
  • What is the topic and main point(s) that the author is explaining?
girl taking notes; identify unfamiliar words; ask yourself: is meaning important to overall understanding of text?

Identify the words within the text that are unfamiliar to you.

  • Decide if the meaning of the unfamiliar word is important to your overall understanding of the text.
boy looking down reading; look for clues; use strategies to help uncover meaning of challenging vocabulary

Once you have identified the unfamiliar words whose meaning would help you understand the text better, begin studying each unfamiliar word to look for clues. Good readers use the strategies on the following slides to help them uncover the meaning of challenging vocabulary.

two students studying; Strategy:  Paraphrase the sentence with unfamiliar words

First, put the sentence(s) containing the unfamiliar word into your own words. This step will help you understand the content surrounding the unfamiliar word.

close up of digital tablet; Strategy:  Identify context clues before or after the challenging word.

Look for context clues that surround the unfamiliar word. These are words that come before or after the challenging word and help you make meaning of the unknown word.

girl reading and taking notes; Strategy: Look for synonyms or antonyms.

Examine the text for synonyms or antonyms for the unknown words. These words can also help you understand unfamiliar vocabulary.

girl with laptop; Strategy: Analyze prefixes or suffixes.

Analyze any prefixes or suffixes that are a part of the unknown word and think about their meaning. If you are unfamiliar with the prefix or suffix, think about other words with that prefix/suffix and what those words mean.

two charts; strategy: closely examine visuals such as: symbols, diagrams,charts,text boxes,illustrations,photographs

Look at the visuals that the author has used. Think about how the graphic features, such as symbols, help you understand the meaning in the text. Also look for diagrams, charts, text boxes, illustrations and photographs. Think about how these features help you determine the meaning of unknown vocabulary terms.

Confirm meaning of a word by using a dictionary or thesaurus

Once you think you have figured out the meaning of the unfamiliar word, place that meaning back into the sentence to check that you are correct. The word with your assigned meaning should make sense once replaced in the sentence and within the context of the text.

Now confirm the meaning of the unfamiliar word by using a dictionary or thesaurus.

two female students studying;  Strategy:  Practice using new word(s) in speech and writing.

Begin using the new word(s) in your speaking and writing. As you practice using unfamiliar words, they will become familiar to you and will be incorporated into your working vocabulary.