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Vocabulary and Context Clues – Reading Comprehension Series

Helping children develop their reading skills requires some essential tools, like print awareness, phonological awareness, decoding and sight word skills. With these tools in their belt, children are ready to take on their final steps toward reading comprehension. In this final blog post of our Reading Comprehension Series, we're going to discuss how Speech Language Pathologists encourage new readers to use their skills to learn new vocabulary.


Whether a child is reading, playing, or listening to speech, they're encountering new words every day. When we're teaching vocabulary directly to them in Speech Therapy or at home, there are a few tips to keep in mind to make sure they're absorbing the material and it's not too overwhelming:

  • Be specific – avoid using words like this, that, here, there, thing and other non-specific words

  • Introduce a variety of word types – It's easy to stick to naming things you see (nouns) and do (verbs), but it's important to describe them too! Adjectives (e.g. big, small) can describe nouns, and adverbs (e.g. fast, slow) can describe verbs.

  • Start with the most basic form of a word that will be used the most regularly, and then increase in complexity when needed (e.g. "house" --> "habitat" --> "abode")

  • When reading a new vocabulary word in a book, try out these tips:

Stress the new word by saying it louder

- "Mr. Jenkins loves to EXPLORE."

Match it to a picture or action if possible

- "Look, he's exploring in the forest."

Describe what it means or use a synonym

- "Exploring is when you're searching for new things or a new place."

Relate it to your child's personal experiences

- "Remember when we went on our hike last weekend? We got to explore the trails!"

Repeat the word throughout your day if you can remember it

- "We need to put on our jackets before we can go explore the new park today."

Research shows that it is best to only teach 5 new words or less during each reading activity in order to not overwhelm the child. Choose words that are most relevant to the story as well as the child's interest so that they are engaged and ready to learn this new information.

It's also beneficial to plan ahead for when you are going to use these new vocabulary words outside of book reading – it's good for the child to see them on paper, but they need to be using these vocabulary words and hearing them in their daily lives.

Context Clues

As we previously mentioned in our decoding and sight words post, there are simply too many words for children to try and memorize all at once. They need to use context clues to draw conclusions about what they're reading when faced with words they don't know.

Parents and guardians can explain to kids that using context clues is like solving a mystery – they take on the role of the detective and use surrounding pictures, words, and sentences that they do understand to learn what unfamiliar words or phrases mean.

Here's an example – readers would need to use their good detective skills to understand this sentence:

Kevin sprinkled wibbles on his oatmeal to make it sweet.

  • What could wibbles be? Look at the picture and make a guess.

  • What is the sentence talking about? (Making oatmeal sweet)

  • Look around the word "wibbles" – what clues do you see? Sprinkled, oatmeal, and make it sweet are all clues.

The information gathered from pictures and word clues should be enough to come up with a working definition in their minds about what wibbles are. This helps them understand the broader message they're reading:

"Wibbles are something you sprinkle on your oatmeal to make it sweeter."

If these clues were not enough to allow them to make an inference, then asking an adult or looking the word up in a dictionary would be the next steps. But reading in context is a valuable and necessary skill that young readers will take with them throughout their lives!

Becoming a fluent reader is a process with many steps, so make sure to celebrate all the small successes along the way with your kids. We hope this reading comprehension series has given you some ideas to practice literacy skills at home and has shed some light on the processes that Speech Language Pathologists use in therapy.

Leave a comment or ask a Speech Therapist if you have any questions, or get in touch with us to book an appointment if you know someone who could benefit from Speech Therapy for literacy.


Strategic Learning Reading Comprehension: Level 1 – LinguiSystems, Inc. 2002


Andalusia Speech Therapy has multiple clinics across Ontario and offers virtual therapy to anywhere in the world. Contact us for more information.

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