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Six context clues strategies to figure out new words in authentic texts - Part 2

Last week’s post presented three strategies to teach students to infer the meaning of words by using context clues.   This week, I’d like to stay with Celia: La niña que cantaba con las manos, and show you three more ways that we can teach students to figure out new words. I like to layer on different ways of understanding new words by teaching students that being a language learner is like being a detective.  You pay really close attention to clues around you to see if you can make sense of the bigger picture.

4. Lean on cognates

In some instances, illustrations are no help, and very few words before or after can really assist a student.  Still, they can infer the meaning of words by leaning on cognates from their native tongue.  

As Celia starts school, her teacher tries to communicate with her, but isn’t able to.  Then during recess, no one talks to her and Celia feels very lonely.   “No había ningún estudiante sordo y ningún intérprete de señas.  Students know the meaning of “sordo” because the teacher must teach that explicitly as they introduce the text to students.  What about “intérprete de señas”?

Clue #1: In a couple of sentences before, we read that Celia’s teacher isn’t able to communicate with Celia. 
Clue #2: The fact that there are no “estudiante sordo” (deaf students) and no “intérprete de señas” seems to be part of the issue with them not being able to understand one another. 
Clue #3: In “intérprete de señas” I see the English word “interpret” and I see that it’s a noun because it says “ningún intérprete” so there was no “interprete de señas.”  An English noun that also has the root word “interpret” is “interpreter” like the person who translates languages.  I also know that “señas” means “signs.”
Clue #4: In the next paragraph, we read that Celia feels lonely.  I think it’s because she doesn’t have anyone to talk to. 
Clue #5: Celia even signs: “Tu hija, que se siente una extraña.”  (Your daughter who feels like a foreigner.)

Inference about the meaning of “intérprete de señas.”  
It seems reasonable to assume that “un intérprete de señas” is someone who can translate signs.  It’s kind of like a translator, but for deaf people. 

5. Make connections to words you already know 

When Celia is back in class, a student tries to talk to her, but she can’t hear her.  So, the girl starts talking really loudly and moves her arms a lot.  “Todos los niños nos estaban mirando y explotaron en carcajadas muy burlonas.”  When students come across a string of words that seem connected, it’s empowering to teach them to infer the meaning of the words by making connections to words you already know.  

Clue #1: I know that “explotaron” is from the verb “explotar” which means “to explode.”
Clue #2: I know that “carcajar” means “to laugh.”  So, “en carcajadas” probably means “in laughter.”
Clue #3: Burlonas” reminds me of the word “burlarse” which means “to make fun of” or “to mock.”

Inference about the meaning of “explotaron en carcajadas muy burlonas.”  
By connecting to words I know, I’m assuming that “explotaron en carcajadas muy burlonas” means that they exploded in laughter that was making fun of Celia, her friend or both of them. 


6. Identify the part of speech 

When the school director finally returns from his trip, he invites a teaching assistant to attend a meeting with Celia.  It turns out that the teaching assistant can sign, and serve as the much needed interpreter.  The director makes a comment about how the school is learning to work with “students with problems” as he refers to Celia.  She immediately replies that she doesn’t have a problem.  “También aclaré que no estaba enferma y que solo hablaba una lengua distinta, como el inglés, y que lo único que deseaba era que me trataran con dignidad.” 

Clue #1: I look at this sentence, and notice that “también” (also) is in front of “aclaré” and que is after “aclaré.”  That usually means that the word in between is a verb like “También dijó que…
Clue #2: It looks like “aclaré” is a verb in past tense.  I think it might be “aclarar” in infinitive.  
Clue #3: Going back to cognates, it makes me think of the verb “to declare” in English.  
Clue #4: If I go back to earlier in the paragraph, she says that she “explained.”  If the author uses “también” before “aclaré,” it could mean something similar to explain. 

Inference about the meaning of “aclaré.”  
It seems to make sense for “aclaré” to mean “I declared” because it’s the past tense of a verb that has a meaning similar to “explain.”

It’s not unusual for students to overuse the first two strategies - “read a little before and a little after” and “look at the illustration or photo.”  Creating a strategy chart with all six strategies is a great way to remind them of all of the tools they can use.  The more strategies they put to use, the more proficient and independent they’ll become at understanding new words.  

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