No teacher would argue the importance of using context clues to understand new vocabulary. What’s harder is how to teach it. One way I’ve approached it is the use of narrative.

Each month, we focus on twelve vocabulary words that are selected from our current texts (the vocab words from the past two months have been from Macbeth–We started studying the words a few weeks before we began reading the play.)

To work on students’ context clues, I write a story that includes all twelve of the words.

But I don’t stop there.

I also include each student’s name within the story, further motivating them to read on. Usually, I add in our principal’s name (who often plays the villain or the token death) or other teachers.

Check out our most recent story, Siren Song!

As students read the story, they write down the vocabulary words (which are bold and underlined), and then try to determine the definitions based on context clues. They also write or draw an example.  All this they do on a strip of cardstock, which we dub our “vocab bookmarks.” After they finish, I look them over and correct any misconceptions.

Finally, they use the bookmarks in their independent reading books for the rest of the month. Students are also allowed to use their bookmarks during our daily challenges (usually a Quizizz or vocab game), and they gradually wean themselves off their bookmarks through the month. They’re also allowed to use the bookmarks on their assessment (which is using the words in writing), though after four weeks of practicing the words, they rarely need them.

How long does it take for me to write a story? About 30-45 minutes. After one story, I make a copy for other sections and change the names. Plus, the stories are then easy to tweak and reuse in following years.

This is an activity that works great on days that you have a substitute or a block of time for independent work. Plus, it’s so much fun watching the kids laugh with each other and search out their own names!