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Contextual Redefinition

Contextual Redefinition offers students specific steps for deducing the meaning of unknown (or unclear) words in a reading passage by seeking clues from their context in a larger text selection.

This strategy encourages students . . .

  • To focus on what is clear and obvious in a reading selection,

  • To state, as much as is possible, the author's general intent/meaning in a passage, and

  • To use these observations to help interpret unclear terms and ideas within the known context.

Additionally, Contextual Redefinition calls for close attention to word order, syntax, parallel ideas, and examples as keys for predicting word meaning.

Steps to Contextual Redefinition:

  1. Select several key words from a reading selection (especially words that have multiple meanings or might otherwise be unclear to readers). Write these words on the chalkboard.

  2. Have students suggest definitions for these terms before reading the selection. Most likely, students will provide a range of definitions since the words are considered in isolation from any specific context. Some of the proposed definitions will be inexact, hinting at, but not fully defining, the term.

  3. Record all definitions suggested on the chalkboard.

  4. Have the students read the text selection, noting the specific sentences in which each of the words appears.

  5. Ask students to revisit their previous definitions and see which, if any, reflect the use of these words in the context of the selection. Use dictionaries if student definitions lack enough clarity to match the contextal meaning of the words.

  6. Reiterate that words have multiple meanings and uses and that the context of a word in a text selection determines its meaning.

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