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    Why do instructors insist on teaching you vocabulary? It turns out your ability to understand key vocabulary in a reading directly affects your ability to comprehend the overall text. (Quian)

    This section will focus upon strategies for comprehending the meanings of key wordsin a text without using the dictionary unless absolutely necessary. Conversely, there will also be a focus upon the way in which you, as a writer, use words to effectively communicate your ideas.


    Context refers to surrounding time, place, and circumstances of a situation.Screen Shot 2019-08-05 at 9.36.41 AM.png
    "If Content is King, Context is Queen" by Aaron Gustafson is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

    Context Clues are specific to reading – they are clues found in the surrounding text that help the reader to define a key word.

    Why use context clues? This is a very effective and efficient way to get the general meaning of a word that does not interrupt the flow of your reading.

    Situate yourself somewhere on campus, or somewhere where there is some activity going on.

    Observe this setting. Write a brief description below of something you observe, the time, place and circumstances.




    Watch the video, Word Attack! Using Context Clues to Become a Word Ninja to define the following kinds of context clues. (Available in our D2L course materials.)

    1. Definition Clues


    2. Synonym/Example Clues


    3. Antonym/Contrast Clues


    4. GIST



    Use the article provided by your instructor. Work with a partner to identify key terms that can be generally defined using context clues. Assume that you would need to learn this text well enough to take a quiz on it. List and define the key terms you think you should probably know, and tell which kind of context clue(s) you used to derive your working definition.


    Your “Plan B” for determining the meaning of a key word should be using word parts, or morphemes. Word parts are exactly what it sounds like – the reader breaks the word into parts and derives meaning by using what is known about the part’s meaning. It doesn’t necessarily interrupt the flow of reading, but, depending upon the reader, it may briefly.


    Root Words

    • Roots are the basis of complex words.

    • Prefixes or suffixes may be added to them to modify the meaning.


    • Prefixes are added to the beginning of a word to modify the meaning.


    • Suffixes are added to the end of a word to modify the meaning.

    Let’s try this out. Here is how word parts can be used to define the word “irreversible.”

    Break the word into syllables.



    At this point, determining which syllables make up which parts can be kind of like solving a mystery. The more word parts you are familiar with, the easier this becomes.

    Root: verse (meaning: turning)

    Prefix: re (meaning: again)

    “reverse” means to turn again, to go back

    Suffix: ible (meaning: able to)

    “reversible” means able to turn again, or able to turn back

    Prefix: ir (meaning: not)

    "irreversible" means not able to turn again, or not able to turn back

    WHY WOULD I DO THIS?Screen Shot 2019-08-05 at 9.53.10 AM.png

    Knowing word parts is efficient. It turns out that when a reader knows a set of 20 prefixes and 14 roots, and knows how to use them, they will unlock the meaning of over 100,000 words. (Imagine adding suffixes!)

    Would you rather learn 20 prefixes and 14 roots, or would you rather learn the individual definitions of over 100,000 words?

    If you are entering into a vocational program where there is a large amount of vocabulary, such as medical fields, this is THE way to learn key vocabulary, because discipline-specific vocabulary is often based upon specific, regularly occurring word parts.

    Morphemes develop over time, so knowing the etymology, or history, of a morpheme adds to your understanding of them and their many variations.



    • In most cases, a word is built on at least one root.

    • Words can have more than one prefix, root, or suffix.

    • Words do not always have both a prefix and a suffix

    • Roots may change in spelling as they are combined with suffixes (aridðarable)

    • Sometimes you may identify a group of letters as a prefix or root, but find that it does not carry the meaning of the prefix or root.


    Locate the Learn That Word website at

    Return to the article from the Context Clues activity. Work with a partner to identify and partially or fully define five key words using word parts by referring to the Learn That Word website.


    Stopping to look up unknown words while you are reading is highly disruptive to the flow of reading. It effectively keeps you from understanding the broader message of a text. For that reason, we try to determine meanings of key words AS we read, perhaps marking words to look up later. Then return to the reading later to try out your understanding. Using the dictionary to understand key terms should be your LAST option.

    That being said, there are many good reasons to use a dictionary. Use a dictionary to:

    • Look up key words before or after reading a text.

    • Learn how to pronounce a word correctly.

    • Find out the origins or history of a word.

    • Determine how to correctly break the word into syllables.

    Dictionaries have changed considerably over the years, making them much easier to use. While you can certainly use a printed book dictionary, you may not want to. Online dictionaries are often free, more up-to-date, and typically provide audio so you can learn to how to pronounce an unknown word.

    In-class Activity

    Here is a page from a web-based dictionary, What options (on this site) do you have for learning more about a word?

    Screen Shot 2019-08-05 at 9.57.29 AM.png

    Screen Shot 2019-08-05 at 10.00.18 AM.png

    Check your syllabus. What assignments are coming up that you will apply your understanding of vocabulary strategies to? When will this be due?



    Read these two passages:

    1. The sun set, turning the sky red.

    2. The sunset filled the entire sky with the deep color of rubies, setting the clouds ablaze. 

    Both sentences describe a sunset, but they do so differently. Compare the two sentences.

    Screen Shot 2019-08-05 at 10.01.54 AM.png

    Descriptive writers use several tools to show rather than tell. In other words, good descriptive writing can help the reader to have a clearer understanding of what the author is trying to communicate. In this class we will work with three descriptive writing tools – vivid language, sensory details, and figurative language.


    Vivid language, unlike plain language, is used by writers to provide a very specific description. Writers choose specific words or combinations of words to clearly communicate to the reader. The sunset sentence above is an excellent example of this.


    What is the root word of “sensory?” __________________________________

    Sensory details are considered to be a category of vivid language. Writers use sensory details – that is, what the way something looks, smells, sounds, tastes, or feels on our skin.


    You may have heard the term “figure of speech.” We humans have a tendency to learn about new things by comparing them to things we already understand, and that is what happens when we use figurative language. It can be a real challenge for people when they are learning a new language, because some of these figures of speech become commonly used within a culture.

    One way to remember “figurative language” is to remember that it is the opposite of “literal language.” Literal refers to actual, factual description of something.Figurative language compares a word to something it is not obviously like.

    For example, you could describe slow traffic:

    Literal: Cars are moving very slowly on the roads today.

    Figurative: Traffic is moving slower than a herd of turtles today.


    Learn about descriptive writing using materials provided by your instructor.

    Then write an Important Thing Summary (see Course Resources section) highlighting the key things you should know about Descriptive Writing. Include your own example of literal (plain) writing and descriptive writing.

    Screen Shot 2019-08-05 at 10.24.16 AM.png

    Screen Shot 2019-08-05 at 10.25.08 AM.png

    Check your syllabus. What assignments are coming up to which you will apply your understanding of descriptive language? When will this be due?    

    This page titled 2.1: WORDS, WORDS, WORDS is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Fran Bozarth.

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