Context Clues and Big Kid Books

In a discussion with colleagues this morning, we started talking about reading “big kid” books to our own children. We agree that experiencing works like Little House on the Prairie, religious stories, Hardy Boys, Wind in the Willows (and for today’s kids Harry Potter) before we were actually capable of reading and deciphering the books on our own was a cherished childhood memory. The discussion veered into how this experience probably paved all sorts of neural pathways leading us to be the successful book nerds we are today.

One skill is the ability to tackle vocabulary thought context clues. As we’re listening to stories and truly trying to understand them (as we’re motivated to do when listening to our parents read to us), our brains struggle for comprehension. We have no choice but to assign meaning to words we don’t understand. As this happens time after time, we get better at it. We also learn that not knowing the precise definition of a given word doesn’t always destroy comprehension, but sometimes it does. We learn to tell the difference in the two, and how to respond to each.

All of these are skills that good readers employ, but poor readers lack. I contend that we first start learning these skills when we listen to stories being read and then translate them over to reading when the time comes.


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