Common Core

Standards:
Key Ideas & Details –

Vocabulary Introduction and Reinforcement
Teacher-Directed Strategy

CONTEXTUAL REDEFINITION
This strategy can be used to introduce new vocabulary before reading, as well as to
reinforce, during and after reading. The strategy is adaptable to reading assignments in
most content areas and should be modified as necessary to fit the idiosyncratic nature of
your classes.
Example of using contextual redefinition:
Define each of the following words using only your own prior knowledge.
1. Carapace ______________________________________________________________
2. Nonsectarian ___________________________________________________________
3. Insipid ________________________________________________________________
Were you able to write a definition without going to a dictionary? If not, read the following
sentences and see if they help you with the definition of the words. After you write a definition,
use a dictionary to check it.
1. Without its carapace, the turtle would be subject to certain death from its enemies or the
elements.
2. Although he was a believer in God, he had a nonsectarian attitude toward religion.
3. His teaching lacked spirit. He had presented his lesson in a dull manner, failing to challenge
or stimulate the students. The teacher knew he had made an insipid presentation.
Did the sentences help you with the meaning of the unknown words? If they did, you were
utilizing the surrounding context as clues to the meaning of the words. Contextual redefinition
is a strategy that introduces new vocabulary in rich contexts that help to define words and
facilitate memory by giving the words meaningful associations.
STEPS FOR CONTEXTUAL REDEFINITION
1. Select unfamiliar words. Identify words that may be troublesome for students and that may
be central to understanding the important concepts. Select only a few words to be presented at a
time to prevent the lesson from becoming tedious.
2. Write a sentence. Make sure it contains clues to the meaning.
3. Present the words in isolation. Using the board or smartboard, ask students to provide a
meaning for the unfamiliar word. Students should be asked to come to a consensus about the
best meaning.

4. Present the words in a sentence. Again, ask students for a meaning. Students should
explain their rationale. This gives poor readers a model of the thinking processes that are
required to use context clues.
5. Dictionary verification. A volunteer or volunteers can look up the word in the dictionary or
online to verify the guesses offered.
BENEFITS
 Students realize that guessing about the meaning of an unknown word in isolation is
frustrating and, most of the time, not accurate.
 Students are prompted to develop more reliable methods for determining meaning.
 Students become actively involved in discovering new words rather than in the rote
memorization of them.
 The dictionary is used as a tool to verify meanings of unfamiliar words by selecting the
definition that is syntactically and semantically acceptable in a particular context.