How to Solve the Mystery of an Unknown Word in Text

Contributor: Stefani Allegretti. Lesson ID: 13903

Have you ever read a word in a story that you didn't understand? Come put on your text-detective hats and learn how to find clues in the text that will help you solve the mystery of unknown words!


Comprehension, Literary Studies

English / Language Arts
learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Grade Level
Primary (K-2)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Sometimes, when reading, you see words that are new to you.

You might not know the meaning of these new words; however, there are special clues in stories that can help you figure out what the meanings of these unknown words are!

Put on your text-detective hat and begin!


One way to figure out what words might mean in a sentence is to use clues from other words in the sentence to help understand the mystery or unknown word.

These types of clues are called context clues.

If you were a detective trying to solve a mystery, you would look for clues that would help you solve the mystery.

detective looking for clues

It is the same with unknown words in stories or texts. Context clues are hints that help us solve the mystery of the meaning of the unknown word.

Another way to figure out the meaning of an unknown word is to look at the illustrations or pictures in the story. Sometimes, they can also give hints about the word or phrase we don't understand.

Try it out with a read-aloud of The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin!

You can use context clues and the pictures in the story to figure out the meaning of any unknown words.

As you watch, notice the words highlighted in yellow. Try to figure out the meaning of one of these highlighted words.

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Look at the first highlighted word you saw, shovels, and try to figure out what it means.

Here is the sentence from the story.

"We used tall shovels to turn the grass upside down, and I saw pink worms wiggle around."

  • What clues can you find that help you understand this word?

One clue in the sentence is the word tall. Tall is an adjective. An adjective describes a noun.

  • So what have you learned?

You learned that shovel is a noun! That means it is a person, place, or thing (probably a thing).

You found your first clue, and it helped you understand more about the word shovel. Awesome!

See if you can find another clue. Hmmm...another clue in the sentence is the word used. This word tells you that the shovel is something that is used.

  • But what is a shovel used for?

Well, you can find the answer in the sentence! Yay!

The sentence tells you that shovels are used to "turn the grass upside down."

One more clue! A shovel does something. It is a tool that is used to "turn the grass upside down!"

  • But why?

If you look at the first sentence in the paragraph that is right before the sentence with the unknown word in it, you find out that the characters in the story are starting a garden!

Bingo! You have found another vital clue that helps you understand the meaning of the word shovel.

All these clues you found help you understand the meaning of the word shovel. It must be a thing or a tool that helps you dig in the ground and turn the grass upside down!

Awesome work, text detective!

Now, try on your own to determine the meaning of one more highlighted word in the story. There are many!

Watch the read-aloud again to find another word and see if you can find clues that help you understand what it means!

Then, move to the Got It? section to practice your text detective skills a little more!

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