Context in TEFL

Context is the positioning of a word‎ or phrase. This can be used by the teacher to help students gain an understanding of its meaning.

For example, look at this sentence.

I saw a bright red fligret in the sky.

This contains the unknown (and non-existent) word, fligret. However, we can look at the context in which it occurs to try and work out the meaning.

  • it is in the sky
  • it is bright red

This suggests that a fligret is possibly a bird. Or perhaps a type of aircraft?

What does this mean for the TEFL teacher? Simply put, whenever your class come across an unknown word in a text always give them the opportunity to try and work out for themselves the meaning both by looking at the structure of the word but also by looking at the context. At the least they should be able to identify what part of speech the word is and then perhaps make a guess.

Looking at the bigger picture, context should also be about looking at where the text is occurring. Suppose the class are reading about birds and they come across this sentence:

I saw a bright red fligret in the sky.

It is likely (though by no means certain) that a fligret is a type of bird. But supposing they were reading about UFOs?

I saw a bright red fligret in the sky.

In this case fligret could mean a kind of light pattern or maybe a shape or perhaps a celestial body, etc.

It’s always worth experimenting and encouraging your students to use their imaginations here!

Useful Links

Teaching English Vocabulary‏‎ – ideas for helping teach vocabulary

Posted in How To Teach English.