Comprehension Strategies

The new school year brings new promise to all children. They can wipe the slate clean and start afresh in a new year. With new hope, we should encourage our children to do even better for the new year.

From our experience, a common weakness for many children is Comprehension Cloze. Comprehension Cloze is challenging especially for children who are weak in English. This is because they do not understand the strategies to answer questions. There is a general idea that students can deduce the answers by finding clues. However, what sort of contextual clues there are and how children can identify them is always a problem they cannot overcome.

In fact, it is not enough to answer all the questions just by looking at contextual clues. Some questions require the understanding of sentence structure and grammar as well. The topic of understanding sentence structure is too complicated to explain fully in this one article. Therefore, we are going to focus on understanding the different types of contextual clues and how they can help when attempting Comprehension Cloze.

The following table will help you understand each type of contextual clue and how to detect it:

Understanding the above contextual clues is not only important for Comprehension Cloze, it is important to reading in general. This is especially so when the student reads a passage and does not understand a difficult word, whether in his academic studies or in a comprehension passage in the examination. The use of contextual clues will help him to understand the word, thus making reading and understanding easier.

Definition: The word is defined directly and clearly in the sentence in which it appears.Example: “________________ like deserts, mountains, oceans and polar regions have secrets and mysteries to amaze and surprise us.”Explanation: The answer is ecosystems because deserts, mountains and oceans are ecosystems. However, there is a good chance that the answer is places as this is an English question and not a Science question.

How to Detect: To detect the Definition contextual clue, look for a comma after the blank, or words that imply definition such as “like” after the blank. The definition is usually within the same sentence.

Antonym (or contrast): The clue is often signalled by the words “whereas”, “unlike”, or “as opposed to”.Example: “The honeybee is a very unusual kind of insect. Unlike other insects that live alone, the honeybee lives as a _____________ of a community.Explanation: The word “unlike” gives us a clue to the blank word. We know that the honeybee is very different from other animals. Other animals live alone and therefore, honeybees must live together with other honeybees (the opposite of living alone). Therefore it must be a part or member of a community.

How to Detect: Conjunctions that signify contrast like “but”, “however” and “whereas” are obvious clues to detect this sort of contextual clue.

Synonym (or restatement): Other words are used in the sentence with similar meanings.Example: “The coach punished the team’s ________________ after they admitted to using steroids to cheat. “Explanation: Since the team cheated, then it must be dishonest – another way of expressing cheating. Therefore, the answer is dishonesty.

How to Detect: The method to detect this clue is rather similar to the Definition example. Look out for key words in the same sentence or the next one. Try to fit them or its synonyms inside the blank and read again to see if it makes sense.

Inference: Word meanings are not directly described, but need to be inferred from the context.
Example: “The living room ________________ of cigarette smell and stale perfume.”Explanation: The clue lies in the fact that the room smells of cigarettes and stale perfume. They are generally thought of as things that smell bad. Therefore, it must stink. The correct answer is, however, stinks as it is a singular verb and in the present tense.How to Detect: Underline words that you think pertain to the blank. An inference means an educated deduction based on the evidence given. Use the underlined words to think of the possible scenarios and words, and try fitting the words you manage to think of back into the passage.

Finally, here is a process students can use when attempting Comprehension Cloze passages.


Many students have successfully managed to improve their Comprehension Cloze results by applying this process. We hope that this article can help more students to do so.