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Effectiveness of guessing meaning from context in improving students word attack skills at university of labor and social affairs

Faculty of Post-Graduate Studies


(Hiệu quả của việc đoán từ theo ngữ cảnh nhằm nâng cao kỹ năng xử
lý từ mới của sinh viên trường Đại học Lao động Xã hội)
M.A Minor Programme Thesis
Field: English Language Teaching Methodology
Code: 601410

HANOI - 2009


Faculty of Post-Graduate Studies


(Hiệu quả của việc đoán từ theo ngữ cảnh nhằm nâng cao kỹ năng xử
lý từ mới của sinh viên trường Đại học Lao động Xã hội)
M.A Minor Programme Thesis
Field: English Language Teaching Methodology
Code: 601410
Supervisor: Nguyễn Huyền Minh, M.A

HANOI - 2009

1.1 Background to the study
1.2 Statement of the problem
1.3 Purposes of the study
1.4 Scope of the study
1.5 Method of the study
1.6 Design of the study
2.1 What is reading?
2.1.1 Definition of reading
2.1.2 Types of reading
2.2 Learning strategies
2.3 Reading strategies
2.3.1 Definition of reading strategies
2.3.2 Classification of reading strategies

2.3.3 Effect of reading strategies on reading comprehension
2.4 The strategy of guessing meaning from context
2.4.1 What is context?
2.4.2 What is guessing from context?
2.4.3 Factors affecting students’ success in guessing meaning from context
2.4.4 Approaches to teaching of guessing strategy

2.4.5 Review of related studies
3.1 The setting of the study
3.2 Subjects
3.3 Instruments
3.3.1 Questionnaires
3.3.2 Pre-test and post-test
3.3.3 Interviews
3.3.4 Observations
3.4 Materials and the instruction programme
3.5 Procedure of the study
4.1 Findings
3.4.1 Pre-test and post-test results
3.4.2 Questionnaire results
3.4.3 Interview results
3.4.4 Observation results
4.2 Discussion

1. EFL: English as a Foreign Language.
2. ESL: English as a Second Language.
3. ESP: English for Specific Purpose
4. L1: First Language
5. ULSA: University of Labor and Social Affairs

Table 1: Results of pre-test and post-test
Table 2: Students’ attitudes towards reading comprehension and the strategy of guessing
meaning from context
Table 3: Students’ opinions on the effectiveness of the programme
Table 4: Overall students’ guessing strategies for two passages
Table 5: Low level group’s guessing strategies
Table 6: Intermediate level group’s guessing strategies
Table 7: High level group’s guessing strategies

This chapter provides an overview on the background of the study, the statement of problem, a
brief of the purpose of study, methodology of the study, followed by an overview of
forthcoming chapters.
1.1 Background to the study
Since 1986 when the Vietnamese government implemented open door policy, English has
gained more significance and been considered as an important tool for Vietnam‟s integration
into global world. Thus, the government has paid more and more attention to the teaching and
learning of English at schools, colleges and universities. English has rapidly become the most
popular second language among Vietnamese people. It is a tool for getting access to
information from different sources including scientific and literary books and journals as well
as the internet websites in an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) context, which helps to
bring them opportunities to enrich their knowledge in particular and to improve their future
prospect in general.
Reading is a process which contributes to success in learning a foreign language and good
language learners are considered to be good readers. In order to become good or successful
readers, students need to be equipped with the skills to comprehend the reading texts. Reading
strategies are said to facilitate successful second language learning and be effective tools for
students to develop their reading skills. To help students master these reading strategies,
instruction on reading strategies is said to be essential. However, empirical research indicates
that in most reading classrooms students have received inadequate instruction on reading skills
and strategies. There is a lack of connection between instruction and reading activity. The
teacher‟s emphasis is often put on the production of comprehension rather than the processing
skills. This reality called for the integration of reading strategies into reading instruction to
help students become more strategic readers.

Of all the reading strategies commonly recognized today in second language reading, guessing
from context seems to be one of the most valuable but difficult strategies for second language
students to master. It was found out that they were often reluctant to engage in the guessing
process as they preferred first language (L1) translations. Furthermore, students do not have
sufficient skills to derive the meaning of unknown words or phrases that they meet during
reading comprehension process. Their guessing skills are often poor, especially where context
clues are not in the immediate textual environment. Therefore, guessing strategies for
unknown words has been strongly emphasized
1.2 Statement of the problem
Reading comprehension is essential to academic learning areas, to professional success and to
lifelong learning. University students can not achieve success in reading comprehension
without mastering reading strategies in general and the strategy of guessing from context in
dealing with reading texts in particular.
At University of Labor and Social Affairs (ULSA), English for Specific Purpose (ESP)
syllabus mainly focuses on reading skill. Yet many students have not succeeded in their
reading texts, which contain lots of professional words. This is partly due to the fact that they
lack the skills to cope with unknown words, or in other words, they are not equipped with the
strategy of guessing from context.
This fact raises the question on the necessity as well as the effectiveness of instruction on the
strategy of guessing meaning from context for improving reading skills for students at ULSA.
1.3 Purposes of the study
Therefore, the main purpose of this study is to investigate the effectiveness of instruction
programme on the strategy of guessing from context for improving students‟ word-attack skill
and reading comprehension in teaching reading for second-year ESP students at University of
Social and Labor Affairs. In addition, since this study was conducted in a university general

English reading class where students' reading proficiency was mixed, the second objective of
this study was to find out how students with different reading proficiency are influenced by
the instruction programme.
The following specific research questions were addressed:
1) Does instruction on the strategy of guessing from context enhance second language
students‟ word-attack skill in particular and reading ability in general?
2) How to empower students to become more self-directed and effective in their learning
of guessing strategy?
1.4 Scope of the study
The study is focused only on the second-year students at ULSA who begin to have ESP
lessons. The subjects of the study were chosen at random and various among 68 second-year
students of ULSA. Yet, the study results cannot be true to all Vietnamese students. Thus, my
recommendations for teaching and learning the strategy of guessing from context might work
well only for ULSA teachers and students, and for the ones who are teaching and learning at
such universities with similar English syllabus or education training or for the ones who
1.5 Methodology of the study
This study employs both qualitative and quantitative methods. An explicit instruction
programme on the strategy of guessing from context was conducted in addition to regular
English curriculum. Data from questionnaires were collected to study the students‟ changes in
attitudes towards the strategy of guessing from context. A pre-test and post-test were done to
study the actual performance of students in the use of the strategy before and after the
programme. Observations and interviews with students were also used to get more valid and
reliable results.

1.6 Design of the study
The research consists of four main chapters: Introduction, Literature Review, the Study and
Chapter 1, Introduction, presents the background and statement of the problem, the purpose,
and the design as well as the scope of the study.
Chapter 2, Literature Review, discusses issues of reading, reading processes, major
approaches to teaching reading, reading strategies in general and the strategy of guessing
meaning from context in particular.
Chapter 3, Research Design and Methods, explains the methodology used in the study
including the population information, instrumentation, and data collection and data analysis,
Chapter 4, Findings and Discussion, reports the findings as well the discussion of the results.
Chapter 5, Conclusion, offers a summary of the findings and further implication for using the
strategy of guessing from context in teaching reading skills.

This chapter provides an overview of the topic, review of related studies. The three main
features will be presented are: theoretical background of reading, reading strategies, and the
strategy of guessing meaning from context.
2.1 What is reading?
2.1.1 Definition of reading
Traditionally, reading is seen as a mere process of decoding of reconstructing the author's
intended meaning via recognizing the printed letters and words, and building up a meaning for
a text from the smallest textual units at the bottom (letters and words) to larger units at the top
(phrases, clauses, links). Problems of second language reading and reading comprehension
were viewed as being essentially decoding problems, deriving meaning from print. However,
this view has been changed during the past few decades (Carrel, 1988, p.2).
Nowadays, even though there have been a variety of definitions of reading, they all share a
common view that reading is an interactive process between a reader and a text which leads to
automaticity or reading fluency. Reading is also seen as a creative process in which “the
reader interprets a message in the light of his previous knowledge, predicts and anticipates
subsequent rhetorical strategy and information, selects information relevant to his reading
purpose, matches information with his previous knowledge and experience, evaluates it in the
light of that knowledge and then applies this information to new experience” (Goodman, 1967,
In this process, the reader interacts dynamically with the text as he/she tries to elicit the
meaning and where various kinds of knowledge are being used: linguistic or systematic
knowledge (through bottom-up) process as well as schematic knowledge (through top-down
processing) (Alyoussef, 2005). And Carrel and Eisterhold add that in this interactive process,
both bottom-up and top-down processing occur simultaneously at all levels. Bottom-up

process ensures that the listeners/readers will be sensitive to information that is novel or that
does not fit their ongoing hypotheses about the content or structure of the text; top-down
process helps the listeners/readers to resolve ambiguities or to select between alternative
possible interpretations of the incoming data (Carrel and Eisterhold, 1983, p.557).
2.1.2 Types of reading
It is commonly agreed that there are two types of reading, namely “extensive reading” and
“intensive reading”.
Intensive reading
Intensive reading is said to focus more intentionally on essential core vocabulary, patterns of
text organization and types of text processing needed to adequately comprehend any text
rather than the text. For example, students may be answering comprehension questions,
learning new vocabulary, studying the grammar and expressions in the text, translating the
passage, or other tasks that involve the student in looking intensively (inside) the text.
Intensive reading activities are needed for four main reasons: to help students comprehend
written texts, to become more aware of text organization to better comprehend written texts, to
learn how to use and monitor effective reading strategies, and to develop general literacy skills
necessary to generate productive expressions in second language (Paran, 2003, p.40).
The advantage of intensive reading is that it focuses the student on certain aspects of the
language. However, intensive reading is usually done with difficult texts with many unknown
words that require the student to use a dictionary. This means the reading is slow and that
there are few opportunities for the student to learn to read smoothly, because she has to stop
every few seconds to work on something she can't understand. This slows or prevents the
development of fluent eye movements that are so necessary to improve one's reading skill.
Intensive reading is the most typically taught method of teaching reading. Unfortunately some
teachers only know this method and believe that by teaching the vocabulary and grammar that

is all the student needs. This is not so, she also needs practice in reading and to be trained in
developing reading skills.
Extensive reading
Another type of reading is “extensive reading”. There have been conflicts about the definition
of the term “extensive reading”. Some refer it to “skimming and scanning activities”, while
others associate it to quantity material. Susser and Robb (1990) define “extensive reading” as
a language teaching/learning procedure that it is reading (a) of a large quantity of material or
long texts; (b) for global or general understanding; (c) with the intention of obtaining pleasure
from the text. Donnes also shares the same idea about definition of “extensive reading” as
Susser and Robb, stating that it is an approach in which readers self-select materials from a
collection of graded readers (books which have reduced vocabulary range and simplified
grammatical structures)
Extensive reading has several aims, which include encouraging second language readers to
read for pleasure and information both inside and outside the classroom, to read for meaning,
and to encourage in sustained silent reading. He also points out benefits of extensive reading.
Extensive reading improves second language readers‟ comprehension, promotes their
vocabulary knowledge development, and enhances their writing skills and oral proficiency.
Extensive reading is also effective in facilitating growth of readers‟ positive attitudes toward
reading and increasing their motivation to read. With specific reference to reading fluency
development, extensive reading has shown to be effective in increasing reading speed and
comprehension (Bell, 2001).
Hedge also pointed out lots of advantages of extensive reading. It not only helps to develop
reading ability and but also enables students to achieve their independency by reading either in
class or at home, through sustained silent reading in the way that “Students can build their
language competence, progress in their reading ability. Become more independent in their

studies, acquire cultural knowledge, and develop confidence and motivation to carry on their
learning (Hedge, 2003, p.204-205).
It can be seen that both approaches have important roles to play in helping students gain
fluency, first in the critical area of vocabulary and word recognition, and then in developing
better reading comprehension skills. Thus, it is suggested that a well-balanced second
language reading program should include three main foci: vocabulary development activities,
intensive classroom reading and extensive out-of-class free-reading activities.
2.2 Learning Strategies
As Wenden (1987) states the term “learner/learning strategies” refers to language learning
behaviors learners actually engage in to learn and regulate the learning of a second language.
For Oxford (1990), learning strategies are important for language learning and they are
specific actions taken by the learner to make learning easier, faster, more enjoyable, more selfdirected, more effective, and more transferable to new situations. According to Ahmed (1989;
cited in Lawson and Hogben, 1996, p.106), good learners not only use more strategies, but
they also rely more heavily on different strategies than the poor learners.
Learning strategies are classified as metacognitive, cognitive or socio-affective strategies.
Metacognitive strategies involve thinking about the learning process, planning for learning,
monitoring of learning and self-evaluation of learning; cognitive strategies involve
manipulation or transformation of the material to be learned, i.e. the learner interacts directly
with what is to be learned; and socio-affective strategies deal with social-mediating activity
and transacting with others (Brown, 1994). Oxford (1990) has divided learning strategies into
two general classes: direct (memory, cognitive and compensation, etc.) and indirect
(metacognitive, affective and social). She claims that these two strategies are closely
connected and support each other.
O‟Malley (1987) points out that good language learners use a variety of strategies in their
learning of a second language and that less competent learners might improve their skills in a

second language through training on strategies. Thus, they can apply strategies to the
acquisition of different language skills, and explicit strategy training should be applied to them.
2.3 Reading strategies
Over the past three decades the importance of the strategies ESL students use while reading
has been recognized. Nowadays, most researches on reading focus on the effective reading
strategies that increase students‟ comprehension. The common results showed that there is a
positive relationship between strategies and reading comprehension. Success in reading
mainly depends on appropriate strategy used and unsuccessful students can improve their
reading by being trained to use effective strategies (Danseeau, 1985). Carrell (1983) also
stated that reading strategies can be taught to students, and when taught strategies help
improve student performance.
2.3.1 Definition of reading strategies
So, the question is “What are reading strategies?” There is a lack of consensus about the
definition of the term “reading strategies”. According to Block, reading strategies indicate how
readers conceive a task, what textual cues they attend to, how they make sense of what they
read, and what they do when they do not understand (Block, 1986). Also, they suggest how
readers view interaction with written text and how strategies are related to text comprehension.
Garner (1987) defined reading strategies as an action or series of actions employed to
construct meaning. Barnett (1989) used the term “reading strategy” to refer to the mental
operations involved when readers purposefully approach a text to make sense of what they
read. In the light of these concepts, the working definition of “reading strategies” in my study
is that specific actions consciously employed by the student for the purpose of reading.
2.3.2 Classification of reading strategies
The classification of reading strategies may range from very broad one such as skimming and
scanning to very sophisticated one including guessing and recognizing text structure, from

simple fix-up strategies such as re-reading difficult segments to more comprehensive
strategies such as summarizing and relating what is being read to the reader‟s background
knowledge (Janzen, 1996). Oxford (1990) classified reading strategies into six types including
cognitive, memory, compensation, metacognitive, affective and social strategies. Another
author also classified reading strategies into six types, including recognizing text type;
recognizing text structure; predicting or summarizing the context of the text; making guesses;
using the context to determine the meaning of unknown words and analyzing the word form of
unknown words (Pattersen and Van Pattersen, 1981). Pritchard (1990) compiled taxonomy of
22 reading strategies in five categories: developing awareness, accepting ambiguity,
establishing intrasentential ties, establishing intersentential ties, and using background
knowledge. For many researchers, defining the strategies is not an end in itself. They
recommended the integration of reading strategies into regular classroom reading instruction.
They advocated a shift of emphasis from the products of comprehension to the process of
comprehension. In other words, teachers should teach reading strategies and techniques rather
than test comprehension.
2.3.3 Impact of reading strategies on reading comprehension
An impressive number of empirical investigations have established a positive relationship
between strategies and reading comprehension. For instance, Brookbank, Grover Kullberg,
and Strawser (1999) have found that the use of various reading strategies improved the
students‟ reading comprehension. Certain studies in second language contexts have shown that
reading comprehension may be attributed to the level of the effective use of reading strategies
(Braum, 1985; Dermody, 1988). Other studies that have investigated the relationship between
reading strategies and success in comprehension by speakers of other languages have
produced interesting results. These studies have demonstrated that different text types may call
for the use of different reading strategies. Studies examining the reading strategies of both
good and poor readers have shown a differential use of strategies pertaining to text type.
Golinkoff (1975) has stated that poor readers peruse all types of texts in the same manner.
Similarly, Jimenez, Garcia and Pearson (1996) show that less successful bilingual readers read

both narrative and expository texts in similar ways. Furthermore, researchers argue that the
strategies preferred in the beginning stage of learning are not the same as those preferred in the
advanced stage (Takeuchi, 2002).
2.4 The strategy of guessing from context
One problem encountered by many readers is unfamiliar vocabulary. Guessing using context
clues has been suggested by researchers as a solution to that problem. It is an essential and
good strategy for students to deal with reading texts while they can not, through vocabulary
programme, acquire sufficient amount of vocabulary which is one of the most troublesome
aspects of reading for second or foreign language readers.
2.4.1 What is context?
Traditionally, context was seen as a given, existing fully and completely in any properly
written text, and the key to using it was linguistic knowledge. However, this definition is
claimed to place too much emphasis on linear, bottom-up processing. Thus, various definitions
of context have been proposed that include language knowledge but emphasize the role played
by high-level knowledge sources and personal experiences.
According to Dycus (1997), context, at a basic level, can be defined as information that
reduces uncertainty about the elements of a text, their meanings, and the meaning of the text as
a whole.
Dycus (1997) classified context into local context and global context. According to Dycus,
local context is provided by intrasentential and sentential information while global context is
provided by intersentential to discourse level information and world knowledge. He also
added that it is useful to distinguish between these two types of context, especially regarding
the guessing strategy and second language readers since successful use of the guessing
strategy often depends on which of these contexts is available and how it is useful.

Sinatra and Dowd (1992) have another way of classification that divides context into two
types: syntactic clues and semantic clues. The syntactic clues were related to grammatical
structure whereas semantic clues involved intra- and inter-sentence meaning relationship.
They argued that by understanding how the writer used grammar, the reader would have a
direct key to unlocking a word‟s meaning. The reader should also use semantic clues such as
restatement, use of examples and summary clues when guessing the meaning of a new word.
Haastrup (1991) suggests that language learners possibly use three sources of guessing:
contextual, intralingual, and interlingual cues. Contextual clues refer to one or two words
from the immediate co-text of new lexicon, the entire sentence context containing new lexical
items, or a specific aspect of co-text beyond the sentence in which the new word may help in
global understanding of the whole text. Intralingual clues have to do with the morphosyntactical and phonological features of the new word in which the learner utilizes his general
information about phonology, orthography, morphology, word class and collocations to guess
the meaning. Interlingual prompts relate to a language other than the second language, e.g., the
learners‟ first language. Interlingual prompts are used by learners when they rely on their
knowledge of their mother tongues or another language they have acquired to extrapolate or
guess the meaning of a word in their second language.
Brown and Yule see that “context” includes the reader‟s “internalization” of the surrounding
text, i.e., the reader‟s “mental model” of the word‟s “textual context” (or co-text”) integrated
with the reader‟s prior knowledge (including the reader‟s knowledge of language and meaning
hypotheses developed by the reader from prior encounters with the word), but it excludes
external sources of help such as dictionaries or people (Brown and Yule, 1983, p.46-50).
In investigating the role of prior knowledge, Beck pointed out that “the context that surrounds
a word in text can give clues to the word‟s meaning”, but a passage is not a clue without some
other information to interpret it as a clue. This implies that the clues in the text need to be
supplemented with other information in order for a meaning to be figured out. This
supplemented information must be supplied by the reader‟s prior knowledge which might

include general “world” or cultural knowledge, and it might or might not include the
“background” knowledge that the author assumes that the reader will have.
The “context” that the reader uses to figure out a word‟s meaning is not just the textual context,
but a wider context consisting of the reader‟s available prior knowledge “integrated‟ with the
reader‟s “internalization” of the co-text (Beck et al., 1983). While wider context is used to
figure out a meaning for an unfamiliar word, for the purpose of understanding the passage
containing it, textual context is used to help teach “the meaning” of the word. These two uses
do not always coincide, especially of the latter includes as one of its goals the student‟s ability
to use the word.
Beck et al.‟s classification divides all co-texts into two types, that is, “natural contexts” and
“pedagogical contexts”. The former one refers to the contexts provided in fiction and
information writings, such as newspaper articles and reports, which alone are not sufficient to
help students guess correctly the meaning of the unknown words, while the later one refers to
those specifically designed for the training of the strategy of guessing from context (Beck et
al., 1983). Natural co-texts are divided into four categories, namely misdirective co-texts,
nondirective co-texts, general co-texts and directive co-texts.
To conclude, these various factors operate simultaneously for proficient readers; they usually
operate quite unconsciously; and they can affect the identification of single words as well as
the reader's understanding of an entire text. The automatic use of context - of multiple contexts
- is a crucial part of the reading process, though most people don't realize it.
2.4.2 What is guessing from context?
The notion of guessing from context arose from the analogy between L1 and L2 reading.
According to Oxford (1990) guessing is a compensation strategy which enables learners to use
the new language for either comprehension or production despite limitations in knowledge.
Haastrup (1991) claim that guessing is a cognitive strategy since cognitive strategies are the
steps or operations used in learning or problem solving that require direct analysis,

transformation or synthesis of learning materials and it does not automatically lead to learning,
although it has the potential for doing so.
As Oxford (1990) states guessing strategies involve using a wide variety of clues - linguistic
or nonlinguistic- to guess the meaning when the learner does not know all the words. She adds
that good language learners, when confronted with unknown expressions, make educated
guesses. On the other hand, less adept language learners often panic, tune out, or grab the dogeared dictionary and try to look up every unfamiliar word – harmful responses which impede
progress toward proficiency.
Nassaji defines guessing from context strategies as any cognitive or metacognitive activity that
the learner turned to for help while trying to derive the meaning of the unknown word from
context. According Pressley and Afferbach (1995), three main categories of strategy types are
identifying, evaluating, and monitoring strategies. Identifying strategies were defined as those
that the learners used to identify the meaning of the new word in the text. Evaluating strategies
were those that learners used to evaluate and check the accuracy of their initial guesses. A
strategy was coded as monitoring when the learner showed an awareness of the nature of the
problem by making an explicit judgment about the ease or difficulty of the word based on the
available cues in the text. While both identifying and evaluating are cognitive strategies,
monitoring is a metacognitive strategy.
A number of studies have indicated that this strategy is effective and offers many advantages
over laborious, time-consuming, methodical instruction in vocabulary and collocation.
Furthermore, it involves generalizable skills of interpreting surrounding text, predicting, and
testing predictions while reading, which enhance reading skills as a whole (Nation and Coady,
1988). However, the effect of this strategy varies among different groups of students.
According to Carter (1987), the more advanced learners are “the more likely they are to
benefit from learning words in context” (Lawson and Hogben, 1987:106). And the guessing
method works well with learners who have good problem-solving skills (Hulstijn, 1992,

It has been claimed by some researchers that guessing from context is the most frequently
used strategy in discovering the meaning of words, and new words can best be learned when
presented in texts and when their meaning is guessred from context by learners (Lawson and
Hogben, 1996, p.105). But some researchers claim that context does not always provide
enough information, and learners can make wrong guesses
The problem for most students when guessing the meaning of words in a second language is
that they are less confident about their understanding of the context than they would be in their
native language. Therefore, they tend to rely on the context less. For this reason, vocabulary
“guesswork” should be integrated as often as possible into text-based activities, such as
reading for comprehension, and will be most effective after a general understanding of the text
has been established.
2.4.3 Factors affecting students’ success in guessing meaning from context
It is most convenient to develop the strategy through reading and there are several
prerequisites if guessing is going to be successful. According to Nassaji (2004) factors
affecting success in guessing meaning from context include the nature of the word and the text
that contains the word, the degree of textual information available in the surrounding context,
the learner‟s ability to make use of extra-textual cues, the importance of the word to
comprehension of the text, the degree of cognitive and mental effort involved in the task, and
the learner‟s attention to the details in the text as well as his or her preconceptions about the
possible meaning of the word (Nassaji, 2004). Nagy (1997) also pointed the important role of
learners‟ pre-existing knowledge which is classified into three main categories: linguistic
knowledge, world knowledge, and strategic knowledge.
Hinkel added that the students must have developed some skill in reading and should read a lot.
Ninety eight percent of the running words in the texts that are used for guessing should be
already familiar to the students. This means that there will be a substantial amount of
comprehensible supportive context for each familiar word. If these prerequisites are satisfied,

then training in guessing can have useful effects. Training can focus on the linguistic clues
available for guessing – the part of speech of the word, its immediate context, and its wider
context of conjunction relationships – and on the background knowledge clues. Because the
linguistic clues are more generalizable, these should get more attention, but successful
guessing depends on a combination of a language item and a message focus (Hinkel, 2005).
Huckin and Bloch (1968) propose a model of guessing meaning from context that incorporates
several components including a knowledge module component and a metalinguistic strategic
component. The former component includes a vocabulary knowledge module, a text schema
module, a syntax and morphology module, and a text representation module, etc, while the
later component includes a sequence of cognitive and decision-making strategies that the
learner uses when trying to generate and test word meanings and hypotheses. According to
Huckin and Bloch, these strategies play an important role in guessing from context in that they
help the learner decide when and how to proceed and seek help from context and various
sources of knowledge available. However, it should be noted in addition to above components,
guessing meaning from context also involved a range of knowledge sources and strategies,
that is the various cognitive the various cognitive and metacognitive activities learners use
when identifying and constructing word meaning from context. The strategy many range from
the internal structure of the word (such as analysis of the phonological and orthographic
structure of the word) to those involving the use of top-down contextual and sentence-level
clues (Haastrup, 1991).
2.4.4 Approaches to teaching of guessing strategies
Guessing from context is a complex and often difficult strategy to carry out successfully.
Although this strategy often may not result in gaining full understanding of a word meaning
and form, guessing from context may still contribute to vocabulary learning. Given the
continuing debate about the effectiveness of guessing from context, teachers and students
should experiment with this strategy.

There are different approaches to teaching the strategy of guessing from context, two of which
are inductive approach and deductive approach. According to Nation and Coady (1988, pp.
104-150) teachers can train students the guessing strategy with a five-step inductive
1. Determine the part of speech of unknown word.
2. Look at the immediate context and simplify it if necessary.
3. Look at the wider context. This entails examining the clause with the unknown word
and its relationships to the surrounding clauses and sentences.
4. Guess the meaning of unknown word
5. Check that the guess if correct.
Liu and Nation (1986) suggest practicing this strategy as a class rather than an individual work.
And William (1986) advises that it be demonstrated on an overhead transparency or a chalk
board by circling the unknown word and drawing arrows from other words that give clues to
its meaning. However, it seems that this inductive approach is only suitable with more
advanced students because it requires better linguistic knowledge from the students.
Another approach adopted by Bruton and Samuda (1981), deductive approach, is more
suitable for younger students who possess less linguistic knowledge. This approach may
include 3 steps:
1. Guess the meaning of the word
2. Justify the guess using a variety of clues
3. Readjust the guess if necessary
Pearson and Gallagher (1983) proposed using the cycle of explanation-guided, practicecorrective, feedback-independent, and practice-application. Winograd and Hare (1988) have
proposed a five-step approach, including:
1. Explanation of the strategy

2. How
3. Why
4. When and where to use the strategy and
5. Self-evaluate the use of the strategy
Bruton and Samuda (1981) proposed a 6-stage guessing procedure, which provided a
framework for teachers to follow:
1. Focus on the unknown word
2. Teachers asks for guesses and students hazard guesses
3. If not any students close, context clues leading to approximate meaning
4. If any students close, justify choices
5. Teacher elaboration
6. Backup
It can be seen that in almost all of the mentioned approaches, teacher explanation and
modeling of the strategy is essential at the beginning stage, followed by student practice.
2.4.5. Review of related studies
A number of studies have investigated the effectiveness of the strategy of guessing meaning
from context on the improvement of word-attack skill in particular and reading strategy in
general. Three related studies (Mei, 2005) will be described in detail and discussed below.
Mei (2005) examined the impact of direct instruction on the learning of the strategy of
guessing from context and the use of the strategy in coping with unknown words in reading
materials among young local ESL learners. The instruction programme was conducted in two
English classrooms in a local average-ability school. Data were collected from the students of
these two classes on their perception of their mastery of the strategy before and after the
instruction programme through questionnaires. Besides, two achievement tests (the pre-test
and post-test) were done to compare the actual performance of students in the use of the

strategy before and after the instruction programme. Qualitative data from lesson observation
and interviews with both students and teachers were collected to triangulate with the
quantitative data. The findings of the study show that students do benefit from direct
instruction in the learning of the strategy of guessing from context. Their metacognitive
awareness of the strategy was found greatly enhanced. The actual performance also supports
this conclusion. Data from lesson observation and the interview with teachers suggest that the
different beliefs of teachers had impacted greatly on the teaching approaches they adopted,
which in turn determined the results of the student performance. The author suggested that
further studies on the content of direct instruction programme on reading strategies are worth
conducting. Besides, the interplay of various reading cues deserves through studies. Finally, a
longitudinal study will facilitate a deeper understanding of the effects of direct instruction on
the learning of reading strategies.
Another study done by Chan investigated the effectiveness of the inferring strategy in helping
learners get the meaning of unknown words from the context through reading. It is found that
inferring skills are useful and there are some implications. First and foremost, the inferring
strategy tends to change the learners‟ attitude towards vocabulary learning. They have tried to
perceive vocabulary learning differently. Having acquired the skill to infer meaning from the
context, the learners may find it easier to tackle unknown words. They also may try to work
out the meaning on their own instead of consulting the dictionary. The inferring strategy is a
useful skill which not only helps students in tests or examinations but also saves their time.
Besides, the inferring strategy is one of the most important factors to facilitate vocabulary
learning. Learning a language, learners always feel frustrated when they come across some
difficult items. If they find a way to handle them, they would be more motivated. The inferring
strategy help students „ease their pain‟ when tackling unknown words, and therefore, students
would be more willing to work out the meaning on their own. One of the limitations of the
study is time-constraint. Therefore 4 lessons are surely insufficient to teach and practice the
inferring strategy since students do not have enough opportunities to develop the inferring
skill. Therefore, for further studies, more time should be allocated to study the effectiveness of
the inferring strategy.

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