Lesson Plan: Context Clues
Student Resource: "Reprogramming
the Immune System," by Charlene Laino, MSNBC.com
Media Type: Article
After completing this lesson, students will be able to:
- Identify the cause and symptoms of multiple sclerosis
- Explain how the immune system works and its relationship
to autoimmune diseases such as MS.
- Apply the reading skill of context clues to understanding
an article about a medical advance in combating a dreaded
Introducing the Lesson
Remind students that the body has its own internal army to
fight against outside diseases and infections that attempt
to harm it. Ask whether students can name this army (the immune
system). Note that recent medical research has revealed that
a number of diseases, called autoimmune diseases, are a result
of factors that cause the immune system to go haywire and
turn against the body it was meant to protect. Challenge students
to name a famous disease that was one of the first diagnosed
autoimmune diseases (AIDS).
Explain that students will be reading about a disease that
was discovered only within the last year to be an autoimmune
disease. Write multiple sclerosis (MS) on the chalkboard.
Reveal that symptoms of this non-infectious disease, which
affects the nervous system, include paralysis.
Read aloud the following sentence, which contains a nonsense
word, to students: "After reading the last chapter of
the flibble, Boris put it on his nightstand and turned out
the light." Ask students to define flibble (book).
Note that even though this is not an actual word in English,
students were nevertheless able to infer its meaning by using
context clues. Explain that context clues are words
and phrases surrounding a term that provide information about
its meaning. Add that this skill can sometimes help readers
define unfamiliar words "on the fly."
Observe that there are two basic types of context clues:
- Synonyms-words that have the same meaning as the unfamiliar
- Negators-words like although or but, which
suggest an opposite meaning. (For example, in the sentence
"Although John was in a hurry, he managed to complete
the entire blip," it is clear that the nonsense word
blip refers to something time-consuming.)
After students have completed the reading, you may either
use the following as class discussion questions or assign
them as individual or group work.
- Summarizing. What, according to the article, is
the cause of multiple sclerosis? What are some symptoms
of the disease?
- Analyzing. What are autoimmune diseases? In what
way do these diseases cause the immune system to become
an enemy of the body?
- Making Inferences. Find the sentence that starts
the fourth paragraph under the heading "Programmed
for Destruction." This sentence contains the word paradoxically.
Based on context clues, what do you think this word means?
Check your hunch by looking up the word in a dictionary.
- Evaluating. Imagine you overhear a reader of this
article state that "it's too early to be optimistic"
about the findings noted. Would you agree with this conclusion?
Why or why not? Find evidence in the article to support
A Newsmagazine on Autoimmune Diseases
The article mentions other autoimmune diseases besides MS
that might be stamped out by a procedure similar to the one
being used in studies on MS. Working as a class, research
these diseases using print or online resources. For each disease,
describe (1) its earliest believed cause, (2) what researchers
now believe to be the cause, and (3) how far the research
has progressed (i.e., has the human population begun to benefit
from the findings, and if so, how?). Compile your findings
on all these diseases, as well as original drawings or diagrams,
into a newsmagazine. Print out and distribute copies of your
newsmagazine to other classes in your school.