Common Core Standards: ELA
5. Demonstrate understanding of word relationships and nuances in word meanings.
Like fine cooking, the choice of ingredients in a sentence and the order in which they’re put together can make or break the finished product. Understanding how words affect one another and the overall sentence, as well as understanding the finer shades of word meaning, can make a huge difference to comprehension and also enhance reading pleasure.
Sample Activities for Use in Class
Read a Poem
Most good poems pay close attention to words and their nuances and to how they work with other words to create rhythm and accentuate meaning. For this activity, you can pick your favorite poem, or a poem that you think your students will like. Read it as a class and work on analyzing the poet’s word choices, and discuss why they are effective. A couple suggestions for poems you might use: Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 or “He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven” by William Butler Yeats.
You can be sure that your students listen to a lot of music and have strong opinions on which songs are good and which bands are respectable and which songs by which band are their strongest and when exactly a particular band started to sell out and…so on. Well, this activity will give them a chance to voice these opinions they have bubbling up inside them. They will come to see the link between why they love a particular song and how that ties in with this standard.
Ask each of your students to pick a song that really moves them in some way (makes them happy or sad, or sentimental or angry) with its lyrics. They will work individually to analyze the lyrics of this song and write a short essay on how the words achieve their effect. Ask your students to keep an eye out for things like evocative language, imagery, puns, innovative similes, and repetition in their analysis. They will then present their analysis of the song to the class. If two or more students happened to pick the same song, it can be interesting to compare the various analyses of the same lyrics!