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Common Core Standards: ELA

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading

Reading CCRA.R.4

The section of the Anchor Standards that deals with understanding craft and structure in reading also starts with a two-part standard. Part one of Standard 4 deals with figuring out the function of words within a text. This includes understanding that words are not always used in a single, literal way: they may be technical terms used in a particular profession, connotative terms that imply a secondary meaning in addition to their literal, or denotative, meaning, and figurative language, such as hyperbole (“That cat is as big as a house!”) and cliché (“it blew my mind”).
Part two of this standard deals with how the choice of a specific word affects the meaning of a passage or its tone. In addition to providing clues as to the meaning of a text, this skill also offers a viable career option in politics: many public relations professionals specialize in choosing particular words or phrases that affect the tone or meaning of political texts, from speeches to campaign ads.

Example 1

White Blank Page

If you asked, inquired, requested a group of people to describe, explain, elucidate the reaction when a Mentos is dropped, lowered, thrown into a bottle of soda, you would receive a plethora of differing answers, responses, retorts. This is because everyone interprets and expresses things differently. Analyzing an author’s specific word choice is important in understanding the author’s intended meaning or tone. In order to correctly analyze word choice, students have to interpret words and phrases at both a literal and a connotative or figurative level. We can’t understand the author’s choices without understanding the larger emotional resonances of words.

Example 2

Awake My Words

A word or phrase can change the entire meaning of a text. For example, the claim: Marvel superheroes are more popular than DC because DC superheroes have an obligation to conciliate the masses, explains the sense of moral good will and reputation represented by the likes of Superman with the word conciliate. Comic book feuds aside, equipping students with a large vocabulary clipped to their utility belts will aid their reading and understanding of a text.

Let’s look closer at each element of the standard:

  • Connotative versus Denotative: This is not an epic feud between a spider bite victim and his arch-nemesis. This has to do with the subtle differences between a literal, or denotative (think dictionary) definition of a word, and what that word may connote, or suggest beyond the literal meaning. For example, enraged, furious, livid, wrathful, and irate all basically share the same denotative meaning – angry. But each of these words connotes a different level or flavor of anger. Wrathful carries associations of an all-consuming, god-like anger, while irate implies intense frustration, more of a mom-at-the-end-of-her-rope type of anger. Authors don’t choose from the rich plethora of synonyms randomly; rather, their word choices give us clues for interpreting the text’s meaning and tone.
  • Figurative Meanings: The figurative meaning extends to symbols, metaphors, allusions, and so on. The tricky thing about this is you have to already know something about pop culture, literature, mythology, theology, philosophy, etc. to fully grasp the idea. The more well-read students are and the further along they are in their educations, the better they’ll be at this. In short, your middle school students are going to need a lot of support, while your upper-level high school students should be holding their own pretty well in this department. At any level, if heavy allusions and symbolism are anticipated in a text, providing your students with some supplementary reading is always a benefit. The figurative meaning of a text adds depth of understanding, in turn making the reader more informed and capable of explaining the theme or central idea. See how all these standards work together and reinforce one another? It’s almost like someone designed it that way.
  • Tone and Meaning: Holy turn of phrase, Batman! The author’s choice of words can thus imply a sense of expression that is humorous, serious, instructive, and so on. Word choices can also reveal possible biases the author may hold toward the subject. It’s all about the attitude. If students can analyze the word choice in order to access the author’s attitude, they are better equipped to decode the author’s tone and intended meaning and will be able to critique the text within its rhetorical context.

Example 3

Sigh no More

Fighting the good fight of interpretation doesn’t have to involve crazy gadgets, other worldly powers, or sketchy and randomly acquired Kung Fu skills – just read. Students, when you get stuck on a word, don’t get mad; we don’t like it when you’re mad. Relinquish the fury with a stark look at the passage. Be the captain of analysis and shield others from the pitfalls of poor understanding. Be a Hero.

Quiz Questions

Here's an example of a quiz that could be used to test this standard.

Conquer the following questions by vanquishing the incorrect answers. Then turn back into your secret identity and go to your next class.

  1. Identify the literal meaning of the following sentence: “An endless downpour of tears flooded from her eyes as she read the second heartbreaking book of a mythological love affair.”

    Correct Answer:

    The reader is crying uncontrollably as she reads the book.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (B). “Downpour of tears flooded from her eyes” is a figurative image for the intense emotion here. Option (A) is a flawed assumption; there is no evidence to support this choice. Option (C) may be an accurate conclusion drawn from the situation in the text; however, it is not related to the literal meaning of the quote. Option (D) is true, and I think we all know what we’re talking about here…


  2. What’s the magic word? Read the following phrases and determine which statement best explains how the italicized word changes the meaning:

    • The woman looked around the apartment greedily, and then took a parcel off the table and left.
    • The woman looked around the apartment carefully, and then took a parcel off the table and left.

    Correct Answer:

    Greedily connotes unsavory actions by the woman, while carefully suggests thoroughness.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (C). The word greedily, in terms of looking around an apartment this woman may or may not own, has a negative connotation. A possible conclusion may include theft, while carefully does not necessarily lead to the same conclusion (though it could be interpreted as such with additional information).


  3. Identify which of the following statements best explains the figurative meaning of the following sentence: It was clear he was the Loki of the break room, reticently taking his friend’s pizza rolls out of the fridge.

    Correct Answer:

    The line draws a parallel between the employee and the Norse God, Loki, implying the worker is a trickster and deceiver like his counterpart.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (B). Unfortunately, if you’re not familiar with Norse Mythology (or haven’t seen the movie Thor, though that isn’t a terribly accurate account of the mythology) then you may have struggled with this one. All is not lost though because there are a few other clues to help you out. Reticent means silent or secretive, and taking someone else’s food does seem tricky and deceptive. Don’t let an unfamiliar reference scare you into a blindly random guess. Use your context clues and mad test-taking skills to narrow it down and at least make an educated guess.


  4. A little more serious. Consider the following statement and choose the answer that best describes the tone: Shortly after it happened, I was walking down the street in New York, the feeling of that day still lingering in my mind. The distraught crowds around the site were quiet and thoughtful. As I approached the dilapidated remains of the two buildings, I was filled with a sense pity and remorse. I stopped to pay my respects.

    Correct Answer:

    Reverence for the event is clearly felt by the speaker.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (D). The speaker’s words, “pity,” “remorse,” and “thoughtful,” indicate a tone of reverence, or respect, for what happened. In option (A), impudence means disrespect. In option (B), frivolous means playful or giddy. In option (C) ambivalence means uncertainty.


  5. Read the following passage concerning humans and animals and answer the question that follows. 

    The mistreatment of animals is a topic adopted by many people, including fad-happy celebrities. There are many campaigns suggesting animals have actual feelings or a sense of indignity at being destitute and homeless. While it is true that animals have instinctual reactions to outside stimuli, they are essentially still lesser beings. Domesticated animals have become dependent on humans. The cyclical problem is a way for man to feel superior and in control of another being.

    Choose the answer that best explains the author’s tone, or feeling towards the subject matter.

    Correct Answer:

    The author exhibits a satirical tone in regards to a common topic of debate; the last line wryly implies a human truth.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (B). The author’s tone mocks the actual problem referenced while also pointing out an actual human fault – that man seeks control and superiority. The tone is the opposite of compassionate (sympathy for the subject), so option (A) is out. The author is not whimsical, or silly and erratic, and there is an undertone of conviction for a real issue, so that rules out (C). The tone described in option (D) is incorrect; the author is mocking, but not overly angered.


Aligned Resources

More standards from College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading - Reading