Common Core Standards: ELA
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.
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.
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.
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 QuestionsHere'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.