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Common Core Standards: ELA

Grades 11-12

Language L.11-12.4

L.11-12.4. Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grades 11–12 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.

  • Use context (e.g., the overall meaning of a sentence, paragraph, or text; a word’s position or function in a sentence) as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase.
  • Identify and correctly use patterns of word changes that indicate different meanings or parts of speech (e.g., conceive, conception, conceivable).
  • Consult general and specialized reference materials (e.g., dictionaries, glossaries, thesauruses), both print and digital, to find the pronunciation of a word or determine or clarify its precise meaning, its part of speech, its etymology, or its standard usage.
  • Verify the preliminary determination of the meaning of a word or phrase (e.g., by checking the inferred meaning in context or in a dictionary).

There’s a reason the Oxford English Dictionary is two dozen volumes long: English contains more words than any one person is likely to memorize in a lifetime. Put the words into phrases, and you have even more trouble, since English uses so many idioms. For most people, running into unknown words and phrases will happen throughout their lives, so the smart way to deal with this onslaught is to learn how to figure out the meaning of unfamiliar words and phrases. This Core Standard deals with three of the most common ways to figure out what a word or phrase means: by examining its context, by identifying similar words, and by looking it up.

P.S. If your students need to brush up on their spelling and grammar, send 'em over to our Grammar Learning Guides so they can hone their skills before conquering the Common Core.

Standard Components

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Example 1

1. Context, Related Words, and the Dictionary I

Have students read the following monologue from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, either alone, in groups, or as a class. You may also wish to write the boldfaced words on a chalkboard, overhead projector, or other place that the class can see them. Once students have read the monologue, discuss the meaning of each of the boldfaced words. Students should base their opinions of what the words mean on the context of the speech or on words that are similar to those in boldface. To check students’ answers, have one student look up each word in the dictionary (or a glossary on Shakespeare, if available) and read the entry aloud to the class.

“The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice.”

Example 2

2. Context, Related Words, and the Dictionary II

Give students a copy of the following additional passage from Shakespeare, along with a dictionary, thesaurus, and/or similar research resources. Students should work in groups of two to four people. For each boldfaced word in the passage, have students look up the word in their references and write down a brief definition, two synonyms, and one or two related words. Then, have the class discuss its findings. Try replacing some of the boldfaced words with a synonym or related word or phrase. Does replacing the boldfaced words with “easier” ones change the meaning or flow of the passage? If so, in what ways? Why might Shakespeare have chosen the words he used in the passage, instead of a synonym or related word?

“When my cue comes, call me, and I will answer: my next is, 'Most fair Pyramus.' Heigh-ho! Peter Quince! Flute, the bellows-mender! Snout, the tinker! Starveling! God's my life, stolen hence, and left me asleep! I have had a most rare vision. I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was: man is but an ass, if he go about to expound this dream. Methought I was--there is no man can tell what. Methought I was,.and methought I had,.but man is but a patched fool, if he will offer to say what methought I had. The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man's hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream was. I will get Peter Quince to write a ballad of this dream: it shall be called Bottom's Dream, because it hath no bottom; and I will sing it in the latter end of a play, before the duke: peradventure, to make it the more gracious, I shall sing it at her death. “

Quiz 1 Questions

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

  1. In Questions 1-5, use the context of the surrounding sentence to figure out the meaning of the underlined word.

    Peter thought it was funny to invite his friends with asthma over and then steal their inhalers, but most of us just thought his behavior was reprehensible.

    Correct Answer:

    terrible

    Answer Explanation:

    (d) - Even if you do not have access to a dictionary and have no idea what “reprehensible” means, you can guess that it means “terrible” from its context. Also, none of the other answer choices quite fit.


  2. One way to avoid a nasty IRS audit is to conduct business in an aboveboard manner at all times.

    Correct Answer:

    fair

    Answer Explanation:

    (b) - “Aboveboard” is another way of saying “fair” or “not corrupt.”


  3. The new trend of wearing feathers in one’s hair may look good, but it means that the beautiful egret has been hunted almost to extinction.

    Correct Answer:

    bird

    Answer Explanation:

    (a) - The egret is a water bird that has showy feathers.


  4. Petra’s reputation for being meek is probably due to her voice being almost inaudible.

    Correct Answer:

    un-hear-able

    Answer Explanation:

    (c) - “Inaudible” means “difficult or impossible to hear.”


  5. Diligence in studying sounds like a bore, but it can pay off in good grades.

    Correct Answer:

    hard work

    Answer Explanation:

    (b) - “Diligence” is the quality of being hardworking or earnest.


  6. In Questions 6-8, choose the word that is related to the underlined word in each question, based on the words’ similarity to one another or similar meaning.

    Benjamin’s mother thought it was never too early for her son to begin rabbinic studies.

    Correct Answer:

    rabbi

    Answer Explanation:

    (c) - “Rabbinic” means related to rabbis or their ideas and teachings.


  7. The steam radiators keep the old house warm, but they can be very loud if the valves aren’t working properly.

    Correct Answer:

    radiate

    Answer Explanation:

    (b) - While we often use the word “radiator” as a synonym for “heater” or “cooler,” it is related to the word “radiate” because it sends out heating or cooling rays or waves.


  8. Gloria’s opening gambit was to bet $200 on her poker hand, then ask for three more cards.

    Correct Answer:

    gamble

    Answer Explanation:

    (d) - “Gambit” means “opening move or strategy,” and is often used in the context of putting something at risk in the hope of gaining more later on.


  9. If you wanted to know the origin of the word “naiad,” which of the following reference books would be MOST helpful?

    Correct Answer:

    dictionary

    Answer Explanation:

    (e) - In Greek mythology, a “naiad” is a nymph who lives near water. A dictionary would be the best resource to figure this out. An encyclopedia might be helpful as well, especially if it is an encyclopedia of Greek mythology. However, if it is a specialized encyclopedia that focuses on a certain subject – of world history, say, or perhaps of cars – chances are you won’t find anything about naiads in there!


  10. If you wanted to find as many synonyms as possible for the word “frightened,” which of the following reference books would be MOST helpful?

    Correct Answer:

    thesaurus

    Answer Explanation:

    (a) - A thesaurus is the best resource to find synonyms and antonyms of a word.


Quiz 2 Questions

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

  1. Suppose you’re writing a play, and you want to use the word “champion” or words closely related to it in as many different ways as possible. Which of the following references would be MOST likely to give you a complete list of related words?

    Correct Answer:

    thesaurus

    Answer Explanation:

    (e) - A thesaurus is the best resource to find synonyms of a word. While some synonyms might have the exact same meaning as the word “champion,” you will also come upon a list of related words which have similar meanings to the word you are looking for.


  2. Antonyms are words that mean the opposite of a given word. The best place to find words that mean the opposite of “champion” is MOST likely:

    Correct Answer:

    thesaurus

    Answer Explanation:

    (d) - A thesaurus will give you a list of synonyms AND antonyms.


  3. In Questions 3-5, choose the word or phrase that is related to the underline word, based on similarities in the word’s structure or meaning.

    It is inconceivable that my parents would refuse to buy me a car for my 16th birthday.

    Correct Answer:

    conception

    Answer Explanation:

    (c) - “Conception” is the noun form of the verb “conceive” which means to “think, generate, or create” – so “conception” means “thought or creation.” “Inconceivable” means “unthinkable.”


  4. I think I’ll be perfectly safe walking to and from school this year, but my older brother says I’m hopelessly naive.

    Correct Answer:

    naif

    Answer Explanation:

    (a) - While the word that is used most commonly in English to describe a simple and unsuspecting person is “naïve,” the word “naïf” is just a variation of the same word. It has the same meaning, even though it is spelt differently.


  5. Mrs. Cullan doesn’t want us touching her fine china, so I suppose we’ll have to make do with her everyday tableware during her surprise birthday party.

    Correct Answer:

    tableau

    Answer Explanation:

    (b) - A “tableau” is a “vivid description or a striking scene.” The root word of “tableau” is “table,” as in “a flat surface for writing or painting” – this led to the word “tablet,” as in a writing or painting tablet, since this was the surface on which these “tableaus” were painted. And, of course, the root word of “tableware,” too, is “table.”


  6. The hill was too arduous to bike up, so we got off our bicycles and walked instead.

    Correct Answer:

    difficult

    Answer Explanation:

    (b) - “Arduous” means “difficult or strenuous.” You can deduce this from the context in which the word appears; also, “difficult” makes the most sense of all the choices here.


  7. The thought of eating roadkill is abhorrent to many people.

    Correct Answer:

    repulsive

    Answer Explanation:

    (a) - “Abhorrent” means “disgusting.” If you find something “abhorrent,” you really, really dislike it.


  8. Mai’s derogatory remarks about Layla made Layla cry.

    Correct Answer:

    belittling

    Answer Explanation:

    (c) - “Derogatory” and “belittling” mean to speak of someone in an insulting manner.


  9. With this new insecticide, you only need a little bit to create a lethal dose.

    Correct Answer:

    deadly

    Answer Explanation:

    (e) - If something is “lethal” or “deadly,” it will cause death.


  10. Thank you for being candid with me instead of lying to spare my feelings.

    Correct Answer:

    honest

    Answer Explanation:

    (d) - To be “candid” means to be honest or open, or not posed and rehearsed. Remember Candid Camera?


More standards from Grades 11-12 - Language

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