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Common Core Standards: ELA

Grades 11-12

Language L.11-12.5

L.11-12.5. Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

  • Interpret figures of speech (e.g., hyperbole, paradox) in context and analyze their role in the text.
  • Analyze nuances in the meaning of words with similar denotations.

Figurative language is language that isn’t meant literally, like when someone uses the word “literally” to mean “completely” or “seriously” instead of, well, “literally.” Figurative language includes hyperbole (“I’m so hungry I could eat a horse!”), idioms and other figures of speech (“You couldn’t hit the side of a barn!”), and paradoxical statements (“This statement is false”). Broadly speaking, this category also includes words that may be listed as synonyms of one another in the thesaurus, but that have different shades of meaning. For instance, the words “terror” and “horror” both refer to an intense fear, but we go to “horror movies,” not “terror movies,” and the use of fear (often against civilians) as a military tactic is known as “terrorism,” but not “horrorism.”

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Teaching Guides Using this Standard

Example 1

Sample Activities For Use in Class

1. Figuratively Speaking

Students may work individually, in groups, or as a class. Give students a worksheet (or display) containing each of the quotations from Shakespeare below. Students should read each quote, then write one or two short sentences that explain the literal meaning of the figurative language included in each quote.

1. “My bounty is as boundless as the sea, My love as deep; the more I give to thee The more I have, for both are infinite.” -Romeo and Juliet

(Answer: the speaker is saying that he will love the listener completely and forever.)

2. "My love is as a fever, longing still For that which longer nurseth the disease" - Sonnet 147

(Answer: the speaker’s love makes him long for the person he loves.)

3. "But that the dread of something after death,The undiscovered country, from whose bourne No traveler returns," - Hamlet

(Answer: What happens after death is something no one can come back to life to tell anyone else about.)

4. "I go, and it is done; the bell invites me.
Hear it not, Duncan; for it is a knell
That summons thee to heaven or to hell." - Macbeth

(Answer: the bell is ringing just as Duncan dies, and Macbeth connects the two by saying that the bell is Duncan’s death bell.)

5. “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more.” - Macbeth

(Answer: life is brief and meaningless, like the short time an actor spends on the stage during a play.)

Example 2

2. Connotations: Same Differences?

The following groups of words all have basically the same denotation, or dictionary definition, and they are often used as synonyms. However, the connotations or “shades” of meaning created by each word differ. Have students identify the connotation of each word in a short sentence or phrase, then create a sentence that uses the word with its connotation. Sentences should be different enough that changing the word they’re built on would make a significant difference to the sentence.

1. timid, scared, terrified

(Sample Answers: Sarah felt timid about entering her first-grade classroom for the first time. The kitten was scared by the barking dog. James was terrified when he realized that the serial killer was inside his own house.)

2. pleased, thrilled, over the moon

(Sample Answers: Juan was pleased when his attempt to invent a gluten-free cookie recipe turned out delicious on the first try. Katya was thrilled to discover she had gotten into her first-choice college. And she was over the moon to discover she’d also gotten a scholarship to pay her tuition.)

3. sad, disappointed, grieving

(Sample Answers: The twins were sad when they heard no one was making their favorite banana-cookie-dough ice cream anymore. Molly was disappointed when she was turned down for a soccer scholarship. His parents are still grieving the death of their only son.)

Quiz 1 Questions

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

Questions 1-10 are based on the following poem, “Apple-Picking” by Robert Frost:

My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there's a barrel that I didn't fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn't pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.

And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it's like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.

  1. When the speaker of the poem says, “There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,” he is using figurative language to say that:

    Correct Answer:

    He had to pick lots and lots of apples individually by hand.

    Answer Explanation:

    (b) - Here, “ten thousand thousand” is a hyperbole that means there were a LOT of apples.

  2. In the lines “The woodchuck could say whether it's like his/Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,” the speaker uses personification to do which of the following?

    Correct Answer:

    Compare the long sleep the speaker will have after a day of apple-picking with the woodchuck’s hibernation through the winter.

    Answer Explanation:

    (a) - Since there is talk about a woodchuck “saying” stuff, we can tell this is personification. The speaker feels exhausted and sleepy, and wonders whether the woodchuck feels similarly exhausted before it hibernates.

  3. In the lines, “And I keep hearing from the cellar bin/The rumbling sound/Of load on load of apples coming in,” the author uses onomatopoeia to describe:

    Correct Answer:

    The noise the apples make as they are put into the cellar.

    Answer Explanation:

    (d) - He describes the sound of the apples falling into the bin as “rumbling.”

  4. The speaker says that “I have had too much/ Of apple-picking; I am overtired”. Which of the following synonyms of “overtired” would BEST preserve the meaning of these lines?

    Correct Answer:


    Answer Explanation:

    (c) - “Overtired” implies that the speaker is more than just “tired.” The word “exhausted,” likewise, connotes a greater degree of tiredness.

  5. In the line “My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree,” the author uses synecdoche to describe:

    Correct Answer:

    The two sides of the ladder.

    Answer Explanation:

    (a) - A “synecdoche” is when the whole is used to signify a part, or when a part is used to signify a whole. In this case, the whole ladder – “long two-pointed ladder” – is used to signify its two parts – “the two sides of the ladder”.

  6. When the speaker refers tot he woodchuck’s “long sleep,” he is talking about:

    Correct Answer:

    The woodchuck’s hibernation.

    Answer Explanation:

    (d) - While “long sleep” could mean death, in the context of this poem, it is clear that it means “hibernation.” Remember that your interpretation must make sense in context!

  7. When the speaker of the poem says, “But I am done with apple-picking now,” he might mean that:

    Correct Answer:

    The speaker might mean any or all of the above.

    Answer Explanation:

    (e) - Depending on your interpretation of the poem, all of the above can be correct.

  8. When the speaker describes “a pane of glass/I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough,” he is using metaphor to describe:

    Correct Answer:

    A piece of ice he found on the top of the water trough.

    Answer Explanation:

    (d) - A clue to the meaning of this line would be to pay close attention to the seasons in the poem. Since the apples are being picked, we know that it is fall. The speaker mentions several times that winter is approaching, so we can guess that the surface of the water trough is freezes over at night. Also, it would make no sense to assume that he literally found “a pane of glass” in the water trough!

  9. Which of the following is the most likely reason the world looked “different”” when the speaker looked at it through the “pane of glass” he found in the drinking trough?

    Correct Answer:

    The weather is changing because fall is on its way.

    Answer Explanation:

    (e) - The “pane of glass” or “ice” served to emphasize the turning weather.

  10. In the line “And held against the world of hoary grass,” what is the speaker doing?

    Correct Answer:

    Holding up the “pane of glass” and looking at the grass through it.

    Answer Explanation:

    (d) - The grass is described as “hoary” which means “gray or white in color.” Since winter is approaching, the grass has lost its green color.

Quiz 2 Questions

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

Questions 1-10 are based on the following poem, “Out, Out-”, by Robert Frost:

The buzz saw snarled and rattled in the yard
And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood,
Sweet-scented stuff when the breeze drew across it.
And from there those that lifted eyes could count
Five mountain ranges one behind the other
Under the sunset far into Vermont.
And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled,
As it ran light, or had to bear a load.
And nothing happened: day was all but done.
Call it a day, I wish they might have said
To please the boy by giving him the half hour
That a boy counts so much when saved from work.
His sister stood beside him in her apron
To tell them "Supper." At the word, the saw,
As if it meant to prove saws know what supper meant,
Leaped out at the boy's hand, or seemed to leap -
He must have given the hand. However it was,
Neither refused the meeting. But the hand!
Half in appeal, but half as if to keep
The life from spilling. Then the boy saw all -
Since he was old enough to know, big boy
Doing a man's work, though a child at heart -
He saw all was spoiled. "Don't let him cut my hand off -
The doctor, when he comes. Don't let him, sister!"
So. The hand was gone already.
The doctor put him in the dark of ether.
He lay and puffed his lips out with his breath.
And then - the watcher at his pulse took a fright.
No one believed. They listened to his heart.
Little - less - nothing! - and that ended it.
No more to build on there. And they, since they
Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.

  1. In the line, “The buzz saw snarled and rattled in the yard,” the speaker uses onomatopoeia to describe:

    Correct Answer:

    The sound the buzz saw made as it ran.

    Answer Explanation:

    (c) - “Snarled” and “rattled” refer to the sounds the saw made as it cut through wood.

  2. When the speaker say the saw “leapt” “as if to say saws knew what supper meant,” he is using a type of figurative language known as:

    Correct Answer:


    Answer Explanation:

    (e) - The saw is imbued with life-like characteristics: it “leapt” and “knew what supper meant.”

  3. The line “And from there those that lifted eyes could count” most likely means:

    Correct Answer:

    From the yard, people who looked up could see the mountains.

    Answer Explanation:

    (a) - Here, to “lift eyes” means to “look up” or “raise their eyes.”

  4. When the speaker says “To please the boy by giving him the half hour/that a boy counts so much when saved from work,” the speaker is using figurative language to say:

    Correct Answer:

    Boys who get off work early feel as though they have been given a large amount of free time, even if the actual time period is only a half-hour long.

    Answer Explanation:

    (c) - In this sentence, “counts” means “values.”

  5. When the speaker says that the saw blade “leaped” at the boy’s hand, he is using personification to describe:

    Correct Answer:

    How the saw blade caught the boy’s hand.

    Answer Explanation:

    (b) - The boy’s hand was caught in the saw’s blade, but the speaker describes how the saw “leaped” and got the boy’s hand, as if the saw had a mind of its own.

  6. In the line, “Half in appeal, but half as if to keep/the life from spilling,” the speaker uses metonymy to compare the “life” to:

    Correct Answer:

    the boy’s blood

    Answer Explanation:

    (a) - Metonymy is a figure of speech in which a particular word or phrase is used in place of another that it is closely related to. In this example, we see that the word “blood” has been replaced with “life.”

  7. When the speaker says that the boy “saw all was spoiled,” he means that the boy:

    Correct Answer:

    Saw that his hand had been badly damaged by the saw.

    Answer Explanation:

    (d) - This is the moment when the boy realized that he had been badly hurt.

  8. The line “the watcher at his pulse took a fright” most likely means:

    Correct Answer:

    the person watching the boy’s pulse reported that it was fading.

    Answer Explanation:

    (c) - The person watching over the boy’s pulse realizes that the boy is dying.

  9. The phrase “no more to build on there” uses understatement to say:

    Correct Answer:

    The boy was dead and nothing more could be done for him.

    Answer Explanation:

    (b) - The phrase means that “nothing could be done about it.” It is an understatement because the event of the death is a dramatic one, and as readers, we are preparing ourselves for a dramatic statement to follow it. However, the poet chooses a flat tone to state the fact that nothing could be done for the dead boy.

  10. In the line, “And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood,” which word could be used to replace “dust” without changing the meaning of the sentence?

    Correct Answer:


    Answer Explanation:

    (a) - Since the poem is describing the sawing of wood, the speaker means “sawdust” when he says “dust.”

Aligned Resources

More standards from Grades 11-12 - Language