Common Core Standards: ELA
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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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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.)
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 QuestionsHere'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.
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.
Quiz 2 QuestionsHere'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.
- Compare and Contrast
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