Common Core Standards: ELA
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L.9-10.5. Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
- Interpret figures of speech (e.g., euphemism, oxymoron) in context and analyze their role in the text.
- Analyze nuances in the meaning of words with similar denotations.
The use of figurative language is what separates humankind from reference books, robots, and weather radio. Specifically, figurative language consists of words or phrases used to paint a picture or make a point without stating that point in plain language. Figurative language can drive a point home much more completely than a literal statement of the same facts.
Although hundreds of types of figures of speech exist, we’ll focus on just three: the euphemism, the oxymoron, and the choice of one word over another to convey certain shades of meaning, even if the two words have basically the same denotation, or dictionary definition.
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Sample Activities For Use in Class
A “euphemism” is an inoffensive word or phrase that stands in for another word or phrase whose meaning is offensive to most hearers. While ninth- and tenth-graders are probably well-acquainted with a wide range of euphemisms for private body parts, euphemisms exist to cover many other events, things, and activities as well.
Create groups of three to five students each, and give each group a stack of index cards. One stack will contain various euphemisms, while the other stack contains the word or phrase the euphemism is supposed to stand in for. Some possible pairs include:
“passed away” died
“industrial action” labor strike
“pass wind” burp or fart
“let go” fired
“has a screw loose” crazy or mentally ill
“quantitative easing” printing money
Have each group place its decks face-down in the middle of the group. When given a signal to begin, the groups turn over both decks of cards and race to put each euphemism with its correct term as quickly as possible. When all the cards are matched, the players all raise their hands. The group that gets all of its matches correct as quickly as possible is the winner.
An oxymoron is a phrase that appears to contradict itself. As in the previous activity, have students form groups of three to five people each and give each group two stacks of cards, which should be shuffled and placed face-down in the middle of the group. Each card contains half of an oxymoron. Some examples include:
Part One Part Two
Have students race to see which group can re-create their oxymorons as quickly as possible. The first group to get all its pairs matched up correctly is the winner.
Discuss: When might it be important or appropriate in writing to use a euphemism? When would you use an oxymoron? When would you definitely want to avoid using one or the other?
Quiz 1 QuestionsHere's an example of a quiz that could be used to test this standard.
Quiz 2 QuestionsHere's an example of a quiz that could be used to test this standard.
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