Common Core Standards: ELA
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful. (Include Shakespeare as well as other authors.)
Breakin’ it Down:
For all its wordiness, this standard, at its most basic level, is about using good ol’ context clues. Most likely students have encountered versions of this standard throughout their academic career. However, when they get to the last two years of high school, they have to be able to not only figure out the meaning of words, but also decide how specific words influence or change the text. For example, we’ll be asking students to discuss how word choice contributes to tone or influences our interpretations of a text. They’ll also need to identify how word choice adds up to language that is particularly beautiful or musical, as in poetry.
Additionally, in the last years of high school, students should become masters of distinguishing figurative from literal language. This shouldn’t be too hard since their sarcasm skills are likely at peak performance levels, and sarcasm is just another form of non-literal language. The standard requires that students can interpret the meaning of figurative writing and identify connotative meanings or emotional resonances of words. Look out – that’s taking those familiar context clues to a whole new level.
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Using this Standard
- 1984 Teacher Pass
- A Rose For Emily Teacher Pass
- A View from the Bridge Teacher Pass
- Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Teacher Pass
- Animal Farm Teacher Pass
- Antigone Teacher Pass
- Beowulf Teacher Pass
- Fahrenheit 451 Teacher Pass
- Fences Teacher Pass
- Frankenstein Teacher Pass
- Hamlet Teacher Pass
- Heart of Darkness Teacher Pass
- Julius Caesar Teacher Pass
- Macbeth Teacher Pass
- Moby Dick Teacher Pass
- Narrative of Frederick Douglass Teacher Pass
- Oedipus the King Teacher Pass
- Of Mice and Men Teacher Pass
- Othello Teacher Pass
- Romeo and Juliet Teacher Pass
- The Aeneid Teacher Pass
- The As I Lay Dying Teacher Pass
- The Bluest Eye Teacher Pass
- The Canterbury Tales General Prologue Teacher Pass
- The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath's Prologue Teacher Pass
- The Cask of Amontillado Teacher Pass
- The Catcher in the Rye Teacher Pass
- The Crucible Teacher Pass
- The House on Mango Street Teacher Pass
- The Iliad Teacher Pass
- The Odyssey Teacher Pass
- The Old Man and the Sea Teacher Pass
- Their Eyes Were Watching God Teacher Pass
- Things Fall Apart Teacher Pass
- To Kill a Mockingbird Teacher Pass
The Daily Grind: Teaching the Standard
NOVICE: Nice and Easy. Define a word based on its context.
On college entrance exams, the context clues questions can be doozies! Questions try to trip students up by asking them to define words with multiple definitions. Most of the time, the most common definition is not the right answer, but it will be included as an answer choice to distract careless readers. Tricky, tricky, but you can prepare your students by creating similar multiple-choice questions with any text you have in class or find some released practice tests to keep students fresh. Also, mix it up by asking students to define or explain non-literal words or expressions. Analyzing an extended metaphor is another great way to work out those figurative language muscles.
Idioms can be an especially tricky piece of this standard for second language learners. Think about it, if English was not your first language, how confused would you be if someone told you to, “stop and smell the flowers” in, say, the middle of winter? Or, perhaps you’re complaining about a rude coworker and your friend advises you to, “Turn the other cheek.” What does this mean? If your students are still learning the literal meanings of English words, these idioms probably sound like complete nonsense to them. But fear not; idioms can actually be a lot of fun to teach. Ask students to research their origins, act them out charades style, or create cartoons that demonstrate the literal vs. figurative meanings. Shmoop predicts your students will have a good time and learn some surprising facts about the origins of our common expressions.
INTERMEDIATE: Words are windows to the soul.
This standard also requires that students are able to look at patterns in the word choice of an author to figure out the tone or theme being communicated. In any good piece of literature, students should scour the text for loaded language that points to the author’s attitude or reveals a central theme.
After students have compiled a list of the loaded language they found, ask them to explain how those words build the author’s tone and/or indicate the theme of the text. Remind students to consider the historical context of the writing when analyzing word choice.
Example: What is the effect of the author’s choice to continuously use the N-word to describe characters? How does this impact our reading of the text, and how might it relate to the overall theme?
ALL-STAR: Yikes! He called her a what?
Older texts are great for digging deep into an analysis of language. Find literature containing language that would now be shocking or inflammatory and have students analyze specific words as a way to uncover the beliefs and norms of an individual, society, or specific time period. Single words and phrases can uncover a wealth of biases or issues of social justice. This activity will take some research. Remember, students can’t make assumptions based on our understanding of these words today; they need to delve into the historical context to make appropriate inferences.