© 2016 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.

Common Core Standards: ELA See All Teacher Resources

Grades 9-10

Reading RL.9-10.4

Craft and Structure

RL.9-10.4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).

“Figurative” and “connotative” are two words that almost never come up in conversation - but they stand for two concepts that almost always come up in conversation. Both terms describe words that “stand in” for an image, an idea, or some related concept that is larger than the mere dictionary definition of the word. The figurative and connotative meanings of words, because they imply something larger than themselves, create the feel, meaning, and tone of a text. This is the reason that some words can also evoke a sense of time or place; using words that have obsolete connotations indicates that a text or a piece of dialogue “comes from” some time other than here and now.

Example 1

Sample Activities for Use in Class

1. Personification

“Personification” is a kind of figurative language in which a non-human animal or object is given human qualities.

On a sheet of paper, have each student construct five to ten sentences that use personification. If students are unsure where to begin, you may wish to give them a form or a list of non-human objects and a list of verbs, having the students pick one of each and put them together into sentences. Students should leave two or three empty lines beneath each sentence. Some examples include:

The plates danced on the shelves as the earthquake hit.

The thunder roared its anger across the sky.

I used to have $5.00 in my jeans pocket, but it escaped when I did the laundry last weekend.

Once students have created their sentences, have them switch papers with another student. On their new paper, have each student write, in the space underneath each personification sentence, the thing being personified and what human actions, qualities, or emotions it is said to have.

Example 2

2. Idioms

An “idiom” is an expression that uses words to paint a picture, and not for their literal dictionary meanings. For instance, “it’s raining cats and dogs” is an idiom that means “it’s raining very hard” – and not “Animals are falling from the sky.” All languages have idioms, but not all languages share the same idioms. An idiom in one language may seem very natural to the speakers of that language, but may make no sense at all when it is translated into another language.

For this activity, use an overhead projector, blackboard, or some other means to project each of the following idioms so that the entire class can see it, one at a time. Read or have a student read each idiom, and then have students discuss what they think each one means. You can also have students write down what they think each one means, then “check” the answers with students to see how many guessed correctly.

Sample Idioms in Non-English Languages (translated):

1. I don’t have a camel in that caravan. (Arabic)
Meaning: That issue doesn’t concern me. (Compare “I don’t have a dog in this fight.”)

2. Stop ironing my head! (Armenian)
Meaning: Stop bothering me! Used when someone’s constant asking or begging for something is becoming a bother.

3. The turtle is shrouded. (Cheyenne)
Meaning: It’s foggy out. (Think of the turtle as the earth, covered in a “shroud” of fog.)

4. to walk around hot porridge (Czech)
Meaning: to avoid getting to the point. (Compare: to beat around the bush.)

5. to make something out of wood and paint it red (Estonian)
Meaning: to make something very clear

6. I have other cats to whip! (French)
Meaning: I have other things to do. (Compare: I have other fish to fry.)

7. to have one’s eyes lined with ham (Italian)
Meaning: to be unable to see what is directly in sight. (Compare: can’t see the forest for the trees)

8. Even monkeys fall from trees. (Japanese)
Meaning: Even experts get it wrong sometimes.

9. to hang noodles on one’s ears (Russian)
Meaning: to tell lies or talk nonsense.

10. to put up a beer tent (Turkish)
Meaning: to get married. (Compare: to tie the knot)

Quiz 1 Questions

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

  1. Terri is trying to tell her sister Sherri that Terri is now dating Sherri’s ex-boyfriend, but she can’t seem to get the words out. Exasperated, Sherri yells, “Quit beating around the bush!” Sherri’s statement is an example of a:

    Correct Answer:


    Answer Explanation:

    (e) - An idiom is an expression that means something different than the literal meaning of its words.

  2. The sentence “Quit beating around the bush!” means:

    Correct Answer:

    Quit wasting time and get to the point!

    Answer Explanation:

    • (c) - correct answer
    • (d) - Don’t confuse “beat around the bush” with “beat a dead horse,” which means to belabor the same point.

  3. One day, while watching your neighbor move out, you hear your aunt say, “Poor Kent. He grew up in a wealthy household, but now he barely makes enough to keep body and soul together.” Your aunt most likely means:

    Correct Answer:

    Kent barely makes enough money for his basic needs.

    Answer Explanation:

    (d) - The idiom “to keep body and soul together” means “to survive.”

  4. One way to say “the lighting struck the tree” by using personification would be to say which of the following?

    Correct Answer:

    The lighting sliced the tree in half.

    Answer Explanation:

    (a) - Since the action of “slicing” implies volition and the words “swiftly” and “skillfully” qualify this action as if it were planned and executed, this is the best answer choice.

  5. Someone who “paddles his own canoe” probably also does which of the following idioms?

    Correct Answer:

    marches to the beat of his own drum

    Answer Explanation:

    (c) - Both mean “do your own thing.”

  6. What is the person who “paddles his own canoe” really doing?

    Correct Answer:

    Doing his own thing.

    Answer Explanation:

    (c) - This idiom means “to be independent and self-reliant.”

  7. “The car’s engine coughed, then sputtered to life” is an example of a:

    Correct Answer:


    Answer Explanation:

    (e) - The car, an inanimate object, is coughing and sputtering, which are human acts.

  8. Which of the following meanings of the word “dinosaur” is a figurative meaning?

    Correct Answer:

    a very old person or thing

  9. You’re at the zoo one day when you see a female swan noisily scolding a male swan. “Wow,” says another zoo-goer, “would you look at her go! That swan is really laying down the law. I’ve got to get a picture of this!” Which part of the zoo-goer’s sentence is personification?

    Correct Answer:

    “that swan” and “laying down the law”

    Answer Explanation:

    (e) - Almost a trick question! “Laying down the law” is an idiom meaning “to scold” or “to give an ultimatum.” But it’s personification when a non-human swan is said to be doing an idiom like “laying down the law.”

  10. Which part of the zoo-goer’s statement in Question 9 is an idiom?

    Correct Answer:

    “laying down the law”

    Answer Explanation:

    (a) - “Laying down the law” is an idiom meaning “to scold” or “to give an ultimatum.”

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 excerpt:

"Ladies," said he, turning to his family, "Miss Temple, teachers, and children, you all see this girl?"

Of course they did; for I felt their eyes directed like burning-glasses against my scorched skin.

"You see she is yet young; you observe she possesses the ordinary form of childhood; God has graciously given her the shape that He has given to all of us; no signal deformity points her out as a marked character. Who would think that the Evil One had already found a servant and agent in her? Yet such, I grieve to say, is the case."

A pause--in which I began to steady the palsy of my nerves, and to feel that the Rubicon was passed; and that the trial, no longer to be shirked, must be firmly sustained.

"My dear children," pursued the black marble clergyman, with pathos, "this is a sad, a melancholy occasion; for it becomes my duty to warn you, that this girl, who might be one of God's own lambs, is a little castaway: not a member of the true flock, but evidently an interloper and an alien. You must be on your guard against her; you must shun her example; if necessary, avoid her company, exclude her from your sports, and shut her out from your converse. Teachers, you must watch her: keep your eyes on her movements, weigh well her words, scrutinise her actions, punish her body to save her soul: if, indeed, such salvation be possible, for (my tongue falters while I tell it) this girl, this child, the native of a Christian land, worse than many a little heathen who says its prayers to Brahma and kneels before Juggernaut--this girl is--a liar!"

Now came a pause of ten minutes, during which I, by this time in perfect possession of my wits, observed all the female Brocklehursts produce their pocket-handkerchiefs and apply them to their optics, while the elderly lady swayed herself to and fro, and the two younger ones whispered, "How shocking!" Mr. Brocklehurst resumed.

"This I learned from her benefactress; from the pious and charitable lady who adopted her in her orphan state, reared her as her own daughter, and whose kindness, whose generosity the unhappy girl repaid by an ingratitude so bad, so dreadful, that at last her excellent patroness was obliged to separate her from her own young ones, fearful lest her vicious example should contaminate their purity: she has sent her here to be healed, even as the Jews of old sent their diseased to the troubled pool of Bethesda; and, teachers, superintendent, I beg of you not to allow the waters to stagnate round her."
- Jane Eyre, Chapter 7

  1. When the speaker, Jane Eyre, says, “I felt their eyes directed like burning- glasses against my scorched skin,” which of the following does she most likely NOT mean?

    Correct Answer:

    She was actually being burned by the glass eyes of her classmates and teachers.

    Answer Explanation:

    (c) - Since she is using figurative speech, the literal meaning does not apply.

  2. Jane Eyre’s statement that “the Rubicon was passed” is what form of speech?

    Correct Answer:

    an idiom

    Answer Explanation:

    • (c) - Perhaps, but here it’s used as an idiom meaning “the worst is over,” making (d) the better answer.
    • (d) - correct answer

  3. Which of the following is another way the pastor could have said Jane Eyre “might be one of God’s own lambs?”

    Correct Answer:

    Jane Eyre might be a devoted follower of God.

  4. When the pastor says Jane Eyre is an “alien,” he means that she is:

    Correct Answer:

    someone outside the group of “good Christians”

    Answer Explanation:

    (b) - The context is of the pastor singling her out as a liar, not one of the “true flock” and possessed by the devil.

  5. When the pastor says that Jane Eyre is “worse than many a little heathen who says its prayers to Brahma and kneels before Juggernaut,” he means that:

    Correct Answer:

    being a liar is worse than praying to a non-Christian god

  6. Jane Eyre describes the pastor as “a black marble clergyman.” Which of the following is probably NOT what she means?

    Correct Answer:

    The pastor is carved from stone

    Answer Explanation:

    (e) - She is using figurative language.

  7. Jane Eyre says that, after the pastor calls her a liar, some of the younger ladies listening “apply their handkerchiefs to their optics.” What is another way of saying what she means?

    Correct Answer:

    The ladies pressed their handkerchiefs to their eyes

    Answer Explanation:

    (b) - They are wiping tears from their eyes because they are, presumably, moved by the pastor’s speech.

  8. In addition to describing what the ladies did, what else does the phrase “apply their handkerchiefs to their optics” tell you about the passage?

    Correct Answer:

    It was written many years ago.

    Answer Explanation:

    (a) - The phrase is somewhat dated, implying a text that was written a hundred or more years ago.

  9. Which of the following is an image the pastor uses while he’s talking about Jane Eyre?

    Correct Answer:

    All of the above

  10. When the pastor asks the teachers “not to let the waters stagnate round her,” he is really asking them to do what?

    Correct Answer:

    Use their honest natures and teaching abilities to teach Jane Eyre not to lie anymore.

    Answer Explanation:

    (a) - To fully understand the meaning of this phrase, let’s look at the complete allusion that the speaker makes. He says: “She has sent her here to be healed, even as the Jews of old sent their diseased to the troubled pool of Bethesda; and, teachers, superintendent, I beg of you not to allow the waters to stagnate round her.” He refers to the pool of Bethesda, which, according to the Bible, was a pool of water where unwell Jews went to be healed. It was said that an angel moved the water of this pool at certain times to heal the sick. So, the pastor asks the teachers to move the waters around Jane (figuratively, of course) in order to heal her. He compares the school to the pool of Bethesda and the teachers to the angel.