Common Core Rationale: CCSS Reading Anchor Standard 4 calls for students to “Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.” Based on the current grade level you teach, your individual standard will focus on an aspect of this competency as it grows in complexity from grade K to grade 12.
In the elementary grades, the focus of this work is on students determining the meaning of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases used in texts appropriate for each individual grade level. In the middle grades, students add a layer to their work in determining meaning of words and phrases to include determining the connotative, figurative, and technical meanings of words and phrases and analyzing how the author’s specific word choices impact tone and meaning. The work on determining the connotative, figurative, and technical meaning of words and phrases begins in 6th grade. It grows in 7th grade to include analyzing how specific word choices impact tone and meaning. It advances to also include analyzing how analogies or allusions to other texts impact meaning and tone in the 8th grade. In the high school grades, the emphasis becomes analyzing the cumulative effects of word choices on a text and how an author refines the meaning of key terms over the course of a text.
As is clear from the progression, students who have not reached a level of proficiency in an earlier stage of developing this competency are likely to greatly struggle in achieving the proficiency of a later stage. Therefore, you should use the CCSS progression as mapped out across the grade levels to help make decisions about how to differentiate for students with varying needs. For example, if you have an 8th grader who has not reached some level of proficiency in determining connotative, figurative, or technical meanings of words and phrases, it will be difficult for that student to analyze how those words and phrases impact meaning and tone. In early instances of student work on this CCSS competency, that student and similarly situated students would benefit from differentiation, perhaps in a small-group lesson on accurate quotations, while the rest of the class begins their citation work via a literacy skill-building activity structure.
Value of Concept: Carefully analyzing an author’s word choice for connotative, figurative, and technical meanings illuminates much about a text and its author. The tone in a text is determined by the word choices an author makes. Through the word choices an author makes, we can gain insights that help us determine an author’s point of view and purpose. By examining the word choices of other authors and analyzing how the meaning and tone of their texts are shaped through word choices, students become better able to employ effective word choice in their own compositions.
Overview: Prior to looking closely at an author’s word choice to determine connotative, figurative, or technical meanings, students should have already read the text closely, drawn conclusions about what the text states explicitly, made logical text-based inferences, determined the author’s main ideas, thought about central ideas in the text, and determined how the key individuals, ideas, or events of the text interact and interrelate with one another. Lessons to introduce and practice these reading skills were included in in our “Literacy Skill-Building Activities” and “Key Ideas and Details” lesson packs. Depending on how proficient students have become in the skills described, the teacher should decide how much of that work should be done within student’s heads and in collaborative conversations and how much still needs to be recorded in the form of two-column notes and “box and bullets” graphic organizers.
The lesson will involve students looking at a modified version of a text where the ideas remain the same as in the unmodified version but the words and phrases that carry connotative, figurative, and/or technical meanings have been removed. They will then compare the modified version of the text against the original version to examine how the tone and/or meaning of the texts differ.
The teacher will model this process with a two versions (a modified and unmodified version) of an excerpt from a different text.
Important Note about Prerequisite Knowledge:
These lessons assume that students are already trained and familiar with certain literacy skill activity structures (such as Coding the Text; Two-Column Notes; and Starter, Follow Up, an High Quality Questions) and the work of the first Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Informational Reading Standards Cluster (Key Ideas and Details: Anchor Standards 1-3). Lessons to teach students these activity structures are available on our TPT site at http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Common-Core-Content-Literacy-Shoppe
A Note about the Work of the “Craft and Structure” Standards Cluster for Reading Informational Texts:
In the previous cluster (RI Standards 1-3), students learned and practiced literacy skills related to determining what key ideas and information are presented in a text and the what details are included in the text to support and explain those ideas. So, to sum up the literacy work of the first RI standards cluster, we can say that students focused on determining what a text says, both in terms of explicit and implicit key ideas and the details that support them.
The second CCSS standards cluster (RI Standards 4-6) will move students into the work of analyzing how and why an author crafted and structured a text in a certain manner. It includes the work of analyzing specific word choice; determining how sentences, paragraphs, sections, and chapters of a text relate to each other and the text as a whole; determining an author’s purpose and point of view; and analyzing how an author’s purpose and point of view shape a text.
As in the last standards cluster, the order of the standards in this cluster suggest an order to the thinking process that students should go through when analyzing how and why an author crafted a text in a certain manner. Students enter this analysis after doing the work of standards cluster 1 (determining the ideas in a text and their supporting details). In the first step of the analysis of authors craft and structure, students think to determine the meaning of words and phrases the author chose to include, to include the figurative, connotative, and/or technical meaning of words and phrases. The next step is for students to think about the text’s structure in terms of how particular sentences, paragraphs, sections, and/or chapters relate to each other and to the whole text. The final steps in the process are to determine the author’s purpose and point of view and then assess how those factors shaped the content and style of the text.
There will be times when the order of thinking suggested by the order of the standards seems counterintuitive. This will especially be true in texts where the author’s purpose and/or point of view are explicitly stated or readily apparent. Intuitively, having an idea about the author’s purpose and/or point of view will help inform thinking about word choice and how particular sections of the text relate to the whole. So long as the author’s true purpose and/or point of view are readily apparent, having an idea of them in mind can make the process of analyzing word choice and structure easier. However, as texts become more complex, an author’s true purpose or point of view often becomes more obtuse, less obvious, and – at times – contrary to what the text seems to say. For instance, if an author employs satire, a firm presupposition concerning the author’s purpose and point of view will actually impede thinking deeply about the author’s true purpose and point of view.
Therefore, since intuition often pushes readers to attempt determining an author’s purpose and point of view prior to analyzing word choice and text structure, readers should learn to treat presuppositions as theories that must be objectively tested as they think deeply and analyze a text. Presuppositions about an author’s purpose and/or point of view should not be treated as definite and accurate determinations. Because this notion about presuppositions can be confusing, we will approach lessons concerning the analysis of author’s craft and structure by focusing on analyzing word choice and structure before attempting to determine author’s purpose and point of view.