Teaching Connotation & Denotation – Part II

To follow my previous post, here is another exercise I use with my students regarding adjectives.

First, I put a list of words on the board all synonymous with “angry:” mad, upset, incensed, perturbed, enraged, disgusted, indignant, annoyed, peeved, infuriated, provoked, and irate. If I have the time I sometimes give each small group the words on index cards to manipulate.

I have all of my small groups of students draw a line across the middle of their piece of butcher paper (hamburger, not hot dog, style if you know what I mean) and write the word “angry” above the center of the line. Next, the students must determine the order of the words from least angry to most angry. This way each group has a continuum of degrees of anger.

Once each group finishes I have the students post their results on the wall or board. Then, the class begins to debate groups’ choices and to identify why certain words go before or after “angry.” This forces the students to vocalize why certain words show more anger than others. Sometimes I skip the class discussion and allow the group discussions to stand, but I always post each group’s results.

They are discovering how word choice–no, the exact word choice–impacts writing, speaking, and reading.

Other base words to try:

  • cold
  • happy
  • eager
  • afraid
  • tired
  • kind
  • odd

3 thoughts on “Teaching Connotation & Denotation – Part II

  1. mrschili

    I do a similar thing, but not in the same context you do. I play a game with my (college – sheesh!) composition students to get them to start thinking in terms of synonyms – I’m sick to DEATH of their using the same old words – lame, mad, happy, pretty – in their writing. I’ll put them in groups and toss a boring word on the board, then direct them to come up with as many different ways of saying that idea as they can. We score it like Boggle, they have to defend their choices, and I have final say on whether a synonym gets the idea across. I like how you play this game, though, and may add your requirement for ranking in the next time we play…


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