The differences and nuances between connotation and denotation are a popular topic to cover and review when discussing English grammar. Even after students are taught the difference in the early stages of learning, it is important to continue the discussion as word choice becomes more imperative in the mastery of writing, and word recognition is increasingly important to engage advanced reading. In order for students to best understand and apply the use of tone in writing and literature, they must have a firm grasp of the distinction between what words denote and connote.
Denotation is the strict, “dictionary” definition of a word. Connotation refers to the emotions and associations that attach to words, and expand beyond their proper definitions. Poor word choice or misrecognition of wording can dramatically alter imagery, tone, mood, or message of a piece. Revisiting the differences between the denotations of words and their connotations help students master their writing and reading.
As seen below, a misunderstanding can quickly change the literal meaning of a message (as is the case with "weasel"). It can also change the tone of the message, consider the difference between feelings evoked by "mom" and "mother". Some other denotation examples include words used to describe people like pig, chicken, bull, ox, or something like a teacher's pet.
Storyboards make a great medium for practicing and demonstrating this semantic challenge. Whether you use them as non-linguistic representations of the concept, or you have students explore the concept themselves by using and/or creating storyboards, it will strengthen their understanding of an important reading and writing skill. Here are a few example activities:
There are many words and phrases that we associate negatively for various reasons, sometimes brought on from a small number of examples, from a regional or cultural bias, or from past associations with the word. Take a look at the examples below and write down some of the first words you think of. Are there negative connotations with any of those words?
The activities above help address numerous areas of the Common Core State Standards, in particular, standards in language and writing.
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