The intent of this unit is to break down familiar constructs in analyzing and understanding figurative language. I feel that in years past, I have asked students to identify and explain, for example, the green light in The Great Gatsby or to explain the significance of the tunnel in the short story, "Through the Tunnel." The phrase, "explain the significance" is very English teacher-y, and it invariably brings us as a group away from the text toward some broader construct. This move is important for readers of literature, but often, I think, I have made this leap too quickly.
Instead, the CCSS in this area focus on word uses. Here the standards are in full:
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.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)
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.5b Analyze nuances in the meaning of words with similar denotations.
As I look at these standards, I am thinking about having students hold a magnifying glass up to the various words in the text that seem to have strong affective connotations. We can discuss the functions of these words and how they feel for the reader. This type of discussion will be extremely important for the various students in my classes, a majority of which do not speak English at home, so the discussion of connotations is key. Over time, then, as we move through the text, I am hoping that the students' skills will accumulate--that is, that they will be able to do this kind of magnifying work with greater facility--and that their understanding of Bradbury's aesthetic will also accumulate, as they gain more experience with seeing the effects of technology and dehumanization on a broader scale.
My key questions for this unit are derived from the above discussion:
1.) How does the author define humanism? In contrast to what? How do the characters engage in an epic struggle to promote humanism? How does this theme relate to our world today?
2.) What literary figurative language helps to characterize this struggle, and how does the author construct these figures using crafted word choices with engaging affective connotations?
Humanity Love Respect by Bradley Wise on flickr shared through creative commons
During this segment, I will get a gloss for the experiences that my students have had in the past with reading for figurative language. I am wondering what books or stories from middle school will they remember having symbolic resonances and what stories that we have already examined may also have the same. This is unit pre-assessment, so the questions are seeking to explore figurative language (RL.9-10.4) in a broad sense.
1.) What novels or stories have you read in the past that had strong symbolism? Why?
2.) How do authors select their words to give a strong emotional punch? What stories do you remember having that kind of effect on you?
3.) What are "affective connotations" of words? How can you explore these in your own writing? For example, "be quiet" vs. "shut your mouth," vs. "shut up!" How does each feel differently.
4.) What types of situations might you be asked to give a speech? How can you choose the words with the right affective connotations for a toast? A eulogy? A congratulations speech? A valedictory?
5.) Examine the Intro diagram on the board. How do this hold true for the Eagle, Rose, Flag, Pitchfork, Halo, etc.?
These are just a few of the semi-structured questions I might ask, and I will certainly engage in follow-up questions to guide students to provide evidence in discussion to their classmates (SL.9-10.1), so a common refrain will be, "Why do you think that?" or "What evidence do you have?"
Let's start with two very engaging, accessible but different songs. These two songs (found in the Unit Intro Handout) both contain rose imagery but do so from very different affective domains. The first song depicts a tenacious rose that persisted against all odds. The second song depicts a love that is a soothing balm for the speaker. This second rose is more mysterious and moody; the first rose is metaphoric but somewhat less nebulous.
Again, this is a fun opening for the lesson, but it is also meant to be a pre-assessment of how well the student can select figurative language (RL9-10.4)
1.) What words carry a strong feeling for you? Why?
2.) How do these words contribute to our understanding of the rose in each song?
As we wrap up, I'll be sure to compliment the students on their observations of figurative language. The homework is not a formal assignment, but I will challenge them to find song lyrics or another interesting text that they think has a high degree of strongly connotative language. They can bring in the link or text to class tomorrow or post to our site.