Figurative Language In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Day 1 of 2

2 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT interpret the meaning of figurative language in Their Eyes Were Watching God by following a step-by-step process.

Big Idea

Language packed with meaning calls for students to make multiple connections.


Today is a minimum day. Class periods are only 35 minutes long. I plan on getting students far enough into the assignment today so that they may be able to finish a good part of it at home independently.

Analyzing Figurative Langugae

25 minutes

I ask students to take out their homework, which is the t-chart they created yesterday in which they copied a total of five quotes from the last two pages of Their Eyes Were Watching God. Specifically, each quote had to be written in figurative language and had to be about Janie's quest for autonomy. I remind them that today they are going to explain the meaning of the quotes they selected. I have made the mistake in the past of letting them tackle figurative language with little instruction, basically no more than a reminder of the definition of figurative language. I may have simply told them that figurative language says one thing but it means something else and it is the job of the reader to figure out what the meaning is. I then may have given them time to figure out the meaning of the figurative language on the quotes they selected. My students are not quite ready for this and they will likely stare at the quote for an extended period of time unsure of how to tackle it. To avoid this, I give them a process using the first quote on all their charts, a quote we selected together the day before, "Ah done been tuh de horizon and back..." 

I tell students that they have to keep several things in mind as they try and make meaning of this. One thing they need to keep in mind is the connotation of words. I ask them if they remember what connotation is. The vast majority stare at me blankly. I have explained this in the past and I take this opportunity to work on student accountability. I let them know I will be explaining it again but they need to make an effort to remember this. I also make a mental note to make sure I create opportunities for them to make use of their knowledge of connotation. I explain that connotation has to be understood alongside denotation and that both refer to the meaning of words. I say, "Denotation starts with a d, like dictionary. Denotation is the dictionary definition of a word. Connotation, on the other hand refers to all the other feelings, associations, and meanings we attach to a word." The simple example I always gives them is the difference between house and home. I explain that both may have the same denotation, both are places where someone lives. However, I continue, each has a different connotation. Home is the word we associate with warmth and family and safety. Someone who feels loved and safe where they live refers to that place as home. Students understand. I tell them that they also have to keep in mind several aspects of figurative language: it says one thing but means something else, it paints vivid pictures in the reader's mind, it communicates a lot in a few words. Finally, I tell them that they have to keep in mind the context of the quote selected and what they know about the story. I admit to students that this is a lot to keep in mind, but that I am going to give them a process and we are going to go over it together once. The process has the followings steps:

  1. identify the powerful words packed with meaning
  2. think of the connotation of these words 
  3. imagine what these words illustrate
  4. select language that may help you describe that
  5. elevate the language
  6. keep in mind everything we know about the story

In this video, I guide students through the first 3 steps

We discuss the connotation of "horizon," then of "done been" and "back." Students are now ready to suggest meanings of this quote. They suggest several sentences and phrases. These sentences and phrases still qualify as brainstorming and I would not want students to just combine them to make their two sentences. I state that I would not use everything on the board for my analytical sentences because this is still the product of brainstorming and not all of these phrases are worded at the level of eleventh grade writing. I ask them to guess which words I would select from the ones on the board. Students are very good at selecting the best worded phrases. I agree with them and add that I would supplement some of the things written on the board. I make it clear that the purpose is to write analytical sentences that are worded with precise, sophisticated language. In this video, I go over this process with students and explain what I mean by "elevating language."


10 minutes

I instruct students to turn to the remaining quotes and formulate at least two sentences for each quote that explain the meaning. I remind students that the process is: circle the words that are packed with meaning, think of the words' connotations keeping in mind the context of the quote and what we know about the story, brainstorm possible meaning of the quote, elevate the language and use it to formulate the two analytical sentences. 

By this time, students just have enough time to work on a second quote. I don't want to assign all remaining four for homework because I don't want them to rush through the writing just to get homework credit. I ask them to just work on writing the meaning of two additional ones for a total of three.