Determining the Meaning of and Purpose for Shakespeare's Use of Figurative Language (Day 1 of 2)

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SWBAT determine figurative and connotative meaning of words in a text and determine their impact by using a graphic organizer to identify and analyze close reading excerpts.

Big Idea

Shakespeare uses such vivid figurative language. How can I help my students to understand and appreciate it?


10 minutes


To begin the activator I want to help students retrieve information about figurative language because they will be analyzing Shakespeare's use of figurative language.  I "splash" these words on my power point slide #1: Metaphor, Simile, Personification, and Imagery.  I then ask students to write in their journals the definitions for each word and an example of its use in a sentence (L.9-10.4).

To check for understanding I use the Cold Call Ball-Toss where I toss a sponge ball to a student who then gives a definition and example.  I use this technique to increase engagement by calling on students regardless of whether they have their hands raised.

Building Knowledge: Shakespeare’s Education

10 minutes

To help students appreciate Shakespeare's use of words to express a thought, feeling or experience (R.9-10.4), I first explain that The Shakespeare Research Center gave the following statement on Shakespearean language. (Note: I made some adaptations to the text so all students can access the information):

“The most striking feature of Shakespeare is his command of language. It is all the more astounding when one not only considers Shakespeare's sparse (limited) formal education but the curriculum that was taught. There were no dictionaries (and no smart phones); the first such lexical work (book) for speakers of English was compiled by teacher named Robert Cawdrey in 1604. Grammar texts were not created until the 1700's. Shakespeare as a youth would have no more systematically studied his own language than any educated man of the period.”

I then facilitate a discussion of the essence of this passage in order to assess understanding (SL.9-10.1).  We also discuss Shakespeare's education, or lack of, and his gift for language and creating many words.

Building Knowledge: Review of Figurative Language and its Purposes

10 minutes

Review of Figurative Language and it's Purpose

For my visual learners (80% of my class) I use a power point presentation  A Quick Review Figurative Language slide#3 to first review the definitions of the words through a matching activity.  Next, slide #4, I ask How does figurative language help the reader relate to the story?  Using the power point as a guide for my explanation, I point out that we've never lived in Verona during the 16th century but we all know what the sun is and therefore can relate to its significance in the quote:

“But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks?  It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.”

Using this example of figurative language from the play, I then ask the questions: What does it convey and what is the author’s purpose?  I facilitate a group discussion until we come to an understanding of the author's message and purpose for using these figurative words as required in standard RL.9-10.4.

Next I ask in slide #5, What else does figurative language do besides help people relate?  I use the analogy (and photo) of clarified butter and the skimming of the white foam off the top to explain that figurative language reveals a whole other layer of plot that students who simply skim the surface would not understand. I give an example, slide #6, from the text and lead a short discussion of its literal and figurative message and author's purpose (RL.9-10.4 and RI.9-10.6).

Using the quote on slide #7,  I  explain and model the next activity by first passing out the Graphic Organizer for Figurative Language.  Using a docucamera I project the organizer on a screen and write the quote, "Death lies upon her like an untimely frost" in the center box. To model an essential meta-cognitive skill, using the strategy Think-A Loud, I then fill in each box while saying out loud what I'm thinking while answering the questions.

I use the Think Aloud strategy because many of my students need guidelines on how to become learners.  I want them to develop into reflective, meta-cognitive, independent learners which requires thinking.  By me "thinking aloud" I'm also telling my students that they are not alone in having to think their way through the problem-solving process of reading comprehension.

After modeling the use of the graphic organizer I give each a Collaboration Rubric for Self Assessment reminding them that they will be evaluating themselves at the end of the Student Learning Activity.  Cooperative learning is a process and having students own the process of working together to learn is the goal.  The self-evaluation rubric helps them reflect on the process of collaborative work.


Student Learning Activity

35 minutes

Next using the the web graphic organizer, students are asked to work individually or with a learning partner.  I cut up strips of paper with quotes on each strip and put two quotes in an envelope.  They are given an envelope containing the two quotes that will choose one to analyze by answering the following questions (RL.9-10.4 and RI.9-10.6):

  • What does the quote literally mean?  
  • What is the quotes underlying meaning?  
  • What was Shakespeare’s purpose (set the tone, move the plot, and reveal about the character)?


This is a scaffolded skill because giving students a choice of one of two quotes to analyze they are more apt to engage in the learning activity by feeling a sense of personal control.  To meet the needs of my mixed-ability classroom I scaffold the assignment further by tierring the assignment in the following manner:

Tier 1: Students who have great difficulty understanding Shakespearean text and/or are determined to be struggling readers will be given basic level quotes in both the old text and modern text.
Tier 2: Students who work at grade level or above in terms of depth of understanding will answer questions in the original text and at varying degrees of difficulty.  All students are asked to refer to the text (page # next to quotes) to support their understanding of the quote RL.9-10.1.

I circulate among the students to check for understanding and to keep them focused on the activity by reminding them to refer to the collaboration rubric which requires cooperative discussion of the content in the task SL.9-10.1.

Wrap Up

10 minutes

Collaboration Rubric

Each student completes the rubric either with peer feedback or as a self-assessment. I collect the rubrics and during the week we'll review strengths and areas of needed improvement with individual students and as a group.