To introduce the concept of denotative and connotative meanings in language and illustrate the concept through literature.
Objectives (aligned with standards) - Students will be able to explain the difference between denotative and connotative meaning in language and recognize which is which (2.A.4d). Students will read age-appropriate material with fluency and accuracy (1.B.4c). Students will learn to look for denotative and connotative meaning in literature (2.A.4d). Students will look up the meaning of words in the dictionary.
Students will follow complex oral instructions (4.A.4c). Students will strengthen interpersonal communication skills through small group discussion (4.B.4b). Students
will use questions and predictions to guide reading (1.C.4a). Students will explain and justify an interpretation of a text (1.C.4b). Students will analyze how the author uses denotative and connotative meaning in the text to express and emphasize his ideas
(1.C4e). Students will discuss and evaluate motive, resulting behavior and consequences demonstrated in literature (2.B.4c). Students will create another part to the story and illustrate with a drawing.
Multiple intelligences put to use: Linguistic, Interpersonal, Intra-personal and Spatial
III. Materials -- Text ("Popular Mechanics" by Raymond Carver)
Handout with discussion questions for small groups
Student journals -- Drawing paper
Pens or pencils, crayons and/or colored markers
Chalk Board and Chalk (or Marker Board and Markers)
Anticipatory Set: (Teacher says) I had some upsetting news yesterday. A friend of mine called me and told me she is getting a divorce from her husband. They have two children. I asked what would happen to the children. Who will they live with?
My friend said it has not been decided yet because they both want the children.
Whom do you think the children will most likely live with when the divorce is final?
(Students are likely to answer that most of the time the mother gets the children, although, of course, there are some exceptions -- sometimes the father gets them or a grandmother or an aunt.)
(Teacher goes on) Nowadays, the mother usually gets the children, but that was not always the case in this country. During the 1800s in the United States, before women's rights, the father always got the children if there was a divorce. Even if the father were in prison for murder, or was an alcoholic who beat and abused his family and spent all his money on whiskey, he automatically got custody of the children. It was the law. They were his property so he owned them. (Allow students to react to this, then explain) This was a major reason why women held the first Women's
Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York in 1846 and decided to work toward equal rights for women. Even today in some countries (mostly Middle Eastern) the father gets the children (2 minutes).
Preview: Today we are going to read a story about a man and woman who are separating. (Hand out copies of "Popular Mechanics" by Raymond Carver.)
B. Activities (4)
1. Read the story "Popular Mechanics" by Raymond Carver aloud
(Teacher asks) Who are the characters in the story? (Students should answer a man, his wife, and their baby.)
(Teacher says) An unusual thing about this story is that the characters have no names. Why do you think the writer did not give names to the man, the woman, and the baby? (Allow students to speculate. On interpretation might be that the people could be anybody. They are very ordinary people, and maybe the author is sending a message about people in general, about human nature, or about people in American culture.)
(Teacher asks) The characters have no names, but the story has a title. "Popular Mechanics." I wonder how the author came up with that title. We will need to work on figuring out what the title means. One way to figure out what it means is to think about denotative and connotative meanings. Two big words.
(Teacher explains) Every word in a language has two kinds of meaning. One is the denotative meaning. (Write denotative on the board.) The denotative meaning is the dictionary meaning
(write dictionary beside denotative.) The meaning of a word found in the dictionary is the meaning everyone officially agrees upon. Let's look up right now the meaning of the words popular and mechanics in the dictionary (2 minutes).
2. Students look up popular and mechanics in their dictionaries and discuss the denotative meanings of the two words. Suggest they paraphrase the meanings and write them down (1 minute).
(Teacher explains) The other kind of meaning is called connotative. A
connotative meaning is the meaning each person brings to the word from his/her individual experience. For example, suppose I use the word roses.
The denotative meaning of the word roses is that they are a flower that grows on a stem with sharp thorns. But a connotative meaning for roses would be different for each person. Roses mean romance to some people.
Someone else might think of the rose garden at the White House where ceremonies take place or Miss America carrying roses during her victory walk. When I think of roses, I think of a funeral because when I was very young, my grandfather died, and the room in which he was laid out was full of roses. So the connotative meaning I bring to the word is negative. There are as many connotative meanings for words as there are people.
(Teacher goes on) Here's another example: Think of the word flag. What is the denotative meaning of flag? A flag is a piece of cloth with colors and symbols on it. It stands for something -- maybe a country. The stars and stripes, for example (point to the flag), stand for the United States of America. What else does the flag stand for? (Students may say liberty, equality justice, etc.) Teacher asks, What kind of meanings are those?
(Students by now should recognize those are connotative meanings.)
(Teacher explains) A good way to keep the two words straight is to remember that denotative and dictionary both starts with the letter d.
Denotative is the dictionary meaning. So then all you have to remember is that connotative is the other kind of meaning (2 minutes).
3. Divide students into small groups. Give them each a handout with discussion questions on it. Instruct them to choose a spokesperson who will take detailed notes on their discussion. Explain that we will re-convene as a whole group in about 12 minutes. The spokesperson will then report to the rest of us what his/her group talked about. Explain that the purpose of their discussion is to ferret out the meaning of the title "Popular
Mechanics" in the story. Why did the author choose that title? What possible connotative meanings are implied? Discuss each question on the handout. Talk about what happens in the story and how it might apply to real life. This may lead to insights about the title (12 minutes -- about 2
minutes per question).
4. Debriefing: Ask the spokesperson for each group to tell the group's findings and interpretations. (Did anyone think of the magazine Popular
Mechanics? If so, discuss what the magazine is about and whom it is for.)
After each group has shared its interpretation, share your own interpretation.
(One possible interpretation of the title is this: The theme deals with breaking up a home and what happens to children in a divorce. The family comes apart, and the children are pulled in all directions. Usually, this
"pulling" is emotional. One parent plays the child against the other, or they compete for the child's allegiance, or they go to court in a custody battle.
Mechanics deal with how forces act on one another and how things work.
The title "Popular Mechanics" implies that the physical or emotional struggle (mechanical) for possession of the child is not uncommon, but widespread (or popular). Are these connotative meanings or denotative?
(These meanings are denotative, but the way Carver uses the title is to show emotional forces at work.) The last line of the story says, "In this manner, the issue was decided." In other words, custody was not determined by considering who would make the best parent, or with whom the baby would be better off and happier, but rather on the basis of strength, persistence, and determination. The parents are as immature as the baby, fighting over it like two-year-olds. The author may be making a comment about the legal system. If time, you could discuss what the message might be. Teacher should point out that there is no one correct or "right" interpretation of literature. Every reader brings his/her own experiences and meanings to a story, and it is a sign of good literature when many interpretations can be
made (5 minutes).
C. Closure (3 minutes)
What is the most important thing you learned from this lesson?