Understanding shades–of–meaning or nuances can make a huge difference in students’ ability to comprehend literary text. When reading with my students, I often ask them to describe the character’s feelings in the story. I typically get the same one-word responses: good, happy, sad, mad, etc… Of course, I prompt further to help them dig deeper into the text, but it can be frustrating when students don’t have the necessary vocabulary to describe precisely how the character is feeling. This can hinder their ability to fully understand the character’s actions or how they contribute to the events in the story.
Noticing the Difference Between Shades of Meaning
Students need to understand that different intensities of feelings influence what a character says and does, or how a character reacts. For example, a character who is uneasy about something will act differently than someone who is frantic, thus setting in motion different events. When analyzing characters, students have to learn to ‘read’ the character to determine how they are feeling in order to understand their actions or the events that unfold.
Shades–of–meaning play a big role in students understanding of the text. Having the ability to discern between someone who is enraged versus someone who is upset is key. Students need to pay attention to details in the text to consider the character’s situation. This can be a difficult concept to teach when students lack the vocabulary or understanding of the degrees of feelings characters can experience.
Building an Understanding of Shades of Meaning
Using Context Clues
To take on this challenge, I developed a few activities to help my students learn essential feeling vocabulary. Rather than providing my students with a set of related feeling words in isolation, I created various sentences in which the feeling words were used. I directed my students’ focus on reading the sentences for the purpose of analyzing the situations first. Students highlighted or underlined the situations in each sentence. Then, they conferred with a partner about which levels of intensity the feelings were being experienced in each sentence as they compared and ordered them from low to high degrees based on the context clues.
Once students gained some experience with the vocabulary used in this activity, I posted chart paper around the room with a feeling word on each poster. Students were then divided into small groups. Each group was assigned a poster to chart situations in which they thought someone might experience that feeling.
After a few minutes, student groups rotated to the next feeling poster to see what the group(s) before them had written and then continued to add to that list. Toward the end this carousel activity, the groups revisited the first poster they were assigned, reviewed what the other groups had added, discussed whether they agreed or disagreed with each of the situations on the list or made changes. Last, groups shared out their poster with the class. This activity really engaged them in some great conversations.
Another activity that really helped solidify their understanding of feeling vocabulary and the different shades–of–meaning, was a word association sort. Students were partnered up and given sets of words with a feeling card. Their task was to read each word and decided if the word was associated with the intensity level of that feeling.