What's In a Name?
Students examine sports team names to learn the difference between connotation and denotation/definition of words.
- Grades: 6–8
- Unit Plan:
This introduction to connotation is an exciting and engaging activity involving the examination of sports team names. Students will gain understanding of the difference between the connotation and denotation/definition of words, and the importance of effective word choice.
- Identify and examine the concept of connotation.
- Differentiate between the connotative and denotative meaning of words.
- Interpret the connotative power of words.
- Blackboard, whiteboard, or overhead projector
Set Up and Prepare
- Compile a list of dozen or so recognizable Sports Team Names on the blackboard, whiteboard, or overhead projector. Examples: Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Miami Dolphins, Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Giants, Seattle Supersonics.
Step 1: Create interest and excitement by having the team names visible when students enter the classroom.
Step 2: Sample Introduction: "What's in a Name? Shakespeare said, ‘That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.' Discuss the meaning of the famous quote and establish that Shakespeare meant that a rose would be a beautiful, fragrant flower regardless of the name. It could just as well be called ‘stinkweed', although it's doubtful it would be a favorite Valentine gift! Tell the class that today you will decide if Shakespeare's quote is true or not.
Step 3: Engage the class in a discussion by asking if anyone has ever heard of the connotative definition of words, and if they know that words can have denotative, as well as connotative, meanings.
Step 4: Model: Give a student the dictionary and ask them to find the definition of the word ‘Gray.' (For a quicker response, mark the page.) Definition: a shade between, or a mixture of, black and white.
Step 5: Explain that the student has just supplied the class with the denotative meaning, or definition, of the word as supplied by a dictionary of everyday language. It's easy to remember that denotative, definition, and dictionary all begin with the letter ‘D.' They all have to do with a word's meaning.
Step 6: Now explain that a word also has another kind of meaning, and that meaning is called "Connotative." Ask the class if they have any ideas what connotative means.
Model: Give the class a connotative example of the word ‘gray.' "To me, gray means a cold, cloudy day."
Step 7: Now ask the class what the connotative meaning is saying. Direct responses to the word ‘emotion.' Explain that a connotative meaning, or connotation, refers to the emotions or human reactions and feelings that come from a word.
Step 8: Present these examples:
- The Houghton-Mifflin Company offers this comparison. "The word modern is defined as belonging to recent times, but the word's connotations can include feelings of being new, up-to-date, and experimental."
- From ilovepoetry.com, "The suggestion of a meaning by a word beyond what it explicitly denotes or describes. The word, home, for example, means that the place where one lives, but by connotation, also suggests security, family, love and comfort."
Step 9: Ask the class if they can think of other examples. Look up the words they offer in the dictionary, and then discuss the connotation of each word. Examples: sun, wall, summer, alone.
Before moving on to the next part, it is essential that students understand that words can evoke human reaction, or emotions, referred to as connotations, as well as literal definitions, which are the meanings of the words, also called denotations.
Step 10: Direct the attention of the class to the list of team names on the board (overhead). As you go through the list, ask for volunteers to give a definition (denotation) of each word, as well as their reaction (connotation) to the word.
Step 11: Ask the class to consider reasons why these names were chosen. Possible answers might include; team pride, the names sound like winners or sound athletic, the names are great for marketing purposes, etc.
Step 12: Discuss reasons why it is important for a team to have a name that evokes those emotions or reactions. Brainstorm a list of purposes, and record these on the board.
Step 13: Closure: Review the differences between denotation and connotation. Generate enthusiasm for Lesson Two by informing the class that they will be creating their own Team Name at the next session.
Supporting All Learners
Check for understanding of the terms denotation and connotation. Provide more examples if necessary.
Students may brainstorm a list of words to illustrate denotation vs. connotation.
Students can ask parents/family members to think of examples that illustrate denotation vs. connotation and add these to a class list.
- Participate in a discussion exploring the differences between a word's denotation and connotation.
- Brainstorm a list of reasons why it is important for a team's name to evoke the right human reaction.
- What section of this lesson needs to be reinforced?
- What could you do to generate greater understanding and enthusiasm?
- What further modeling would be beneficial?
- What would you change or add to this lesson?
This lesson does not have formal assessment; however it is important to establish understanding through class participation.