This is going to be the first in a mini series of lessons on connotations. Why bother looking at connotations? Well, there are a few reasons, firstly, for students being able to say precisely what they mean without misunderstanding is key. Secondly, can you really know a word without understanding the implications its use has to those who read it and hear it. Finally, for some students, especially those in CAE or CPE classes a lack of knowledge of connotation can prevent high scores in the Use of English paper.
This whole idea was triggered by my colleague William Tweddle, talking about teaching vocabulary and highlighting the difference in connotation between Opium and Heroin. They are both effectively the same thing and yet with one we conjure images of poets languidly lying in beautiful rooms on divans, music wafting in with the opium haze. The other conjures images of junkies, needles, misery and grime. No surprise which has a perfume named after it.
Aims: To raise awareness of how important connotation is when learning vocabulary
Level: Upper Intermediate / Advanced
The aim here is to raise awareness of how heroin / opium are perceived
Dictionary example from OUP: “A reddish-brown heavy-scented addictive drug prepared from the juice of the opium poppy, used illicitly as a narcotic and occasionally in medicine as an analgesic.”
They will probably find the word ‘drug’ / heroin and the fact it is addictive.
The aim is to have a discussion on the name but leading to the point that Heroin and Opium have very different connotations.
Remind students here that we are really looking for the best answer. All of them could be used.
- affordable – now possible to buy
- good value – the price is fair
- cheap – perhaps low quality
Emphasis that cheap can have a neutral use too.
As an extension, you could ask the students to write a sentence for inexpensive and put the best on the board.
Obviously there is no correct answer here, but it is worth checking with students the meanings
- thin – neutral though sometimes used in a negative sense
- skinny – negative – too thin
- slender – positive – also contains an idea of elegance
- slim – positive – in good shape
- a gossip
- a chatty person
- a chatterbox
The best synonym for talkative is chatty, but perhaps chatty focuses more on informal chats.
A chance to use those words in a longer text.
“So, last week I went to a party with a friend, she’s lovely but she is a bit of a chatterbox, so I know I can never tell her too much. Anyway, when we got to the party we went to the kitchen to find some food. I wasn’t expecting anything amazing, but I really did hope that there would be something other than affordable crisps. If I had known, I would have brought some nibbles myself. There again, I am supposed to be on a bit of a diet. I don’t want to get too slender, but I would like to be a bit slimmer. The party was ok I suppose, I didn’t stay long, especially after I got stuck talking to this one guy. He was a chatterbox and friendly, but so boring. I didn’t spend any money though, so it was a good value evening I suppose. That’s something!”
- a chatterbox – a gossip
- affordable – cheap
- slender – thin / skinny
- slimmer – fine
- a chatterbox – chatty / talkative
- good value – cheap / inexpensive (if the article is changed)
Reflection activity – get students to think about how they could record connotations and their differences in their note books.
Extra activity pronunciation
Eradicating the robots.
Ask students to record themselves saying the improved dialogue and save it.
Drill any words you hear being mispronounced.
You can then look at where they should be pausing. Highlight the punctuation and also get them to think about where the stress should be in each clause – what is the important information?
After they have practised a few times get them to think about tone – how does the speaker feel – ask them to practice this again taking this into account.
Ask the students to rerecord and listen back to both versions and reflect on how the second is an improvement.
Coming soon, another connotations lesson featuring the following words:
Relaxed / laid back / calm / easy going
Juvenile / youthful / childish / childlike
Famous / notorious / renowned / well-known