12 Word Connotation

Arley Cruthers

Activity Guidelines

Suggested Course Level

Either lower level or upper level undergraduate

Activity Purpose

  • Students will learn how connotations can be context or audience-dependent and sometimes lead to miscommunication.
  • Students will get to know each other and see how the experience/values impact how they interpret words.

Materials Required

  • Handout
  • Scissors
  • Envelopes

Activity Instructions

  1. Print off the handout and cut the table into columns, then cut up each word. This will create five piles of 12 different words.
  2. Put each pile into an envelope.
  3. Break the class into five groups.
  4. Ask them to take the words out of the envelope then sort them from most to least casual.
  5. Do not give them any further instructions. You can decide whether students are allowed to use their phones to look up words they don’t know.
  6. When each group has agreed on the order of the words, get one student from each group to write the order of their words on the board.
  7. Ask students to identify trends: what words groups agreed on and what words have wildly different orders. Usually, every group will come up with a different ranking: often because they interpreted the word “casual” differently (a casual relationship versus a casual word).

Debrief Questions / Activities

  • How did your group decide how to rank the words?
  • Was there any disagreement in the group?
  • Did the words mean the same to everyone?
  • Why do you think different groups came up with different answers?
  • If you didn’t understand a word, what did you do?
  • How did you interpret the meaning of the word casual?
  • What do you think this exercise tells us about miscommunication?

Activity Variations

  • Instead of using a word that relates to relationships, pick a job that has many different titles and ask students to sort them by which are the highest paying to lowest paying. For example, students often say that a secretary is lower-paid than an administrative assistant, which leads to some interesting discussions about the impact of gendered language.

Additional Resources / Supplementary Resources

Tags: negative news messages, writing mechanics, grammar, style, tone, concision, hands-on, small group, self-reflection, connotations, ice breaker, getting to know you, positive emphasis


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