A guide for instructors who teach RI.4 in middle school ELA.
If you are looking for a place to kill two birds with one stone in your curriculum, it is in studying vocabulary, figurative language, and determining the meaning of words because there are two ELA middle school standards that focus heavily on these skills.
In a previous post, we talked all about the RL.4 standard, which is the fictional text equivalent of the RI.4 standard. Both focus on vocabulary, determining the meaning of words, figurative language, connotation, and denotation, and most of what we focused on in that standard is also true for RI.4.
There is one piece of this vocabulary pie that is a bit new and more specific to informational texts, and that is the use of technical language.
So don’t just jump into your favorite figurative language activity just yet. First, we want to make sure that we’ve got ALL of our ducks in a row, so let’s make sure that we fully explore this standard as it relates to informational texts.
As we start talking about how to teach RI.4 in middle school, let’s start with the learning targets!
When starting to deconstruct a standard, start with the learning targets. To get the learning targets, break down the standard into 3-5 parts or key skills.
We like to use checklists like the ones listed below to help organize these learning targets and make plans for the year.
Here are the learning targets on which we developed our resources for RI.4.
6th Grade Standard: Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings.
6th Grade Learning Targets
- I can determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text.
- I can determine the meaning of figurative language as well as connotative meanings as they are used in a text.
- I can determine the technical meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text.
7th Grade Standard: Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone
7th Grade Learning Targets
- I can determine the meaning of unknown words and phrases as they are used in a text.
- I can recognize figurative language (refer to 7.RI.4).
- I can define the technical meanings of words and phrases.
- I can explain how specific words impact meaning and tone.
8th Grade Standard: Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts.
8th Grade Learning Targets
- I can determine the denotative meaning of technical words and phrases using context clues.
- I can detect the meaning of figurative and connotative words and phrases and analyze the impact of them on the text.
- I can analyze the impact of analogies and allusions along with specific word choices in relation to the meaning and tone of a text.
Since we have two standards in middle school ELA that focus on understanding and delineating figurative language in texts, we want to make sure that figurative language instruction is an ongoing practice in our classrooms.
In informational texts, figurative language often comes up in the use of comparisons and analogies, so a particular focus on similes, metaphors, and analogies is imperative to making sure the RI.4 standard is met in full.
In addition to figurative language, you’ll also want to put a particular focus on technical language.
Technical language is vocabulary and terms that are specific to a certain field or jargon commonly used in a specific industry.
As teachers, we are all too familiar with industry-specific technical language. I’m sure that any teacher reading this post right now could probably spout off a dozen or so education-specific terms and acronyms that are specific to this profession.
We need to make sure that when we teach on RI.4, we give students specific opportunities to explore technical language and practice identifying when it is being used within a text.
Resources for teaching RI.4
When picking resources to help teach RI.4, you’ll want to make sure the resource teaches, practices, and reviews the standard at the appropriate level for the students you’re teaching. We have a whole bunch of different figurative language activities, including several for different holidays, but we also have two resources specifically designed to meet the needs of this particular standard.
Each of these resources includes a lesson/activity for each specific learning target or concept and also includes assessments, posters, and answer keys.
Activities and Projects for Practicing and Assessing RI.4 in Middle School
In addition to the activities below, you’ll also want to check out the lessons in the RL.4 blog post, as they focus more on figurative, connotative, and denotative language.
- Explore connotations by asking students to identify connotations for specific images presented in flashcard form. Take the activity to the next level by asking students to identify a word and image for the opposite of each flashcard image as well. Check out this activity in our 6th-grade resource.
- Change the words, change the tone. As students explore how words are used in a text, one fun activity is to have them take lines from a text and adjust the vocabulary to establish a different tone. This is one of the activities for the 4th learning target in our 7th-grade resource.
- Create Your Own Word: In this activity from our 6th-grade resource and our 7th-grade resource, students are challenged to create their own words. They will not only come up with their own word, but they will also figure out its meaning in different contexts and provide examples of how they can be used.
- Exploring Technical Terms: Often, in informational texts, students will encounter technical or topic-specific uses for common words. By exploring these technical terms more and charting out their meaning, students will see how a word’s meaning is deeply dependent on its context. We do this ‘technical terms’ work in both our 7th-grade and 8th-grade resources.
- Fill in the blank: Teachers give students a sentence with a missing word as well as a certain tone they are hoping to achieve. The students then try to come up with the perfect word to convey both the correct meaning and the appropriate tone. We have a worksheet dedicated to this activity in the 8th-grade unit!
As you come up with ideas for practicing RI.4, be sure to check out the RL.4 resources and blog, as well as some of the key ideas from that standard overflow into the informational version of the standard.