Interpreting Quotes Lesson Plan

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Words carry literal and connotative meaning, both of which are important to understanding a passage. Your students will learn this as they work to identify crucial words in a passage and use synonyms to alter the tone.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate the impact of word choice in creating tone
  • Identify crucial words that construct tone or meaning in a passage
  • Interpret the connotation of a quote or passage, as well as its literal meaning


60-90 minutes

Curriculum Standards


Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.


Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language of a court opinion differs from that of a newspaper).


Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives, summarize points of agreement and disagreement, and, when warranted, qualify or justify their own views and understanding and make new connections in light of the evidence and reasoning presented.


  • Copies of the lesson quiz
  • Packets with 3 short passages/quotes from a popular text or a text your class is currently reading


  • Ask students for three random adjectives, an adjective that describes the weather, and a verb.
  • Write the following lines from Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 on the board, and read them aloud to the class:

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer's lease hath all too short a date.

  • Erase the words ''lovely'', ''rough'', and ''darling'', and add the three random adjectives. Erase the word ''temperate'', and add the adjective that describes weather. Erase the word ''shake'', and add the verb. Read the sonnet to the class.
  • Ask students to consider how word choice changes the meaning of writing. While this was a random change, ask them to consider how subtle changes could drastically change the meaning of Sonnet 18. Ask students to think of new adjectives comparing someone to a summer day but as an insult, or scornful. Give them a minute to work on this, and ask for volunteers to read their sonnets aloud.
  • Begin the video lesson How to Interpret the Word Choice of a Writer.
  • Pause the video at 2:54. Ask students to write out the sentences on the screen, and give them a minute to fill in the blanks. If you want, you can instruct one section of the class to try and create a somber mood, another to create an ominous mood, and another to create an optimistic mood. Ask students to share some of their responses. Then, ask students to re-write their sentences, choosing synonyms for the words they already chose. Discuss how this subtly impacts the tone of the sentence.
  • Resume and complete the video. Discuss this information as a class.
    • When do you think word choice matters? How does word choice matter in different kinds of writing? How might an academic writer approach word choice differently than a writer of science fiction?
    • What are some clues you can look for to identify significant words? How do you determine the tone or emotion of a passage or quote?
  • You may test student understanding with the lesson quiz.

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