poem by Lisa Varchol Perron , illustrated by Ross Morgan

Learning Intention:

I am learning to experiment with words and their connotations so that I can expand my vocabulary.


Success Criteria:

  • I can describe how connotations for synonyms differ despite their similar meanings.
  • I can explain why an author might have chosen specific vocabulary in a text.
  • I can alter words in a text to change the connotations.


Essential knowledge: (Shared understanding of Textual Concepts, UARL)

For more information about shades of meaning behind words, view The School Magazine’s video on Connotation, Imagery and Symbol.



Explain to the class that you will be giving them a description of the same bedroom. Secretly (either by physically separating the class or by passing out slips of paper), give half the class the sentence “The room is cramped” and the other half the class the sentence “The room is cosy”. Have students write down how they would feel if this was their bedroom. Ensure no one sees the different sentences.

Invite students to share their answers with the class. The students who received the sentence “The room is cramped” may have answers such as uncomfortable, hot, sad or claustrophobic. The students who received the sentence “The room is cosy” may have sentences such as happy, settled, warm, comfortable.

Ask the class why they think their answers were so different. Remind them each sentence described the same bedroom.

Reveal that the bedroom you were describing was small, but you used two different words as adjectives – cramped and cosy. Explain that, depending on which synonym you used, students felt differently about the room, and these different feelings are called connotations. Tell the class that authors, especially poets, select their words with care in order to evoke a certain feeling in the reader.

As a class, view The School Magazine’s video on Connotation, Imagery and Symbol, stopping at 1 minute 50 seconds.



Understanding text:

Read aloud It or, if you have a digital subscription, listen to the audio recording. Provide a display or photocopies of the words for students to refer to. As they listen, have them write down interesting words from the poem. Students might note words such as slinks, delicate, quickens and thunderous.

In small groups, students share their interesting words then discuss why they thought the author chose these particular words. They may use a dictionary or online dictionary if they wish. Encourage them to look at the context (surrounding words) when forming their ideas, as well as considering the connotations. For example, ask:

- What do you think of when you hear the word “slinks”? A cat? A slinky toy? A spy in the shadows?

- How might a storm be like a cat? (Metaphor)

- How does the word sound when it's read in the context of “It slinks in the shadows”? (Alliteration)

Display the Merriam-Webster page on quicken, guiding students to the intransitive verb definitions, specifically:

2 : to come to life especially to enter into a phase of active growth and development, seeds quickening in the soil


3 : to reach the stage of gestation at which foetal motion is felt


5 : to become more rapid, her pulse quickened at the sight

Ask students why “quicken” was such an interesting word for the poet to use when describing the formation of a storm. Remind them of the video on Connotation when considering their answer. Students might notice that there are lots of different meanings of the word quicken, so readers will have lots of different interpretations depending on their personal context. For example, a soon-to-be mother might read the word quicken in the poem and think of the storm as a baby growing, while a gardener might read the word quicken and think of the storm like flowers blooming to life.

Give groups time to discuss their thoughts about other interesting words then share their main points with the whole class.


Creating text:

Explain that students will be altering at least four words of the poem, replacing them with words that give different connotations. Ask students what sort of words they could change to alter the reader’s perception of the storm. As an example, ask students what happens when they change the word “shivers” to “thrills”. Have them consider the connotations of the word shivers as opposed to thrills, and how this changes the anticipation of the brewing storm.

To guide students, ask them to first consider how they want the reader to perceive the coming storm. Ask them whether they want their readers to be scared, excited, nervous, happy, mournful or something else. It might be helpful for students to brainstorm words associated with their chosen feeling before attempting the task.

Students can use a dictionary or thesaurus for inspiration. Pair up those who need extra assistance.


Assessment for/as learning:

In their small groups again, students reread the poem with their altered words. Peers discuss what connotations the new words give, how it’s changed from the original text and how the new poem makes them feel about the coming storm.

For self-assessment, students answer the following questions:

  1. Did my peers understand what feeling I was trying to evoke with my new words?
  2. Did I make the best vocabulary choices when changing the poem?
  3. How happy am I with my new poem?