Denotation and Connotation Lesson Plan

Denotation vs Connotation Lesson Plan


Robert Kiyosaki in The Cashflow Quadrant states, “If you want to be a leader of people, then you need to be a master of words.” I say, “if you’re going to be a master of words, you better choose them carefully.” Understanding denotation and connotation is an important concept in choosing the correct word.

ELA Common Core Standards Covered

Teaching connotation satisfies the following ELA Common Core Standards

  1. W.9-10.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
  2. W.9-10.5  Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience. (Editing for conventions should demonstrate command of L.9-10.1-3.)
  3. L.9-10.4d  Verify the preliminary determination of the meaning of a word or phrase (e.g., by checking the inferred meaning in context or in a dictionary). 
  4. L.9-10.5  Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings. 
  5. L.9-10.5a  Interpret figures of speech (e.g., euphemism, oxymoron) in context and analyze their role in the text. 
  6. L.9-10.5b  Analyze nuances in the meaning of words with similar denotations.

Definition of Denotation and Connotation

Let’s begin with the denotation of these two words before we get to a list of words that show connotation and denotation.

  • Denotation: the strict, “dictionary” definition of a word.
  • Connotation: the emotions attached to a word. The emotion can be either positive or negative.

Animals and Connotation

The connotation of animals has lent metaphorical meaning to commonalities. This list of animals with its associated connotations exemplify denotation vs connotation.

1.  According to denotation, a weasel is a small carnivorous mammal with short legs and elongated body and neck. According to connotation, a weasel is not to be trusted. Let’s take a look at some other animals:

  • A snake is something to be feared for its deception.
  • A dog connotes a shameless beggar or an ugly face.
  • A fox is sneaky or sly. A foxy woman, however, is desired.
  • A shark is ruthless.
  • A predator seeks to harm innocents.

2.  Not all animal metaphoric connotations are negative.

  • A dove is gentle.
  • A hen is motherly.
  • A beast dominates (sometimes negative and sometimes positive).
  • Chicks are sought after by boys of all ages (some predators, by the way).
  • Owls are wise.

Because these metaphors have become common (what if I would have written trite instead of common?), their connotative meaning is easy to recognize. This is not always the case.

List of Words for Teaching Connotation and Denotation

Here’s a list of words that show connotation and denotation differences.

  • Those who are lonely and detached live in a house. Those who live with loved ones and in happiness live in a home.
  • A mother and father have procreated. A mom and a dad are loving parents.
  • Many wise men have made plans. Many cunning scoundrels have devised a scheme.
  • Pushy salespeople are to be avoided. Aggressive salespeople make a lot of money.
  • I’m sick and tired of listening to politicians, but give me a good statesman any day of the week and we’ll get things done.


Other common examples of differences in connotation. The word on the left is the positive or less negative connotation.

  • chef vs. cook
  • teacher vs. professor
  • plagiarizer vs. cheater
  • thrifty vs. tightwad
  • stay-at-home mom vs homemaker vs housewife
  • ambitious vs greedy
  • submissive vs lazy
  • slow vs stupid
  • amazed vs stupefied
  • slender vs gaunt
  • promiscuous vs slutty
  • clever vs shrewd
  • substance abuser vs druggie
  • journalist vs reporter
  • eccentric vs weirdo
  • mentally unstable vs wacko
  • inexpensive vs cheap
  • invest vs speculate
  • purchase vs buy
  • manufactured home vs trailer

This is by no means an exhaustive list of words with connotative significance.

Connotation and Denotation Lesson Plan

English teachers rejoice. Denotation vs connotation makes for a creative lesson.

  1. Write two lists of words on the board–one list containing words with a negative connotation and one list of words with a positive connotation.
  2. Give the basic plot for a short story or the basic premise for a biographical article.
  3. Instruct half the students in the class to write using positive words (choose an appropriate number of words from the list).
  4. Instruct half the students in the class to write using negative words.
  5. Selected students will read their writing to the class. Do not skip the class reading and discussion. This allows students to analyze the power of words and the importance of word choice.