As I have written about recently, I believe that guiding all students to achieve the highest grades reflects the growth mindset behind the most success schools. Even Simon Cowell ascribes to it, albeit with criticisms (google him!). For me, Connotation Circles are a way for all students (and particularly earnest EAL learners) to begin to develop the analytical formulas needed for the highest grades.
I do not speak of the idea of achieving the highest grades with glibness – not everyone will achieve the highest grades. For a start, the highest grades are given proportionately, so if literally all students did produce ‘A-grade’ analysis, they would not be credited for this. However, this is not likely to happen soon not least because of the human condition and the disaffection of some when it comes to analysing literature or language. In addition, some will not be capable due to specific learning difficulties, delayed development, or pure social disaffection that sometimes affect study. Despite all of this, there are, each year, students who will work immensely hard that will still not be able to achieve the level of analysis required for the highest grades.
That is where the focus on connotations, and especially the connotation circle, is useful.
The intention of a connotation circle is to move students beyond the realms of the tangible: to improve analysis beyond the denotational and into the connotational. It is a model for approaching language that allows students to devise meaning to poetry and fiction when they have not had inclination to do so to this time. Once students are familiar with the practice of creating a connotation circle, it is something that allows students to:
a) Respond to any given words in a text within a minute or two.
b) Recognise the connotational value of richer verbs than ‘was’ and ‘is’ (and their derivatives).
c) Begin to write more clearly for connotation for others.
I broadly guide students to find connotations from emotions, colours, links, associations, feelings, landscapes, icons, symbols, synonyms. For those students who are especially weak (or EAL), synonyms can be a useful place to start. Even just listing synonyms for a word is superior than writing denotational analysis, and provides a starting point for students to develop techniques to structure their analysis.