More Than Rhyme: Poetry Fundamentals   Western Reserve Public Media
Why Teach Poetry? Resources Teacher Materials Watch Online Introduction to Poetry Tools Used in Poetry Applying the Tools
Tools Used in Poetry

Denotation and Double Denotation



This lesson requires the students to think about the meaning of words and whether those words give you positive or negative denotations. The exit ticket requires them to discuss whether the risk of being misunderstood is worth the power of the double denotation.


Standards Addressed

Reading Standards for Literature 7-12

  • 7th/8th grade Craft and Structure, number 4

  • 7th/8th grade Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity, number 10

  • 9th/10th and 11th/12th grade Craft and Structure, number 4

  • 9th/10th and 11th/12th grade Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity, number 10



  • Class sets of note sheets to help students follow lesson (distributed earlier)

  • A chalkboard, overhead transparency, Elmo or Smart Board to help with note-taking

  • Copies of the poems for this section



  1. Pass out note-taking materials.

  2. Review the previous lesson by asking why someone other than a poet would want to know the poetic tools. (They can be used to manipulate one’s emotions, and that is power that can be used for or against causes.)

  3. Share the definition of denotation: the specific meaning of a word without any suggested positive or negative feelings.

  4. Ask students if words can have double denotations. Start by giving them an example, such as the word “see.” It can mean to have visual acuity or to understand. Invite the class to share additional examples.

  5. Conduct a partner discussion and report to the group using this question: What is the problem with a word that has more than one meaning? What is the advantage? (Possible confusion is the problem and forcing a reader to stop, think and make sense of a point is the advantage.)

  6. Conclude together that double denotative meanings do have risks, but because they force a reader to stop and ponder, they also have power.

  7. As a solidifying activity, write “Did you ever see a kitchen sink?” on the board, asking students why this question is relative to the discussion. (It can be taken two ways — a place to wash dishes or a room in one’s home dropping into a sinkhole.)

  8. Put several more examples on the board and encourage students to come up with their own. This may also be done as a separate activity in small groups or singularly. Students should be able to explain the double denotative meanings. Here are some examples to get the students started:
  9. • Microwave
    • Toothbrush
    • Dragonfly
    • Bedspread
    • Eyelash
    • Earring
    • Meatloaf
    • Square dance
    • Necktie

  10. Share the poem “Love Song” by Samuel Hoffenstein to the students. Ask them to determine why, considering the day’s lesson, you chose this poem. (The word “little” changes denotative meaning from “delicate and feminine” at the beginning to “insufficient” by the end.)

  11. Some students may think the poem is about a baby instead. (It may be, although the author’s other poetry suggests that it isn’t.) Use this discussion as a means to repeat the danger of double denotative meanings in causing misunderstanding.
  12. Read the poem again to the class, then hand out copies for them. The other poems included in this section may be used to may spark conversation. They may also be used as evaluation devices or discussion topics because each of their endings contains double denotation.

  13. Distribute the student handout Samples of Double Denotation. Have the students work with a partner or a group of three to answer the questions. Give them about 10 minutes and then discuss their opinions. Alternatively, this could be done by dividing the class into groups and having each group take one example and explain the double deontation to the class.


Formative Evaluation

Question to be used for an exit ticket, partnered discussion and reporting, or extended response written assignment: Is the risk of being misunderstood worth the power of the double denotation? Students must justify their answers with logical argument and examples. Copyright© Northeastern Educational Television of Ohio, Inc. All rights reserved.
Denotation and Double Denotation Personification Hyperbole and Understatement Comparisons Imagery Connotation Sound Repetition “Love Song” “Throw Away” “Things Shouldn’t Be So Hard” Samples of Double Denotation Enjambed Lines and Word Placement