Monday, February 6, 2012

Understaning Connotation and Denotation with Pocahontas and John Smith

Designing a Class Discussion-Did Pocahontas Save John Smith's Life?

Understanding Connotation and Denotation
The best way to understand connotation and denotation is this:
Denotation is the Dictionary definition of a word.  If you look up a word, you will get the literal definition.
Connotation are the emotional and imaginative associations with the word.  These associations cannot be found by looking in a dictionary. 

View the attached Prezi, and ask yourself these three questions:

Why would an author use the word home instead of pad?
Why would an author use the word slender instead of gaunt?
Why would an author use the word inexpensive instead of cheap?

View the Disney clip: Did Pocahontas Save John Smith's Life?

Now, take it to the next level, and think of John Smith's words in Documents A and B and the words and images in the Disney clip we viewed.  Word choice and images are powerful and purposeful.  Images, just like words are chosen to have an affect on you.  Look at dress, tone, dark/light, imagery, and word choice.  There is always a point to what is being shown/spoken/written.  The author/director wants you to feel something.

What is John Smith doing to you with his words in the two different documents?
What is Disney doing to you with words and images in the short clip we watched of Pocahontas saving John Smith's life?

Document A: "True Relation" (Modified)
Arriving in Werowocomoco, the emperor welcomed me with good words and great platters of food. He promised me his friendship and my freedom within four days. . . .He asked me why we came and why we went further with our boat. . . . He promised to give me what I wanted and to feed us if we made him hatchets and copper. I promised to do this. And so, with all this kindness, he sent me home.
A True Relation of such , published in 1608.
Source: Smith’s own words, from
occurrences and accidents of note as hath happened in Virginia

Document B: "General History" (Modified)
They brought me to Meronocomoco, where I saw Powhatan, their Emperor. Two great stones were brought before Powhatan. Then I was dragged by many hands, and they laid my head on the stones, ready to beat out my brains. Pocahontas, the King’s dearest daughter took my head in her arms and laid down her own upon it to save me from death. Then the Emperor said I should live. Two days later, Powhatan met me and said we were friends. He told me to bring him two guns and a grindstone and he would consider me his son.
Source: From Smith’s later version of the story in
Virginia, New England and the Summer Isles, General History of published in 1624.

For a full Pocahontas lesson plan, and for other fantastic resources, check out the Stanford History Education Group Reading Like a Historian.