Suggested course level
Either lower level or upper level undergraduate
- Students will learn how connotations can be context or audience-dependent and sometimes lead to miscommunication.
- Students will get to know each other and see how the experience/values impact how they interpret words.
- Print off the handout and cut the table into columns, then cut up each word. This will create five piles of 12 different words.
- Put each pile into an envelope.
- Break the class into five groups.
- Ask them to take the words out of the envelope then sort them from most to least casual.
- Do not give them any further instructions. You can decide whether students are allowed to use their phones to look up words they don’t know.
- When each group has agreed on the order of the words, get one student from each group to write the order of their words on the board.
- Ask students to identify trends: what words groups agreed on and what words have wildly different orders. Usually, every group will come up with a different ranking: often because they interpreted the word “casual” differently (a casual relationship versus a casual word).
Debrief questions / activities
- How did your group decide how to rank the words?
- Was there any disagreement in the group?
- Did the words mean the same to everyone?
- Why do you think different groups came up with different answers?
- If you didn’t understand a word, what did you do?
- How did you interpret the meaning of the word casual?
- What do you think this exercise tells us about miscommunication?
- Instead of using a word that relates to relationships, pick a job that has many different titles and ask students to sort them by which are the highest paying to lowest paying. For example, students often say that a secretary is lower-paid than an administrative assistant, which leads to some interesting discussions about the impact of gendered language.
Additional resources / supplementary resources
Tags: negative news messages, writing mechanics, grammar, style, tone, concision, hands-on, small group, self-reflection, connotations, ice breaker, getting to know you, positive emphasis