Close examination of Language in context with a variety of fields of discourse
Understanding refers to what a writer is saying; analysis refers to how the writer conveys meaning through language techniques, such as figures of speech, sentence structure, tone and word choice.
When analysing language you must show that you are aware of how it is written. This means identifying the language features used, and explaining their effect.
The following are some language features you may notice while reading.
This is where consecutive words begin with the same letter and, more importantly, the same sound.
An example is
The rifles rapid rattle. The repetition of the ‘r’ sound echoes the sound of machine guns being fired.
This is where a word makes the sound of the thing it describes.
An example is
The ringmaster cracked his whip. This implies the whip making a sharp sound.
Another example is
Stuttering rifles rapid rattle. The stuttering imitates the action of a machine-gun being fired.
A simile is a comparison where one thing is described as something else, using ‘like’ or ‘as’.
An example is
He looked as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a cake. This really means he looked obvious and noticeable, he stood out, could not be missed.
Another example is
She was like a snowflake. This implies she was light, delicate, pure, insubstantial, fragile.
This is a comparison where one thing is described in terms of something else.
An example is
His house was now his prison. The idea here is someone feels their house is a place where they feel trapped, imprisoned or locked in; a place where they lack freedom.
Another example is
James launched himself at his opponent. This makes James sound like a missile, moving quickly and powerfully.
This is a comparison where something non-human (inanimate) is described in human terms.
An example is
Death stalked the battlefield. Death is being portrayed as a figure or person hunting for someone.
Structure, in this context, means how a sentence is built up or constructed.
The following are some features you may notice while reading.
When single words, or groups of words, are repeated.
If a list is present, look at the order in which the points are listed. If they lead up to the most important item at the end, there is a build-up to a climax.
Short sentences may be used to build up tension. Longer sentences may be used for explanation.
Questions and rhetorical questions might be used. An exclamation such as
How amazing! can be used to indicate a strong emotional reaction.
Where the normal word order is reversed, usually in order to place emphasis on a particular word.
Individual words or groups of words can be placed side by side – in juxtaposition – to stress the contrast between ideas.
Where extra information is included in the middle of a sentence, contained within dashes, brackets or commas.
Where three dots (…) are used to indicate something more could be added.
Punctuation is often key to sentence structure. There are many possibilities for punctuation that can help you with sentence structure.
A colon (:) or single dash (-) can be used to introduce an idea, a list or an explanation. A semi-colon (;) may show contrast in the ideas before and after.
Use of question marks is always worth consideration. Questions may be rhetorical, but not always.
Word choice and tone
When considering the language used by a writer, you can think of another word or expression the writer could have used. This will then allow you to compare the word used against an alternative and consider what the advantage was of using the word selected for the text.
Think about the connotations of the word – in other words, what do you associate it with?
For example, ‘slender’, ‘slim’, ‘thin’, ‘lean’ and ‘skinny’ may all have similar meanings but their connotations can be either negative or positive. If asked to comment on the writer’s use of one of these words, thinking about the connotations will help you come up with a suitable comment.
Another approach is to consider if the words used are informal or formal. A popular technique is to use a mixture of the two.
You should also think about the effect produced by the sound of words, through the use of techniques such as alliteration and onomatopoeia.
Tone refers to the attitude that a writer conveys towards a subject. A writer may be passionately for or against a particular topic and express this through various means.
It could be that emotional language is used – this is known as an emotive tone. Humour can be applied either affectionately or mockingly.
Other kinds of tone you may encounter in a piece of writing include light-hearted, ironic, sarcastic, angry, gloomy, anxious, joyful or sorrowful.
To understand what you’re reading, you need to understand most of the words in the text. Having a strong vocabulary is a key component of reading comprehension. Students can learn vocabulary through instruction. But they typically learn the meaning of words through everyday experience and also by reading.
What can help: The more words kids are exposed to, the greater their vocabulary becomes. You can help build your child’s vocabulary by having frequent conversations on a variety of topics. Try to include new words and ideas. Telling jokes and playing word games is a fun way to build this skill.
Reading together every day also helps improve vocabulary. When reading aloud, stop at new words and define them. But also encourage your child to read alone. Even without hearing a definition of a new word, your child can use context to help figure it out.
Teachers can help in a number of ways. They can carefully choose interesting words to teach and then give explicit instruction (instruction that is specialized and direct). They can engage students in conversation. And they can make learning vocabulary fun by playing word games in class.
For more ideas, watch as an expert explains how to help struggling readers build their vocabulary.
4. Sentence Construction and Cohesion
Understanding how sentences are built might seem like a writing skill. So might connecting ideas within and between sentences, which is called cohesion. But these skills are important for reading comprehension as well.
Knowing how ideas link up at the sentence level helps kids get meaning from passages and entire texts. It also leads to something called coherence, or the ability to connect ideas to other ideas in an overall piece of writing.
What can help: Explicit instruction can teach kids the basics of sentence construction. Teachers can also work with students on connecting two or more thoughts, through both writing and reading.
5. Reasoning and Background Knowledge
Most readers relate what they’ve read to what they know. So it’s important for kids to have background or prior knowledge about the world when they read. They also need to be able to “read between the lines” and extract meaning even when it’s not literally spelled out.
Take this example. A child is reading a story about a poor family in the 1930s. Having knowledge about the Great Depression can provide insight into what’s happening in the story. The child can use that background knowledge to make inferences and draw conclusions.
What can help: Your child can build knowledge through reading, conversations, movies and TV shows, and art. Life experience and hands-on activities also build knowledge.
Expose your child to as much as possible, and talk about what you’ve learned from experiences you’ve had together and separately. Help your child make connections between new knowledge and existing knowledge. And ask open-ended questions that require thinking and explanations.
You can also read a teacher tip on using animated videos to help your child make inferences.
6. Working Memory and Attention
These two skills are both part of a group of abilities known as executive function. They’re different but closely related.
When kids read, attention allows them to take in information from the text. Working memory allows them to hold on to that information and use it to gain meaning and build knowledge from what they’re reading. Working memory and attention are part of executive function.
The ability to self-monitor while reading is also tied to that. Kids need to be able to recognize when they don’t understand something. Then they need to stop, go back and re-read to clear up any confusion they may have.
What can help: There are many ways you can help improve your child’s working memory. Skillbuilders don’t have to feel like work, either. There are a number of games and everyday activities that can build working memory without your child even knowing it!
To help increase your child’s attention, look for reading material that’s interesting or motivating. Encourage your child to stop and re-read when something isn’t clear. And demonstrate how you “think aloud” when you read to make sure what you’re reading makes sense.