Common Core: 7th Grade English Language Arts : Interpret Figures of Speech in Context: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.7.5.A

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All Common Core: 7th Grade English Language Arts Resources

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Example Questions

Example Question #4 : Language

Adapted from White Fang by Jack London (1906)

Dark spruce forest frowned on either side the frozen waterway. The trees had been stripped by a recent wind of their white covering of frost, and they seemed to lean toward each other, black and ominous, in the fading light. A vast silence reigned over the land. The land itself was a desolation, lifeless, without movement, so lone and cold that the spirit of it was not even that of sadness. There was a hint in it of laughter, but of a laughter more terrible than any sadness -- a laughter that was mirthless as the smile of the Sphinx, a laughter cold as the frost and partaking of the grimness of infallibility. It was the masterful and incommunicable wisdom of eternity laughing at the futility of life and the effort of life. It was the Wild, the savage, frozen-hearted Northland Wild.

But there was life, abroad in the land and defiant. Down the frozen waterway toiled a string of wolfish dogs. Their bristly fur was rimed with frost. Their breath froze in the air as it left their mouths, spouting forth in spumes of vapor that settled upon the hair of their bodies and formed into crystals of frost. Leather harness was on the dogs, and leather traces attached them to a sled which dragged along behind. On the sled, securely lashed, was a long and narrow oblong box. There were other things on the sled -- blankets, an axe, and a coffee-pot and frying-pan; but prominent, occupying most of the space, was the long and narrow oblong box.

In advance of the dogs, on wide snowshoes, toiled a man. At the rear of the sled toiled a second man. On the sled, in the box, lay a third man whose toil was over, -- a man whom the Wild had conquered and beaten down until he would never move nor struggle again.

But at front and rear, unawed and indomitable, toiled the two men who were not yet dead. Their bodies were covered with fur and soft-tanned leather. Eyelashes and cheeks and lips were so coated with the crystals from their frozen breath that their faces were not discernible. This gave them the seeming of ghostly masques, undertakers in a spectral world at the funeral of some ghost. But under it all they were men, penetrating the land of desolation and mockery and silence, puny adventurers bent on colossal adventure, pitting themselves against the might of a world as remote and alien and pulseless as the abysses of space.

They travelled on without speech, saving their breath for the work of their bodies. On every side was the silence, pressing upon them with a tangible presence.

The pale light of the short sunless day was beginning to fade, when a faint far cry arose on the still air. It soared upward with a swift rush, till it reached its topmost note, where it persisted, palpitant and tense, and then slowly died away. It might have been a lost soul wailing, had it not been invested with a certain sad fierceness and hungry eagerness.

A second cry arose, piercing the silence with needlelike shrillness. Both men located the sound. It was to the rear, somewhere in the snow expanse they had just traversed. A third and answering cry arose, also to the rear and to the left of the second cry.

"They're after us, Bill," said the man at the front.

"Meat is scarce," answered his comrade. "I ain't seen a rabbit sign for days.”

At the fall of darkness they swung the dogs into a cluster of spruce trees on the edge of the waterway and made a camp. The coffin, at the side of the fire, served for seat and table. The wolf-dogs, clustered on the far side of the fire, snarled and bickered among themselves, but evinced no inclination to stray off into the darkness.

- - -

"Henry," said Bill, munching with deliberation the beans he was eating, "How many dogs 've we got, Henry?"

"Six."

"Well, Henry . . ." Bill stopped for a moment, in order that his words might gain greater significance. "As I was sayin', Henry, we've got six dogs. I took six fish out of the bag. I gave one fish to each dog, an', Henry, I was one fish short."

"You counted wrong."

"We've got six dogs," the other reiterated dispassionately. "took out six fish. One Ear didn't get no fish. I come back to the bag afterward an' got 'm his fish."

"We've only got six dogs," Henry said.

"Henry," Bill went on, "I won't say they was all dogs, but there was seven of 'm that got fish."

Henry stopped eating to glance across the fire and count the dogs.

"There's only six now," he said.

"I saw the other one run off across the snow," Bill announced with cool positiveness. "I saw seven.”

Bill opened his mouth to speak, but changed his mind. Instead, he pointed toward the wall of darkness that pressed about them from every side. There was no suggestion of form in the utter blackness; only could be seen a pair of eyes gleaming like live coals. Henry indicated with his head a second pair, and a third. A circle of the gleaming eyes had drawn about their camp.

The author uses personification in the first sentence of the passage. What effect does this personification have on the story?

Possible Answers:

It tells us that the men can cross over the waterway because it is full of solid water. 

It tells us that the explorers think that the bark of the trees looks like sad faces.

It tells us that the scene is likely taking place at nightfall.

It establishes the environment as uninviting.

It tells readers that the trees are thinking and feeling characters in the story.

Correct answer:

It establishes the environment as uninviting.

Explanation:

To answer this question correctly, we first need to identify the personification the first sentence uses. The first sentence is "Dark spruce forest frowned on either side the frozen waterway." Personification is the act of making a non-human thing seem human, such as saying that the wind "howled." This is occurring in the passage's first sentence when the author says that the forest "frowned." We can ignore the answer choices "It tells us that the men can cross over the waterway because it is full of solid water" and "It tells us that the scene is likely taking place at nightfall" because these answers have to do with the words "frozen" and "dark," respectively, which are not personifying anything.

We now have to choose between the remaining three answers. The author's use of the word "frowned" doesn't convey that the trees are thinking and feeling characters in the story. This is a realistic story in which the trees aren't sentient characters. So, does the word "frowning" "[tell] us that the explorers think that the bark of the trees looks like sad faces"? Or does it "[establish] the environment as uninviting"? The author's use of "frowned" doesn't tell us anything about how the characters, Bill and Henry, see the trees. At this point in the story, Bill and Henry haven't even been introduced yet! Thus, the correct answer is that the author's use of personification in the first sentence "establishes the environment as uninviting." By saying that the trees "frowned" on either side of a frozen river, the author is doing two things: 1) conveying that the trees are slightly bent and 2) suggesting that the environment is not a pleasant one.

Example Question #2 : Understand Nuanced Word Meanings And Relationships: Ccss.Ela Literacy.L.7.5

Adapted from White Fang by Jack London (1906)

Dark spruce forest frowned on either side the frozen waterway. The trees had been stripped by a recent wind of their white covering of frost, and they seemed to lean toward each other, black and ominous, in the fading light. A vast silence reigned over the land. The land itself was a desolation, lifeless, without movement, so lone and cold that the spirit of it was not even that of sadness. There was a hint in it of laughter, but of a laughter more terrible than any sadness -- a laughter that was mirthless1 as the smile of the Sphinx, a laughter cold as the frost and partaking of the grimness of infallibility. It was the masterful and incommunicable wisdom of eternity laughing at the futility of life and the effort of life. It was the Wild, the savage, frozen-hearted Northland Wild.

But there was life, abroad in the land and defiant. Down the frozen waterway toiled a string of wolfish dogs. Their bristly fur was rimed with frost. Their breath froze in the air as it left their mouths, spouting forth in spumes of vapor that settled upon the hair of their bodies and formed into crystals of frost. Leather harness was on the dogs, and leather traces attached them to a sled which dragged along behind. On the sled, securely lashed, was a long and narrow oblong box. There were other things on the sled -- blankets, an axe, and a coffee-pot and frying-pan; but prominent, occupying most of the space, was the long and narrow oblong box.

In advance of the dogs, on wide snowshoes, toiled a man. At the rear of the sled toiled a second man. On the sled, in the box, lay a third man whose toil was over, -- a man whom the Wild had conquered and beaten down until he would never move nor struggle again.

But at front and rear, unawed and indomitable, toiled the two men who were not yet dead. Their bodies were covered with fur and soft-tanned leather. Eyelashes and cheeks and lips were so coated with the crystals from their frozen breath that their faces were not discernible. This gave them the seeming of ghostly masques, undertakers in a spectral world at the funeral of some ghost. But under it all they were men, penetrating the land of desolation and mockery and silence, puny adventurers bent on colossal adventure, pitting themselves against the might of a world as remote and alien and pulseless as the abysses of space.

They travelled on without speech, saving their breath for the work of their bodies. On every side was the silence, pressing upon them with a tangible presence.

The pale light of the short sunless day was beginning to fade, when a faint far cry arose on the still air. It soared upward with a swift rush, till it reached its topmost note, where it persisted, palpitant and tense, and then slowly died away. It might have been a lost soul wailing, had it not been invested with a certain sad fierceness and hungry eagerness.

A second cry arose, piercing the silence with needlelike shrillness. Both men located the sound. It was to the rear, somewhere in the snow expanse they had just traversed. A third and answering cry arose, also to the rear and to the left of the second cry.

"They're after us, Bill," said the man at the front.

"Meat is scarce," answered his comrade. "I ain't seen a rabbit sign for days.”

At the fall of darkness they swung the dogs into a cluster of spruce trees on the edge of the waterway and made a camp. The coffin, at the side of the fire, served for seat and table. The wolf-dogs, clustered on the far side of the fire, snarled and bickered among themselves, but evinced no inclination to stray off into the darkness.

- - -

"Henry," said Bill, munching with deliberation the beans he was eating, "How many dogs 've we got, Henry?"

"Six."

"Well, Henry . . ." Bill stopped for a moment, in order that his words might gain greater significance. "As I was sayin', Henry, we've got six dogs. I took six fish out of the bag. I gave one fish to each dog, an', Henry, I was one fish short."

"You counted wrong."

"We've got six dogs," the other reiterated dispassionately. "took out six fish. One Ear didn't get no fish. I come back to the bag afterward an' got 'm his fish."

"We've only got six dogs," Henry said.

"Henry," Bill went on, "I won't say they was all dogs, but there was seven of 'm that got fish."

Henry stopped eating to glance across the fire and count the dogs.

"There's only six now," he said.

"I saw the other one run off across the snow," Bill announced with cool positiveness. "I saw seven.”

Bill opened his mouth to speak, but changed his mind. Instead, he pointed toward the wall of darkness that pressed about them from every side. There was no suggestion of form in the utter blackness; only could be seen a pair of eyes gleaming like live coals. Henry indicated with his head a second pair, and a third. A circle of the gleaming eyes had drawn about their camp.

What aspect of the ancient story of Oedipus and the Sphinx does the author allude to in the first paragraph?

(Note: "mirth" means amusement or finding something to be humorous.)

Possible Answers:

The danger it presents and its refusal to show mercy to anyone who can’t answer its riddle

The fact that the Sphinx effectively blocks people from entering or exiting a city

The difficulty of the riddle that the Sphinx asks

The fact that the Sphinx is a mythological monster and not a real animal

The idea that a hero finally answers the riddle correctly and rescues a city from the Sphinx

Correct answer:

The danger it presents and its refusal to show mercy to anyone who can’t answer its riddle

Explanation:

The author alludes to the Sphinx in the first paragraph:

A vast silence reigned over the land. The land itself was a desolation, lifeless, without movement, so lone and cold that the spirit of it was not even that of sadness. There was a hint in it of laughter, but of a laughter more terrible than any sadness -- a laughter that was mirthless as the smile of the Sphinx, a laughter cold as the frost and partaking of the grimness of infallibility. It was the masterful and incommunicable wisdom of eternity laughing at the futility of life and the effort of life.

To understand this statement, we need to understand the word "mirthless." "Mirth" means amusement or the state of finding something to be humorous, as the footnote tells us. Thus, the author is saying that the environment has in it a hint of laughter that is not amused, like the smile of the Sphinx. How does this relate to the story the author is referencing? In the story of Oedipus and the Sphinx, the Sphinx is sitting outside the city of Thebes and asking travelers a riddle. If someone can't answer the riddle correctly, the Sphinx eats them. No one is able to solve the riddle and Thebes is suffering until Oedipus confronts the Sphinx, correctly solves its riddle, and frees the city. The smile the Sphinx would have would probably be "mirthless," then—we can imagine that it might smile at people who try to solve the riddle but fail. Those people it would eat! So, it's a very dangerous thing, just like the environment, and the author is making the allusion to emphasize how dangerous the environment is. The correct answer is "the danger it presents and its refusal to show mercy to anyone who can’t answer its riddle."

Regardless of whether you're familiar with the story to which the author is referring, you can answer this question correctly by narrowing down the answer choices. Let's try that approach. How else does the author describe this "laughter" that the environment seems to convey? It says that it is "a laughter cold as the frost and partaking of the grimness of infallibility." That's not very pleasant—it's a mean sort of laughter. The allusion to the Sphinx will likely parallel with this idea and be used to convey a similar sort of "meanness." The answer choice closest to this is the one that mentions how the Sphinx doesn't show mercy to anyone who tries to answer its riddle, and also mentions how it's very dangerous. The meaning of "mirthless" has nothing to do with the riddle's difficulty, the fact that the Sphinx is blockading a city, the idea that Oedipus eventually answers the riddle correctly, or the fact that the Sphinx is a mythical creature, so it must have to do with the danger the Sphinx presents.

All Common Core: 7th Grade English Language Arts Resources

1 Diagnostic Test 27 Practice Tests Question of the Day Flashcards Learn by Concept
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