Common Core: 7th Grade English Language Arts : Use Context Clues to Determine Word Meanings: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.7.4.A

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Example Question #1 : Language

Adapted from Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll (1871)

One thing was certain, that the white kitten had had nothing to do with it—it was the black kitten's fault entirely. For the white kitten had been having its face washed by the old cat for the last quarter of an hour (and bearing it pretty well, considering); so you see that it COULDN'T have had any hand in the mischief.

The way Dinah washed her children's faces was this: first she held the poor thing down by its ear with one paw, and then with the other paw she rubbed its face all over, the wrong way, beginning at the nose: and just now, as I said, she was hard at work on the white kitten, which was lying quite still and trying to purr—no doubt feeling that it was all meant for its good.

But the black kitten had been finished with earlier in the afternoon, and so, while Alice was sitting curled up in a corner of the great arm-chair, half talking to herself and half asleep, the kitten had been having a grand game of romps with the ball of worsted Alice had been trying to wind up, and had been rolling it up and down till it had all come undone again; and there it was, spread over the hearth-rug, all knots and tangles, with the kitten running after its own tail in the middle.

'Oh, you wicked little thing!' cried Alice, catching up the kitten, and giving it a little kiss to make it understand that it was in disgrace. 'Really, Dinah ought to have taught you better manners! You OUGHT, Dinah, you know you ought!' she added, looking reproachfully at the old cat, and speaking in as cross a voice as she could manage—and then she scrambled back into the arm-chair, taking the kitten and the worsted with her, and began winding up the ball again. But she didn't get on very fast, as she was talking all the time, sometimes to the kitten, and sometimes to herself. Kitty sat very demurely on her knee, pretending to watch the progress of the winding, and now and then putting out one paw and gently touching the ball, as if it would be glad to help, if it might.

'Do you know what to-morrow is, Kitty?' Alice began. 'You'd have guessed if you'd been up in the window with me—only Dinah was making you tidy, so you couldn't. I was watching the boys getting in sticks for the bonfire—and it wants plenty of sticks, Kitty! Only it got so cold, and it snowed so, they had to leave off. Never mind, Kitty, we'll go and see the bonfire to-morrow.' Here Alice wound two or three turns of the worsted round the kitten's neck, just to see how it would look: this led to a scramble, in which the ball rolled down upon the floor, and yards and yards of it got unwound again.

Based on the way in which the word is used in the passage, the word “worsted” refers to a type of __________.

Possible Answers:

tea

clock

yarn

bead

heavy rope

Correct answer:

yarn

Explanation:

In order to figure out what “worsted” is, you need to consider the way in which the word is used in the passage. “Worsted” is first mentioned in the third paragraph:

 “. . . the kitten had been having a grand game of romps with the ball of worsted Alice had been trying to wind up, and had been rolling it up and down till it had all come undone again; and there it was, spread over the hearth-rug, all knots and tangles, with the kitten running after its own tail in the middle.”

It's then mentioned at the end of the passage:

"Here Alice wound two or three turns of the worsted round the kitten's neck, just to see how it would look: this led to a scramble, in which the ball rolled down upon the floor, and yards and yards of it got unwound again."

What does this tell us about “worsted”? Well, it is something that can be wound up into a ball, since the passage says “he ball of worsted Alice had been trying to wind up.” This allows us to eliminate any answer choice that can’t be wound up: “bead” and “tea.”

What else does the passage tell us about worsted? A kitten can unwind it and cause it to have “knots and tangles.” Later in the passage, also, Alice “scramble[s] back into the arm-chair, taking the kitten and the worsted with her, and [begins] winding up the ball again.” This means that “clock” can’t be the correct answer, because while you can wind a clock, you can’t wind it into a ball, and a kitten can’t make it have “knots and tangles” by romping around in it. “Thick and heavy rope” can’t be the answer either, as kittens are relatively small animals and not that strong; if thick and heavy rope were wound up, it’s unlikely that a kitten playing around near or in it would be able to unwind it. Also, Alice would have a hard time scooping the large, heavy rope and the kitten into her lap later in the passage. Based on the context clues, we can (correctly) conclude that “worsted” is a type of yarn. (“Worsted” actually refers to a specific weight, or thickness, of yarn.)

Example Question #1 : Use Context Clues To Determine Word Meanings: Ccss.Ela Literacy.L.7.4.A

Adapted from Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll (1871)

One thing was certain, that the white kitten had had nothing to do with it—it was the black kitten's fault entirely. For the white kitten had been having its face washed by the old cat for the last quarter of an hour (and bearing it pretty well, considering); so you see that it COULDN'T have had any hand in the mischief.

The way Dinah washed her children's faces was this: first she held the poor thing down by its ear with one paw, and then with the other paw she rubbed its face all over, the wrong way, beginning at the nose: and just now, as I said, she was hard at work on the white kitten, which was lying quite still and trying to purr—no doubt feeling that it was all meant for its good.

But the black kitten had been finished with earlier in the afternoon, and so, while Alice was sitting curled up in a corner of the great arm-chair, half talking to herself and half asleep, the kitten had been having a grand game of romps with the ball of worsted Alice had been trying to wind up, and had been rolling it up and down till it had all come undone again; and there it was, spread over the hearth-rug, all knots and tangles, with the kitten running after its own tail in the middle.

'Oh, you wicked little thing!' cried Alice, catching up the kitten, and giving it a little kiss to make it understand that it was in disgrace. 'Really, Dinah ought to have taught you better manners! You OUGHT, Dinah, you know you ought!' she added, looking reproachfully at the old cat, and speaking in as cross a voice as she could manage—and then she scrambled back into the arm-chair, taking the kitten and the worsted with her, and began winding up the ball again. But she didn't get on very fast, as she was talking all the time, sometimes to the kitten, and sometimes to herself. Kitty sat very demurely on her knee, pretending to watch the progress of the winding, and now and then putting out one paw and gently touching the ball, as if it would be glad to help, if it might.

'Do you know what to-morrow is, Kitty?' Alice began. 'You'd have guessed if you'd been up in the window with me—only Dinah was making you tidy, so you couldn't. I was watching the boys getting in sticks for the bonfire—and it wants plenty of sticks, Kitty! Only it got so cold, and it snowed so, they had to leave off. Never mind, Kitty, we'll go and see the bonfire to-morrow.' Here Alice wound two or three turns of the worsted round the kitten's neck, just to see how it would look: this led to a scramble, in which the ball rolled down upon the floor, and yards and yards of it got unwound again.

Which of the following words or phrases could replace the underlined uses of the word “ought” in the first sentence of the fourth paragraph without changing the meaning of Alice’s statement?

Possible Answers:

Could have

Won't

Should have

Will

Would have

Correct answer:

Should have

Explanation:

“Ought” is an old term that people doesn’t often use in modern conversations, but that doesn’t mean you can’t solve this question by looking at the way in which the word is used in the passage. It appears at the beginning of the fourth paragraph:

'Oh, you wicked little thing!' cried Alice, catching up the kitten, and giving it a little kiss to make it understand that it was in disgrace. 'Really, Dinah ought to have taught you better manners! You OUGHT, Dinah, you know you ought!' she added, looking reproachfully at the old cat, and speaking in as cross a voice as she could manage . . .

In this part of the passage, Alice is lightly chastising the black kitten and saying that Dinah, presumably its mother, “ought” to have taught it better manners. We can ignore “will” because nothing about the future is suggested; rather, the idea that Dinah might have done something in the past. “Won’t” can similarly be discarded because it is a negative term and present-tense, and we need to find something that has to do with potential past actions. 

This leaves us with “should have,” “could have,” and “would have.” Which makes most sense? Alice is saying that Dinah should have taught the kitten better manners; “could have” and “would have” don’t make as much sense in the sentence as “should have” does.

Example Question #2 : Use Context Clues To Determine Word Meanings: Ccss.Ela Literacy.L.7.4.A

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.

Based on the context in which it is used, what is the meaning of “a rabbit sign” in the underlined paragraph?

Possible Answers:

Evidence that rabbits are in the area

A text-based message for rabbits to read

A symbol of a rabbit carved on a tree

A sign of good luck, like a rabbit’s foot

A sign stating that rabbit meat is for sale

Correct answer:

Evidence that rabbits are in the area

Explanation:

The phrase "a rabbit sign" is used in the short conversation between Bill and Henry after they have heard wolves howling behind them:

"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.”

Based on this conversation and the surrounding context the passage, we can narrow down our answer choices. "A text-based message for rabbits to read" doesn't make any sense in the story—this is a realistic story, and it doesn't suggest that rabbits can read. "A sign stating that rabbit meat is for sale" doesn't make much sense as the two men appear to be alone in the wilderness, with no other people around. "A symbol of a rabbit carved on a tree" and "a sign of good luck, like a rabbit’s foot" could each potentially be correct, but neither make sense in the conversation. Why would Henry mention that he hadn't seen a good luck charm or a symbol of a rabbit on a tree for days as a follow-up statement to "Meat is scarce"? We're not given any evidence that he means either of these things when he says "a rabbit sign." The correct answer is "evidence that rabbits are in the area." Meat is scarce, Henry says, and he hasn't seen any evidence of rabbits. This is relevant because the animals after them are carnivorous and motivated by hunger. If rabbits were in the area, they could potentially hunt the rabbits for food, but since there are no rabbits, they are following the people—to try to hunt and eat, we can infer.

All Common Core: 7th Grade English Language Arts Resources

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