Common Core: 8th Grade English Language Arts : Determine Figurative, Connotative, and Technical Word Meanings and the Impact of Word Choice, Including Analogies and Allusions: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.8.4

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Determine Figurative, Connotative, And Technical Word Meanings And The Impact Of Word Choice, Including Analogies And Allusions: Ccss.Ela Literacy.Ri.8.4

Adapted from “Introduced Species That Have Become Pests” in Our Vanishing Wild Life, Its Extermination and Protection by William Temple Hornaday (1913)

The man who successfully introduces into a new habitat any species of living thing assumes a very grave responsibility. Every introduced species is doubtful gravel until panned out. The enormous losses that have been inflicted upon the world through the perpetuation of follies with wild animals and plants would, if added together, be enough to purchase a principality. The most aggravating feature of these follies in transplantation is that never yet have they been made severely punishable. We are just as careless and easygoing on this point as we were about the government of Yellowstone Park in the days when Howell and other poachers destroyed our first national bison herd. Even though Howell was caught red-handed, skinning seven Park bison cows, he could not be punished for it, because there was no penalty prescribed by any law. Today, there is a way in which any revengeful person could inflict enormous damage on the entire South, at no cost to himself, involve those states in enormous losses and the expenditure of vast sums of money, yet go absolutely unpunished!

The gypsy moth is a case in point. This winged calamity was imported near Boston by a French entomologist, Mr. Leopold Trouvelot, in 1868 or 69. The scientist did not purposely set the pest free. He was endeavoring with live specimens to find a moth that would produce a cocoon of commercial value to America, and a sudden gust of wind blew his living and breeding specimens of the gypsy moth out of his study through an open window. The moth itself is not bad to look at, but its larvae is a great, overgrown brute with an appetite like a hog. Immediately Mr. Trouvelot sought to recover his specimens. When he failed to find them all, he notified the State authorities of the accident. Every effort was made to recover all the specimens, but enough escaped to produce progeny that soon became a scourge to the trees of Massachusetts. The method of the big, nasty-looking mottled-brown caterpillar was very simple. It devoured the entire foliage of every tree that grew in its sphere of influence.

The gypsy moth spread with alarming rapidity and persistence. In time, the state of Massachusetts was forced to begin a relentless war upon it, by poisonous sprays and by fire. It was awful! Up to this date (1912) the New England states and the United States Government service have expended in fighting this pest about $7,680,000!

The spread of this pest has been slowed, but the gypsy moth never will be wholly stamped out. Today it exists in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire, and it is due to reach New York at an early date. It is steadily spreading in three directions from Boston, its original point of departure, and when it strikes the State of New York, we, too, will begin to pay dearly for the Trouvelot experiment.

Which of the following best paraphrases the underlined sentence, “Every introduced species is doubtful gravel until panned out”?

Possible Answers:

Species that live in gravel are usually harmful when placed in new environments.

One can’t tell whether an introduced species will be helpful or harmful until it is actually introduced.

An invasive species can cause beneficial effects to its new environment as well as harmful ones.

One should never move a species from its natural environment into a new environment for fear of the consequences.

Species that live underground should be carefully examined before being moved into new environments.

Correct answer:

One can’t tell whether an introduced species will be helpful or harmful until it is actually introduced.

Explanation:

Here, the author is using figurative language to describe introduced species. He metaphorically calls them “doubtful gravel until [they are] panned out.” Because he’s not speaking literally, this sentence has nothing to do with the ground or gravel itself, so we can eliminate the answer choices “Species that live underground should be carefully examined before being moved into new environments” and “Species that live in gravel are usually harmful when placed in new environments.”

What is the author getting at with his metaphor? Panning rocks and dirt allows miners to separate out valuable minerals from other matter. Think of miners “panning for gold”—it’s the same principle, except here, the author is speaking of it as applying to gravel. By calling the gravel “doubtful,” the author is expressing that you don’t know what you’re going to get with it before you “pan it out” and see if there is anything valuable in it. Applying this thinking to invasive species, the author is therefore saying that “one can’t tell whether an introduced species will be helpful or harmful until it is actually introduced.” 

If you didn’t know what panning gravel was, you could still solve this question by narrowing down your answer choices. For instance, nowhere in the passage are the beneficial effects of introduced species discussed, though the author discusses this in a previous chapter of his book. Because they’re not mentioned in the passage, we can discard the answer choice “An invasive species can cause beneficial effects to its new environment as well as harmful ones.” This is definitely not what the indicated sentence is saying; if we replaced the sentence with this answer choice, the logic of the paragraph wouldn’t make any sense.

As for the remaining answer choice, “One should never move a species from its natural environment into a new environment for fear of the consequences,” it cannot be correct because in the sentence before the one on which this question focuses, the author writes, “The man who successfully transplants or ‘introduces' into a new habitat any persistent species of living thing assumes a very grave responsibility.” Note that he doesn’t say that this should never be done; he just implies that it could go very badly. It wouldn’t make much sense if in the next sentence, the author said this should never be done. It seems more logical that he would have led with that statement, it being the stronger of the two.

Example Question #1 : Determine Figurative, Connotative, And Technical Word Meanings And The Impact Of Word Choice, Including Analogies And Allusions: Ccss.Ela Literacy.Ri.8.4

Adapted from "Save the Redwoods" by John Muir in Sierra Club Bulletin Volume XI Number 1 (January 1920)

Forty-seven years ago one of these Calaveras King Sequoias was laboriously cut down, that the stump might be had for a dancing-floor. Another, one of the finest in the grove, was skinned alive to a height of one hundred and sixteen feet and the bark sent to London to show how fine and big that Calaveras tree was—as sensible a scheme as skinning our great men would be to prove their greatness. Now some millmen want to cut all the Calaveras trees into lumber and money. No doubt these trees would make good lumber after passing through a sawmill, as George Washington after passing through the hands of a French cook would have made good food. But both for Washington and the tree that bears his name higher uses have been found.

Could one of these Sequoia Kings come to town in all its godlike majesty so as to be strikingly seen and allowed to plead its own cause, there would never again be any lack of defenders. And the same may be said of all the other Sequoia groves and forests of the Sierra with their companions and the noble Sequoia sempervirens, or redwood, of the coast mountains.

In these noble groves and forests to the southward of the Calaveras Grove the axe and saw have long been busy, and thousands of the finest Sequoias have been felled, blasted into manageable dimensions, and sawed into lumber by methods destructive almost beyond belief, while fires have spread still wider and more lamentable ruin. In the course of my explorations twenty-five years ago, I found five sawmills located on or near the lower margin of the Sequoia belt, all of which were cutting more or less [Sequoia gigantea] lumber, which looks like the redwood of the coast, and was sold as redwood. One of the smallest of these mills in the season of 1874 sawed two million feet of Sequoia lumber. Since that time other mills have been built among the Sequoias, notably the large ones on Kings River and the head of the Fresno. The destruction of these grand trees is still going on. On the other hand, the Calaveras Grove for forty years has been faithfully protected by Mr. Sperry, and with the exception of the two trees mentioned above is still in primeval beauty. For the thousands of acres of Sequoia forest outside of reservations and national parks, and in the hands of lumbermen, no help is in sight. 

Any fool can destroy trees. They cannot defend themselves or run away. And few destroyers of trees ever plant any; nor can planting avail much toward restoring our grand aboriginal giants. It took more than three thousand years to make some of the oldest of the Sequoias, trees that are still standing in perfect strength and beauty, waving and singing in the mighty forests of the Sierra.

Which of the following is one of the effects of the author's use of the phrase "skinned alive" in the first paragraph?

Possible Answers:

The phrase demonstrates how the author is biased in favor of those who want to cut the Sequoia trees down for lumber.

The phrase introduces the comparison between great trees and great men that is developed later in the paragraph.

The phrase suggests that removing the tree's bark caused the tree no pain.

The phrase tells us that the tree had been felled when its bark was removed—a key detail.

The phrase suggests that the author is somewhat unreliable, as he believes that trees are literally sentient.

Correct answer:

The phrase introduces the comparison between great trees and great men that is developed later in the paragraph.

Explanation:

Consider the entire sentence:

Another, one of the finest in the grove, was skinned alive to a height of one hundred and sixteen feet and the bark sent to London to show how fine and big that Calaveras tree was—as sensible a scheme as skinning our great men would be to prove their greatness

The phrase "skinned alive" is certainly an attention-getting, dramatic choice of words to use to describe the bark being removed from a tree. While it describes removing the tree's bark, it doesn't suggest that removing it was painless for the tree: it conveys the bark removal in a way that makes it appear as if it were very painful for the tree. The author is certainly not biased in favor of anyone who wants to cut Sequoia trees down, and the phrase does not suggest that the tree had been felled before its bark was removed. The phrase employs vivid and creative word choice, but it doesn't encourage us to think that the author literally thinks Sequoia trees are sentient. While the author uses a lot of personification, he does this to convince people not to cut the trees down and never actually suggests that he thinks Sequoia trees are thinking beings.  The correct answer is that the author's word choice here "introduces the comparison between great trees and great men that is developed later in the sentence and paragraph." He mentions George Washington twice in the paragraph in analogies with Sequoia trees, and this phrase's personification is the start of that comparison.

Example Question #2 : Determine Figurative, Connotative, And Technical Word Meanings And The Impact Of Word Choice, Including Analogies And Allusions: Ccss.Ela Literacy.Ri.8.4

Adapted from “Feathers of Sea Birds and Wild Fowl for Bedding” from The Utility of Birds by Edward Forbush (ed. 1922)

In the colder countries of the world, the feathers and down of waterfowl have been in great demand for centuries. These materials have been used as filling for beds and pillows. Such feathers are perfect insulators of heat, and beds, pillows, or coverlets filled with them represent the acme of comfort and durability. 

The early settlers of New England saved for such purposes the feathers and down from the thousands of wild-fowl which they killed, but as the population of people increased, the quantity of feathers furnished in this manner became insufficient, and the people sought a larger supply in the vast colonies of ducks and geese along the Labrador coast. 

The manner in which the feathers and down were obtained, unlike the method practiced in Iceland, did not tend to conserve and protect the source of supply. In Iceland, the people have continued to receive for many years a considerable income by collecting eider down (the small, fluffy feathers of eider ducks), but there they do not “kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.” Ducks line their nests with down plucked from their own breasts and that of the eider is particularly valuable for bedding. In Iceland, these birds are so carefully protected that they have become as tame and unsuspicious as domestic fowls In North America. Where they are constantly hunted they often conceal their nests in the midst of weeds or bushes, but in Iceland, they make their nests and deposit their eggs in holes dug for them in the sod. A supply of the ducks is maintained so that the people derive from them an annual income.

In North America, quite a different policy was pursued. The demand for feathers became so great in the New England colonies during the middle of the eighteenth century that vessels were sent to Labrador for the express purpose of securing the feathers and down of wild fowl. Eider down having become valuable and these ducks being in the habit of congregating by thousands on barren islands of the Labrador coast, the birds became the victims of the ships’ crews. As the ducks molt all their primary feathers at once in July or August and are then quite incapable of flight and the young birds are unable to fly until well grown, the hunters were able to surround the helpless birds, drive them together, and kill them with clubs. Otis says that millions of wildfowl were thus destroyed and that in a few years their haunts were so broken up by this wholesale slaughter and their numbers were so diminished that feather voyages became unprofitable and were given up. 

This practice, followed by the almost continual egging, clubbing, shooting, etc. by Labrador fishermen, may have been a chief factor in the extinction of the Labrador duck. No doubt had the eider duck been restricted in its breeding range to the islands of Labrador, it also would have been exterminated long ago.

What does the author mean by the phrase "to 'kill the goose that lays the golden eggs,'" underlined in the third paragraph?

Possible Answers:

To collect a resource for profit instead of collecting only what you can use yourselfTo p

To mandate that a specific natural resource cannot be sold for profit in order to help conserve it

To ruin a renewable resource by becoming greedy

To kill any bird that lays eggs made of solid gold

To pollute the environment in a given location and thus lower the quality of the natural resources one can collect from it

Correct answer:

To ruin a renewable resource by becoming greedy

Explanation:

Let's consider the sentence in which the author uses this phrase:

In Iceland, the people have continued to receive for many years a considerable income by collecting eider down (the small, fluffy feathers of eider ducks), but there they do not “kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.”

The author has placed this phrase in quotation marks to call attention to the fact that he is using figurative language. In fact, he's alluding to one of Aesop's fables, a story about a farmer who obtains a goose that lays golden eggs. For a while, the farmer sells the golden eggs and obtains a steady income by doing so, but eventually, he gets greedy and kills the goose, imagining that it contains a large amount of gold inside it. He doesn't find any such gold, and is thus deprived of his steady income.

How does this relate to the passage? The author is saying that the Icelandic method of collecting down from ducks does not "kill the goose that lays the golden eggs." Instead of hunting a species duck to extinction like the Labrador feather voyages did, the Icelandic method protects the ducks. That is, it does not ruin a renewable resource based on greed for a one-time profit. This is the correct answer: by "to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs", the author means "to ruin a renewable resource by becoming greedy."

All Common Core: 8th Grade English Language Arts Resources

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