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Ace your ELA Interim: FAQs with Ms. Lade


As you prepare for your ELA interim, here are some frequently asked questions - and answers - that will help you ace your exam.


1. How do I know the difference between commas and semicolons.

You use semi-colons to separate two independent clauses that are closely related. For example: "I love hamburgers; I wish I had one right now."


Using semicolons is really a stylistic choice. You can, instead, use a comma in the following ways.


You can use them to separate a dependent clause and independent clause: "Though I love hamburgers, I am actually a vegetarian."


You can use a comma + a conjunction (think: FANBOYS) to separate two independent clauses: "I seriously love hamburgers, but I'm actually a vegetarian."


You also use commas to separate items in a list: "I love hamburgers, french fries, and broccoli."


2. What is the difference between connotations and denotation?

Diction, as you know, is the author's purposeful choice of words. Often, you can look at diction to determine the speaker's tone, or attitude toward the subject he or she is discussing. Diction has two components that you need to know:


Connotation = the emotional associations of a word (ex. family = love, chaos, comfort)

Denotation = the dictionary definition of the word


Use both to determine the purpose behind the author's diction.


3. What is a sentence fragment?

A sentence fragment is a phrase that needs to be completed.


If you read the sentence and ask yourself "and then what?" then it is a fragment: When she ate the hamburger.


If there is a subject and a verb, but the action is incomplete, it is a fragment: Going to the store.


If the sentence begins with a subordinating conjunction but does not contain an independent clause in the sentence, it is a fragment: Because there isn't any water in the glass


A complete sentence has a subject, a verb, and a complete thought. Let's turn the above fragments into complete sentences:


When she ate the hamburger, Mr. Johnson looked at her with disdain.


Ms. Lade and Dr. Campbell are going to the store.


Because there isn't any water in the glass, Keila can't water the flowers.


4. What is a run-on sentence?

A run-on sentence is a sentence that contains multiple independent clauses without proper punctuation.


Example: My favorite class is journalism I want to be a journalist some day because they get to travel the world I love getting to talk to new people every day.


The independent clauses are:

  1. My favorite class is journalism

  2. I want to be a journalist some day because they get to travel the world

  3. I love getting to talk to new people every day.


These must be joined together with correct punctuation. Here's one way to do it:

My favorite class is journalism. I want to be a journalist some day because they get to travel the world. I love getting to talk to new people every day.


5. How do I find the tone of a text?

For both fiction and nonfiction, to find the tone, you look at DICTION and DETAILS. For each paragraph that you read, you should be circling diction words that convey an emotion or attitude, and you should underline details that indicate how the speaker feels. Ask: What do those things indicate about the speaker's attitude toward [whatever the topic is]?


After EACH paragraph you read, you should make a note in the margin: T= [name the emotion] OR if you can't think of the perfect word, write T = + (for positive) or T = - (for negative). This will help you quickly look to see how the tone shifts or changes throughout the text, which is VERY important!


6. How do I identify diction, rather than just a random word?

Great question. Look for words that have a strong connotation - an emotional association. OR look for the repetitive use of a word.


7. What's the difference between a symbol and a motif?

A motif is a symbol that recurs, meaning it shows up in the story multiple times. Not every symbol is a motif, but every motif is a symbol. A symbol is just a person, place, or object that represents some broader idea.


8. How do I look for theme?

Theme is the message the author aims to communicate through a story. These messages do not have to be positive and full of rainbows and butterflies (e.g. "Everyone is unique and beautiful in their own way"); in fact, many themes are dark and somber (e.g. "Growing up is a painful experience.")


Look for theme by analyzing literary devices (diction, details, tone, and characterization). Determine how the character changes from beginning to end and what conflict he or she is enduring. Identify symbols and determine their meaning (these are often the real keys to theme).


Ask yourself: What does the author or speaker believe? What is the author or speaker saying about society or the human experience?


9. How do I know something is a symbol?

You may not know right away that a symbol is a symbol. Its meaning may not develop until later on when you have more information. But there are some things you can pay attention to:

  1. Pay attention to when a person, place, or object is described (think about The Catcher in the Rye and all the symbols in that novel). Ask, "Is there a deeper layer here? What does this detail describing the object represent?"

  2. Look for repetition. If the item is repeated, it is likely a motif and therefore has a deeper meaning. Again, refer back to number 1 - pay attention to the details surrounding the object!

  3. Pay close attention to turning points in the story. When the symbol does appear once, it's usually around an important point in the story. Pay attention to descriptions, tone, and details that lead you toward theme.


10. How do I annotate an Informational text?

  • Highlight or underline the thesis statement (somewhere in the intro: this is the author's main argument or purpose for writing)

  • After each paragraph, note the tone: T = [emotion]

  • After each paragraph, make a note of the author's purpose for including whatever details s/he included (do they prove a point, do they offer an example, do they make an argument?

  • Note different types of arguments: logos (logic, data, numbers, facts), ethos (credibility), pathos (appeal to emotions)

  • Circle NAMES of people and summarize their opinions or points in the margin


11. How do I infer something?

To infer is to make an educated guess based on evidence. It looks like an equation: [evidence from the text] + [evidence from the text] = [conclusion in my own words].


Holden never EXPLICITLY says he doesn't want to grow up. We have to draw conclusions based on evidence:


[Holden loves children, especially Allie and Phoebe who are symbols of purity and innocence] + [Holden hates most adults and most people his own age because he believes they are fake] = [Holden doesn't want to grow up because he fears he will lose himself.]


When you are taking a multiple choice test, and you must infer something, you look at the conclusion drawn (in the question) and you find evidence to support that inference. OR you look at the evidence provided and you find the most logical conclusion that can be drawn from that evidence.


12. What do I do if I don't understand the text?

Stop. Slow down. Reread. All test-takers have to reread portions of the text. If you begin reading and immediately don't understand, SLOW DOWN. Read and put the text in your own words (either in your mind or in the margins). Read closely, annotate devices and pay attention to TONE and PURPOSE. There may be parts of the text you don't understand, but using diction and details to determine TONE can help you understand what the text means to say.


DO NOT RUSH through the reading. You cannot score well if you don't read closely. The more closely you read, the less time you need on the actual questions. Annotate well so you don't have to reread large chunks. Your notes on the text should help you find the answer quickly.


Underlining and highlighting is NOT ENOUGH! You must write in the margins! Take notes!



You can do it. Remember that ELA is about thinking deeply: we want to get to the real MEANING of things, which is one of the most exciting parts of life!

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