Shades of Meaning

Compiled by Trish Momtsios
Chesapeake City Schools

A shade of meaning in a phrase used to describe the small, subtle differences in meaning between similar words or phrases. It is very important for students with autism to understand the subtle differences using different shades of color to help with the level of intensity of words. In addition, research shows that vocabulary is also related to mental processes and skills that affect students' overall academic achievement. Stahl & Stahl (2012) explained that "children's ability to name things establishes their ability to form categories" (p.72). For example, a student who learns the word shake can subsequently attach other words and concepts to it, such as shiver, vibrate, wiggle, flutter, jitter and so on. As students develop more complex categorization systems for words, they are better able to summarize. 
(Kintsch, 1998) - Marzano

Low Cost Resources

Several activities can be located and purchased on TeacherPayTeacher. 

There are 38 center sets included in this product to last for 38 weeks--all year. Each set includes 8 word cards, a header word card, a footer word card, and a recording sheet.


There are 10 adjectives each having 5 synonyms. Each adjective has been color coded to match a particular color card that has different shades of the same color (think paint strip). Each adjective group also has a color coded sentence card using each adjective in a sentence to provide context.

There are 10 states of mind each having 5 synonyms. Each state of mind has been color coded to match a particular color card that has different shades of the same color (think paint strip). Each state of mind group also has a color coded sentence card using each state of mind in a sentence to provide context.


This bundle has everything you need to teach the concept of shades of meaning, a common core standard for second and third grades. However, it is easily adaptable and usable for fourth and fifth graders as we make the transition to the common core standards.  The Shades of Meaning PowerPoint introduces the concept of synonyms and shades of meaning. Follow up with Shades of Meaning: Little Red's Bad Day to practice in context. More practice is available with Shades of Meaning Concept Building. 

 Shades of Meaning is a thirty-seven slide PowerPoint presentation that introduces the important vocabulary skills of identifying and using synonyms, antonyms, denotations, and connotations. Students practice choosing related words to help their writing become more detailed and interesting. They also use a dictionary and thesaurus to become more independent with these skills. The activities include generating synonyms and antonyms, matching synonyms, matching antonyms, choosing the best synonym, completing graphic organizers, using word connotations to revise a piece of writing, and more.

A student answer sheet is included along with an answer key for self-checking. There is also a Challenge Card that can be used in conjunction with any other card to extend the activity. These task cards are perfect for test prep and will work well at literacy centers, stations, for partner work, or with the whole class using a game like Scoot.  The cards will look best in color, but will also print out fine in gray-scale. Simply print and cut along the guidelines. Laminate and use them again and again. Alternatively, you could print on card stock. It works well to keep them in a baggie. Another option is to hole-punch a corner of each card and put them all on a ring.
(Grades 1 & 2) Students have to cut out the words, sort them by taking out the words that don't belong, and leveling them by intensity. There are different verb and adjective families.


The lesson is a mini-lesson on shades of meaning, followed by a student activity that can be done individually, in pairs, or in groups. Students will discuss groups of closely related words (printout included) and put them in order from least to greatest intensity (for example, "damp," "wet," "soggy," and "soaked"). They will write the words on paint strips (you will need to provide) and make a flower, octopus, or spider (depending on colors chosen) to display in the classroom later.