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Common Core Standards: ELA

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language

Language CCRA.L.1

Conventions of Standard English

1. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

Standard English: the language of newspapers, textbooks, emails to people you don’t know personally, and shop signs - at least, those that don’t say “watermelon’s $2.99” or “please wipe you’re feet.” It’s not the language that most U.S.-ians speak to their families or friends, it’s definitely not the way teenagers text each other, but it is the language in which we communicate with everyone else. Understanding the conventions of standard English makes it possible not only to follow important discussions and documents, but also to deviate from the conventions in creative ways.

Unfortunately, teaching the conventional use of English can be about as interesting as cafeteria food – if not necessarily as dangerous – so here are some interesting activities and tips.

P.S. If your students need to brush up on their spelling and grammar, send 'em over to our Grammar Learning Guides so they can hone their skills before conquering the Common Core.

Example 1

Questions and Activities for Use in Class

1. Parts of Speech

There are, generally speaking, eight different parts of speech.
1. Nouns name a person, place, thing, or idea.
2. Pronouns, the workhorse “stand-in” for nouns, prevent the deadly repetition of a noun.
3. Verbs state actions.
4. Adjectives describe nouns
5. Adverbs describe verbs.
6. Prepositions describe a noun’s relationship to other parts of the sentence.
7. Conjunctions link two or more parts of a sentence together. .
8. Interjections express emotions or sudden orders.

By the time they’re seriously considering college, a career, or both, most students have heard of Mad Libs - which doesn’t stop them from being fun. Prepare this activity by creating a one- to two-paragraph story, then remove most of the nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs, leaving empty spaces. On a separate page (or on the blackboard, if you’re planning to do this activity with an entire class), write down, in order, the part of speech that goes into each empty space in the story.

For example, if your story begins, “It was a ___________ (adjective) and ______________ (adjective) night in the _________ (noun) as Jason and Melinda __________ (verb ending in -ed) toward the old schoolhouse,” your list should look something like this:

Adjective:_______________________
Adjective:_______________________
Noun:__________________________
Verb ending in -ed:________________

For some stories, additional information may be necessary. For instance, if the sentence needs a specific type of noun or adjective to make sense, you can substitute phrases like “name of a fruit” for “noun” or “a color” for “adjective.”

Split students into groups if desired, or do this activity as a class. Give each person a copy of the blank list, or write it on the chalk- or white-board if you have one. Have the members of the group or class call out suggestions for each part of speech. One person should write these down as they’re said. Then, hand out a copy of the story to each group, or have one person read it aloud to the class, inserting the various parts of speech written on the list. Mad Libs results can range from merely odd to entirely hilarious, but in either case, they do a good job conveying how the various parts of speech are used and how, because they are categories, any word from the proper category can be inserted into a standard English sentence and the sentence will make grammatical sense, even if the mental images it produces are absurd. (“It was a gray and silky night in the stewpot as Jason and Melinda moonwalked toward the old schoolhouse.”)

Example 2

2. Dangling Modifiers

A modifier is a word or phrase that gives more information about the subject (or, in some cases, the object) of a sentence. A modifier is “dangling” when it does not contain within itself any reference to whom or what it’s trying to modify. When a modifier is dangling, the person, place, or thing it modifies should not only be the subject of the independent clause. It should also be the first thing that appears immediately after the dangling modifier.

For example: “While reading the paper, the dog pestered me to go for a walk.”

This modifier is dangling, and the independent clause “the dog pestered me to go for a walk” is simply confusing matters. Unless the speaker a highly-trained literate superdog, the dog is not the one reading the paper - the speaker is. Therefore, this sentence should be rearranged to put the speaker’s identity as close as possible to the dangling modifier, like so:

“While reading the paper, I heard the dog pestering me to go for a walk.”

Dangling modifiers can be a great deal of fun because the mental images they produce can be hilarious. In class, go over how the dangling modifier works, then have students compose seven to ten sentences with incorrect dangling modifiers. Some examples:

“While brushing my hair, my goldfish flopped out of his bowl and onto the dresser, where he promptly died.” (Corrected: “While brushing my hair, I saw my goldfish flop....”)

“The report card was full of Fs, not having studied for the exam.” (Corrected: “The report card was full of Fs because he did not study for his exam.”

“Having finished that night’s homework, the video games were turned on.” (Corrected: “Having finished that night’s homework, Janice turned on her video games.”)

Once students are done writing their own incorrect dangling modifier sentences, have them trade papers with one another. Then, have each student rewrite the sentences on the paper they receive so that they follow the conventions of standard English, where dogs don’t read newspapers and video games, alas, do not do homework assignments.

Quiz 1 Questions

Here's an example of a quiz that could be used to test this standard.

  1. Which of the following sentences uses standard English grammar correctly?

    Correct Answer:

    Defeated, Molly and I stopped for ice cream on our way home.

    Answer Explanation:

    Tip for using “____ and I” constructions: if you remove the other person and the word “and,” the sentence should still make sense. For example, “I stopped for ice cream” is correct, but “me stopped for ice cream” isn’t.


  2. Your friend Jen arrives at a party. Ten minutes later, you arrive at the same party. Which of the following sentences uses correct standard English grammar to explain this situation?

    Correct Answer:

    When I got to the party, I found Jen had already arrived.

    Answer Explanation:

    This sentence uses the past pluperfect “had (already) arrived” correctly; none of the others do.


  3. Each of the underlined words in the following sentences is spelled correctly, but which sentence uses them incorrectly?

    Correct Answer:

    Ewe!” yelled Bill as the sheep ran past us. “That ew is covered in mud!”

    Answer Explanation:

    A “ewe” is a female sheep; “ew!” is an interjection meaning “gross!”


  4. Which of the following sentences means the same as “Take this bowl of cereal, and do not sit on any piece of furniture that is not the piano”?

    Correct Answer:

    Please take this bowl of cereal and sit on the piano only.

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - This sentence is silent with regards to any furniture that is not the piano.
    • (b) - This sentence warns the listener not to take anything except the cereal; it is silent about the furniture.
    • (c) - This bowl does not contain anything except cereal.
    • (d) - Do not sit on anything but the piano.*correct answer
    • (e) - Do not stand or lie on the piano.

  5. Questions 5 and 6 refer to the following sentence: “An army of diligent ants quickly swarmed around the ripe pineapple and struggled to carry it to their sandy anthill.”

    What do the words “diligent” and “sandy” do in this sentence?

    Correct Answer:

    They describe the ants and the anthill.

    Answer Explanation:

    They’re adjectives, not verbs (a), interjections (c), interrogatories (d), or nouns (e).


  6. What is the primary difference between the word “quickly” and the word “ripe” in this sentence?

    Correct Answer:

    “Quickly” is an adverb and “ripe” is an adjective.

    Answer Explanation:

    “Quickly” describes the verb “swarmed,” while “ripe” describes the noun “pineapple.”


  7. Which of the following sentences means the same thing as “I was reading the paper. My dog brought me his leash, but then he fell asleep on my feet”?

    Correct Answer:

    While reading the paper, I looked up to see the dog bring me his leash, then fall asleep on my feet.

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - The dangling modifier “while reading the paper” attaches here to “my dog,” not the speaker. Dogs who can read the newspaper are impressive, but the sentence doesn’t express what is in the question.
    • (c) - Here, the dangling modifier attaches to “I,” expressing the same thing as “I was reading the paper.*correct answer

  8. Which of the following sentences does NOT contain a prepositional phrase?

    Correct Answer:

    I helped him gather his books.

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - “on a snowy Tuesday” is the prepositional phrase. 
    • (b) - “into him,” “of books,” and “over the sidewalk” are all prepositional phrases.
    • (c) - *correct answer
    • (d) - “on the beach”
    • (e) - “at the end of the pier”

  9. Consider the sentence “We waited on the porch for the bus to arrive, but we didn’t know my little brother had gone upstairs until he dumped a bowl of cooked spaghetti out the window and spilled it all over Molly and me.” Which of the following statements about this sentence is correct?

    Correct Answer:

    “Molly and me” is correct because “me” is the object of a preposition.

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - The preposition is “over.”*correct answer
    • (b) - It’s a dependent clause.
    • (c) - The past tense is consistent with the past tense used in “waited” and “didn’t know.”
    • (d) - It’s actually a prepositional phrase that happens to contain an adjective.
    • (e) - It’s not, thanks to the comma before “but.”

  10. A boss who says to you “You can leave at 3:00 today if the mail arrives before then” means which of the following?

    Correct Answer:

    You cannot leave at 3:00 today if the mail has not come to the office by that time.

    Answer Explanation:

    The subordinating conjunction “if” restricts the “leaving at 3:00” phrase.


Quiz 2 Questions

Here's an example of a quiz that could be used to test this standard.

  1. Which of the following sentences demonstrates parallelism?

    Correct Answer:

    I don’t know which is worse: getting a C on my biology test, having a dentist appointment, or watching even one more reality TV show.

    Answer Explanation:

    “getting,” “having,” and “watching” are all verbs in the same form.


  2. All of the following sentences are actually sentence fragments, except one. Which one is the complete sentence?

    Correct Answer:

    I’m going to build a rocketship.

    Answer Explanation:

    Complete sentences require a subject, verb, and object, though not always in that order. This one has “I” as a subject, “am going to build” as a verb phrase, and a “rocketship” as the object.


  3. Run-on sentences are just as incorrect as sentence fragments, except that a run-on sentence talks too much, while a sentence fragment doesn’t talk enough. Which of the following is a run-on sentence?

    Correct Answer:

    The raincoat can be either pink or white I will wear it either way.

    Answer Explanation:

    This sentence actually consists of two sentences, “The raincoat can be either pink or white” and “I will wear it either way.” It therefore needs something between “white” and “I”, whether it’s a period, a semicolon, or a comma with “and” or “because.”


  4. Which of the following pairs of verbs is not conjugated (changed from present tense to past tense) correctly?

    Correct Answer:

    Today I found a dollar. Yesterday I founded a dollar.

    Answer Explanation:

    “Found” is the past tense of “find.” When “found” is used in the present tense, it means “to establish,” not “to find.” Thus, “founded” is the proper past tense of “found” (it means “established”), but not of “find.”


  5. Which of the following sentences uses standard English grammar?

    Correct Answer:

    Panda bears aren’t really bears, but that doesn’t mean they are harmless.

    Answer Explanation:

    The other sentences have errors like double negatives and tense shifts that impede the reader’s understanding. This sentence, on the other hand, is grammatically correct and conveys its meaning clearly.


  6. All of the underlined words in the following sentences are spelled correctly, but which ones are not used correctly?

    Correct Answer:

    I don’t know weather it’s going to be sunny or rainy today, because I missed the whether report.

    Answer Explanation:

    “Weather” and “whether” should be switched around.


  7. Questions 7 through 10 refer to this sentence: “The thief took handfuls of money from the cash register, put them in a big paper bag, and then climbed on his unicycle and pedaled away from the gas station.”

    Which of the following words, if added to the sentence, would show that the thief believed that no one would notice him emptying the cash register?

    Correct Answer:

    Casually, calmly, slowly

    Answer Explanation:

    These words indicate the thief is taking his sweet time, which he’d only be likely to do if he believed he wouldn’t get caught.


  8. If you wanted to show the thief was in a hurry, but you did not want to use an adverb, which of the following words might you use instead of “pedaled”?

    Correct Answer:

    Raced

    Answer Explanation:

    If he “races” away, he’s probably in a hurry.


  9. Which of the following words in this sentence is NOT used as a noun?

    Correct Answer:

    paper

    Answer Explanation:

    In this sentence, “paper” is an adjective describing “bag,” not a noun.


  10. If you wanted to show that the thief was trying to put more money in the bag than it could hold, which of the following words would be the best replacement for “put”?

    Correct Answer:

    stuffed

    Answer Explanation:

    Stuffing implies trying to cram something into a space that’s too small for it.


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