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Common Core Standards: ELA

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language

Language CCRA.L.3

Knowledge of Language

3. Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

This standard is about as broad as the Anchor Standards get. In theory, nearly any language-related skill can fall under “apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts” or “comprehend more fully” (more fully than what?) “when reading or listening.” In the interest of not repeating the other five standards, however, the Common Core State Standards Initiative recommends making this standard about one subject: syntax.

Despite Wikipedia’s two-sentence treatment of the subject, English-language syntax is a universe unto itself. It includes such simple work as making basic subject-verb sentences - “I run,” “She dances” - and such complex tasks as following the longest sentences in English documents, which includes this 516-word whopper from a British sales contract that can be found here
http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/examples/long-sentences.html if you really, really have a desire to read such a thing. (Although it might not be a bad thing to print out and have handy when students are whining about the length of a sentence or paragraph).

Fortunately, most English-language sentences are much shorter than that one (even in contracts), and the arrangement of the words and phrases in the sentence can greatly affect the emphasis and meaning of the information the sentence is trying to convey.

Example 1

Sample Activities for Use in Class

Varied Syntax: For this activity, you can either create sentences ahead of time, have students locate them in a story or other written work, or have students make up their own. Begin with two short sentences for each student or group of students. The two sentences should be related to each other in some way: for instance, the second should describe an effect of the first or give more information about the first. For example:

Chelsea and I sat next to each other during the concert.
It was the biggest coincidence of the day.

Once students have chosen or invented their sentences, have them combine the two in as many ways as possible. Some examples using the two sentences above include:

In the biggest coincidence of the day, Chelsea and I sat next to each other during the concert.
Chelsea and I ended up sitting next to each other at the concert: what a coincidence!
Coincidentally, Chelsea and I ended up sitting next to each other at the concert.
It was a total coincidence, but my seat ended up being right next to Chelsea’s at the concert.

If students have trouble coming up with more than three to five sentences, have them modify their starting pair of sentences as needed.

Once everyone has a few combined sentences, discuss when and where you might want to use one sentence over the other. For example, if you were writing or talking to Chelsea’s mother, you might want to use “Chelsea and I ended up sitting next to each other at the concert: what a coincidence!”, because Chelsea’s mother is likely to be interested in what Chelsea is up to and how you two met. But if you’re talking to Chelsea’s significant other, who is suspicious of what you’re doing hanging around Chelsea all of a sudden, you might want to use “It was a total coincidence, but my seat ended up being right next to Chelsea’s at the concert,” because it emphasizes that the seating was a coincidence, not any plan on your part to steal Chelsea away from her current partner.

Varying Syntax For Effect: As in the activity above, start by providing, having students find, or having students write five to seven related sentences that are all no more than five words long. Ideally, the sentences will form a very short, very boring paragraph. For instance, a student writing on the topic “how I spent my vacation” might come up with the following sentences:

I went skiing on vacation. My parents went skiing too. We stayed in Vail, Colorado. We stayed in a ski lodge. There was snow everywhere. We skiied every day. It was really fun.

Using the same basic information that’s in this very short, very boring paragraph, have students write another very short, but less boring paragraph by alternating between sentences that are only five words long and sentences that are at least ten words long. Students should be encouraged to add details as necessary. For example:

I went skiing on vacation. My parents surprised us with this skiing trip as a present for my sister’s sixteenth birthday. We stayed in Vail, Colorado. We were there for a week, in a beautiful ski lodge that had hot tubs on the deck overlooking the snow-capped mountain peaks. We skiied every day. I’ve never enjoyed a vacation so much, and I hope to go back to Vail next year.

Have each student or group of students read aloud first the paragraph containing only short sentences, then then paragraph with sentences of alternating lengths. Discuss what makes the second paragraph work better than the first (apart from the alternating sentence lengths), and where each type of paragraph might be appropriate. For example, a user manual for a software program might want to use alternating sentences so the reader doesn’t fall asleep, while a recipe, instructions to be translated into another language, or list of instructions for children might use shorter sentences to avoid confusion.

Quiz 1 Questions

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

  1. Questions 1-3 all refer to the following scenario: You have recently re-discovered your long-lost identical twin, from whom you were separated at birth. You ran into one another in the toilet paper aisle at the drugstore. After an emotional roller-coaster of a reunion, you decide to write to your grandparents and ask them why they never told you about your twin.

    In your letter, you want to emphasize that you met your long-lost twin in a completely ordinary place that you’ve visited at least once a month (or more, depending on how quickly your family goes through toilet paper) for your entire life. The syntax in which of the following sentences drives this point home most forcefully?

    Correct Answer:

    I was picking up some toilet paper at the drugstore, a place I’ve visited at least once a month for as long as I can remember, when we met.

    Answer Explanation:

    • (b) - Placing the location at the front of the sentence puts emphasis on it, while placing the fact of meeting the twin at the back without embellishing details minimizes that fact. *correct answer
    • (d) - Placing a fact into a dependent clause like “although” or “where” encourages the reader to skip it in favor of the independent clause at the end of the sentence.

  2. Upon re-reading your letter, you decide it would be better to emphasize your shock when you met your long-lost identical twin, rather than the fact that you two met at the drugstore. Which of the following sentences is arranged to best emphasize your emotional state?

    Correct Answer:

    I froze, shocked to find myself staring into a face just like mine.

    Answer Explanation:

    To emphasize your shock, it is most effective to place the word “shock” towards the front of the sentence. This sentence also uses the word “froze” right at the beginning, which is a very evocative word and conveys that you were so astounded that you couldn’t even move.


  3. At the end of your letter, you want to tell your grandparents that you’re angry with them for keeping the secret, but you understand they probably did the best thing they could think to do in the circumstances. Which of the following paragraphs uses sentence lengths that make it LEAST likely your grandparents will fall asleep while reading?

    Correct Answer:

    I’m angry that you kept this secret from me. I know it was hard. You had to make the best choice in a bad situation. I forgive you.

    Answer Explanation:

    Varying sentence lengths helps keep the reader awake by adding visual interest and by requiring the reader to parse information at varying speeds.


  4. If a “compound” sentence is made of two or more independent clauses, and a “complex” sentence is made of an independent clause plus a dependent clause, a “compound-complex” sentence is most likely made of:

    Correct Answer:

    At least two independent clauses, plus at least one dependent clause.

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - This is a simple sentence. 
    • (b) - This is a sentence fragment.
    • (c) - This is also a sentence fragment.
    • (d) - Combines the two independent clauses in the compound sentence with the one dependent clause in the complex sentence. *correct answer
    • (e) - This is almost certainly a run-on sentence, though legitimate sentences like this do appear in earlier writings - the Victorians were especially fond of them.

  5. Based on your answer to Question 4, which of the following is a compound-complex sentence?

    Correct Answer:

    Once I was chased for six blocks by penguins who wanted apple pie and were dead-set on stealing mine, until I ducked behind a dumpster to avoid them.

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - This is a sentence fragment.
    • (b) - This is a simple sentence.
    • (c) - The dependent clause, “and were dead-set on stealing mine,” is in the center of this one. *correct answer
    • (d) - This is a compound sentence.
    • (e) - This is a complex sentence.

  6. At work, you’re given the task of writing some extra warning signs for the equipment, which gets very hot while it’s running and should never be touched without gloves. Which of the following signs is MOST likely to inform your co-workers as quickly and straightforwardly as possible about the danger?

    Correct Answer:

    DANGER: HOT SURFACE. DO NOT TOUCH.

    Answer Explanation:

    Short, to-the-point phrases get the point across quickly, without requiring too much processing by the reader. Therefore, this is the best choice.)


  7. After making and posting your signs, your boss asks you to write an email to the company that makes the equipment, because your boss wants to be sure the manufacturers know how hot the machine gets when it runs. Which of the following is the LEAST effective way to explain the problem?

    Correct Answer:

    DANGER: HOT SURFACE. DO NOT TOUCH.

    Answer Explanation:

    While this provides plenty of information to people who are near the machine, it doesn’t tell the machine’s manufacturers nearly enough to let them give adequate advice about the problem.


  8. You’ve become the resident expert at work on why the company’s WidgetPress overheats. Your boss wants you to give a presentation at the next trade show about why the machines overheat and what to do about it. Which of the following summaries of your presentation is MOST likely to encourage people to come see you?

    Correct Answer:

    “The PI-182 SuperWidgetPress is the gold standard of machinery in the widget-making industry. However, these machines have a habit of overheating, which slows production time and puts workers’ safety at risk. Find out the three most common causes of SuperWidgetPress overheating and what you can do to avoid them.”

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - This choice summarizes the speech and offers listeners something they don’t already have - information on how to stop press overheating, so that the line runs more efficiently and workers don’t get hurt. It’s neither too long nor too short, and it gets straight to the point. *correct answer
    • (b) - This choice doesn't tell readers enough about the presentation or why they should care.
    • (c) - Is too combative and doesn’t make the point of the seminar clear. Also, it loses points for the inherent sexism in the assumption that all bosses, or at least all uncaring bosses, are male.
    • (d) - Like (b), this option doesn’t give any information about your presentation. It’s also misleading, since workers have to touch the machine to use, clean, or repair it.
    • (e) - This is too obtuse to give a clear picture of your presentation, making (a) the better answer.

  9. A week after sending out invitations to your graduation party, you get the following five emails. Based on the way the sentences are put together, which person is LEAST likely to be sorry that he or she can’t attend?

    Correct Answer:

    “My entire month is packed. I have to go to, like, three doctor’s appointments to get all the shots I need before I got river rafting on the Amazon to save starving orphans with athlete’s foot. And then I’m going to swim across the country to raise money for more starving orphans, only these ones have, I don’t know, peanut allergies or something. ...Did you email me for a reason?”

    Answer Explanation:

    This person barely mentions you at all, so s/he’s probably not going to regret missing a party that is about you and not her/him.


  10. In which of the following situations would you be MOST likely to use sentence fragments to communicate?

    Correct Answer:

    While talking to your significant other on the phone

    Answer Explanation:

    “Gotta go. Love you. Bye.” and similar things are common in informal phone conversations.


Quiz 2 Questions

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

Questions 1-10 are based on the following scenario:

To impress his date on prom night, Omri borrows his sister’s Porsche. He’s almost made it safely home when the neighbor’s cat jumps out in front of the car. Omri swerves to avoid hitting the cat, and the Porsche jumps the curb, mowing down the neighbor’s collection of 16 lawn gnomes before crashing into the neighbor’s mailbox. Omri isn’t hurt (and neither is the cat), but the Porsche, the lawn gnomes, and the mailbox are all damaged beyond repair.

  1. Omri figures he had better tell his sister about the damage to her Porsche before she actually sees it. Which of the following words should he use to describe the damage if he wants to downplay how bad it was?

    Correct Answer:

    bumped

    Answer Explanation:

    “bumped” implies any damage was slight, while the other words all imply the damage was extensive.


    • (a) - Lying won’t fix the Porsche, making (b) the better answer.
    • (b) - “I mangled/wrecked/destroyed/crushed your Porsche is far more inflammatory than “I bumped your Porsche.” *correct answer

    Correct Answer:

    he doesn’t want his sister to panic.

    Answer Explanation:

    “I mangled/wrecked/destroyed/crushed your Porsche is far more inflammatory than “I bumped your Porsche.”


  2. Since she doesn’t have the money to fix the Porsche, Omri’s sister decides to sell the car. The ad MOST likely to pull in buyers includes which of the following phrases?

    Correct Answer:

    “Runs great!”

    Answer Explanation:

    When trying to convince people to buy things, always play up the item’s strengths and downplay, or avoid mentioning altogether, its weaknesses.


  3. After seeing the ad Omri’s sister ran in Question 3, several people stop by to check out the Porsche. They all act surprised when they see the damage. What is the most likely reason for their surprise?

    Correct Answer:

    The ad doesn’t even hint at the damage to the Porsche.

    Answer Explanation:

    An ad that says the car “runs great!” but doesn’t mention the body is not likely to make buyers think there’s anything wrong with the body.


  4. To everyone’s surprise, the lawn gnomes Omri broke with the Porsche were all irreplaceable antiques. The neighbor calls his insurance company, looking for payment now that the gnomes have been totaled. Which of the following words or phrases is LEAST likely to appear in the neighbor’s description of the damage?

    Correct Answer:

    nicked

    Answer Explanation:

    “Nicked” implies the gnomes were only slightly damaged, which would entitle the neighbor only to a fraction of an insurance payment if he gets any at all. In contrast, all the other words imply the gnomes have been totally destroyed, which would entitle him to the full insurance payment.


  5. Why would the neighbor avoid the word you chose in Question 5?

    Correct Answer:

    To make it clear that the gnomes cannot be repaired.

    Answer Explanation:

    See the explanation to Question 5’s answer.


  6. The Gnome Insurance form requires gnome owners to explain what happened to their gnomes in 25 words or less. Since space is at a premium, which of the following is MOST likely to be the neighbor’s explanation?

    Correct Answer:

    “A car broke my 16 irreplaceable lawn gnomes last night.”

    Answer Explanation:

    Short and gets right to the point, which is that the gnomes are destroyed.


  7. Before filling out the tiny Gnome Insurance form, the neighbor makes the following practice drafts on a piece of scratch paper. Which one reveals a startling fact that might cause the insurance company to refuse to pay for the gnomes?

    Correct Answer:

    “A car shattered my 16 lawn gnomes, but left $50,000 in its wake.”

    Answer Explanation:

    If the neighbor has $50,000 all of a sudden, the insurance company may assume the accident paid for itself.


  8. The neighbor puts the $50,000 into his 16 irreplaceable antique cookie jars for safekeeping, then goes to get coffee with his friends at the local bakery. Which of the following is MOST likely the way the neighbor tells the story if he doesn’t want his friends to know about the money?

    Correct Answer:

    “That no-good neighbor kid ran over my lawn gnomes last night! Completely destroyed them! Busted the mailbox, too!”

    Answer Explanation:

    This one focuses on the accident and doesn’t even mention that the money exists.


  9. While watching the morning news, the neighbor learns that robbers stole $50,000 from the city bank just the previous afternoon and hid it somewhere, but that they would not tell police where it was. During their search for the money, the police knock on the neighbor’s door and ask him if anything unusual has occurred recently. Which of the following thins should the neighbor NOT say if he wants to avoid going to jail for making a false police report?

    Correct Answer:

    “The neighbor kid stole my lawn gnomes, and I know he stole that money from the bank too because he told me.”

    Answer Explanation:

    Answers (a) and (b) are half-truths, because they don’t mention the money, but this one is completely false, making it the best answer.


Aligned Resources

More standards from College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language - Language