Common Core Standards: ELA
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.
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 QuestionsHere's an example of a quiz that could be used to test this standard.
Quiz 2 QuestionsHere'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.