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Common Core Standards: ELA See All Teacher Resources

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading

Reading CCRA.R.2

Like the first standard, this standard has two related parts: figuring out the theme or “main idea” of a text, and giving a short version, in the student’s own words, of the evidence in the text that supports the main idea. Both the first standard and this one require students to find details that support a conclusion. However, in the first standard students may draw their own conclusions, whereas in this one, they are looking in the text for both the writer’s conclusion and the details that support it.

Example 1

Janie’s Got a Theme

Let’s break things down. This standard has three basic parts:

1. Determine the theme of the text.
2. Analyze how the theme is developed.
3. Summarize the supporting details.

Determining the text’s theme is easier said than done, and students must be taught to beware the cliché. They must go beyond overused life lessons like, “Don’t cry wolf,” and they can’t simply say, “Snickers plus Mountain Dew equals crazy delicious.”3 We must explore the character Snickers: What actions have been taken and why? What other characters influence him? Does his love interest, Milk Duds, positively or negatively affect him? Does the antithesis, Butterfinger, pose a threat? Does traversing the mountain called Dew represent an external and/or internal conflict for Snickers; are we dealing with an archetypal journey? Students must dig into all aspects of a text in order to determine what idea or theme they are pointing to.

Okay, theme determined, now students need to go back and analyze how the theme is developed. Where does the author leave clues that point to the text’s larger meanings? In general, elements like symbols or metaphors, characters, and major actions within the text will be your biggest indicators of theme. Tracking the development of these elements is the first step in analysis and is best achieved with charts or visual representations, excluding ice sculptures. Encourage students to make a chart that leaves space for their thoughts or assumptions and page references. They should explain in their own words how characters have changed or how conflict has progressed and then apply these elements to the development of a theme (aka analyze). All the information is up for grabs in the text, like taking candy from a really smart baby (like E*Trade smart).

Once the theme or central idea is identified, tracked, and analyzed, the summary should be a piece of cake. Students need to be able to summarize the key details that support their theme statement for the text.

3  “Lazy Sunday”- not a direct quote

Example 2

Kings and Queens and Candy Scenes

Try this for introducing your students to theme:

Imagine you are reading a book while enjoying a delicious Tootsie Pop. Time passes and you wonder when you are ever going to get at the center of this thing. It seems to be taking forever and you think you might need to take a short break, maybe Facebook-stalk some people. After all this work, the Tootsie Pop better be as good as you expect it to be. Finally after like half an hour it hits you, that delicious chewy center – the theme of the novel.

A story’s theme is the central idea or the lasting thought. With the first standard we discussed inferences, or logical conclusions drawn from a text. Consider theme the ultimate inference. All of the information you gather on your sweet journey through the text (subject, character, action, rhetorical devices, etc.) must be considered when determining the theme.

Example 3

Don’t Want to Miss a Thing

By now you’re either really craving some candy, or you know how to help your students identify, explain, and analyze the theme and central ideas of a text. This is one of the most crucial skills when approaching a reading. Like a board game, a text always has a purpose. The purpose of the board game is bragging rights that your puny plastic guy made it to the last little square first; the purpose of a text is to communicate an overall message or theme.

Quiz Questions

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

This isn’t a pleasure cruise, time to earn your keep, cabin boy. Read the following very short story and answer the questions that follow. And try not to fall overboard.

Sample Passage

(1) Sorting through the twisted wreckage of their dilapidated ship for the third time, Mike hoped to find something that would help him make a better shelter. His brother, Robbie, was more knowledgeable about nature, and he had built a shelter mostly out of items he found on the island. Mike wished he could find a volleyball so he could draw a sad face on it and throw it at him. After their boat ran aground and Mike thought matters couldn’t get worse, his rancorous brother started arguing about ancient history, as if being wrecked on an island wasn’t enough chaos for one day. Mike failed to see what how Robbie’s fickle, promiscuous girlfriend was at all relevant at the moment. Mike wasn’t sorry for anything and Robbie knew it, so he couldn’t muster forgiveness. The wreck seemed to rekindle Robbie’s anger for a year-old spite. After realizing that they still had a few supplies intact, that they were fortunate to have landed on solid ground, and that they would most likely be rescued in a couple of days, their next recourse was to yell at each other. The argument had ended in nasty name-calling and separate shelters.

(2) Mike shifted a warped piece of metal onto the beach where it was immediately swallowed by the softened sand and waves. He caught a flicker of red out of the corner of his eye and realized it was the emergency kit. They hadn’t done a thorough search of everything so he wasn’t surprised Robbie missed it, especially since he slid away to build his shelter after the last round of heel biting. Mike looked over at Robbie and wanted to shout out to him, but he decided to contain his excitement over discovering the kit. He still hadn’t built his fire, and he could see Robbie’s smug smile from where he was standing. Mike grabbed the emergency kit, tucked it under his arm, and retreated back to his cloth and blow-up raft shelter. It wasn’t much, but he felt more secure in the familiar plastic and vinyl rather than a shelter of logs and leaves. Opening the sack, he hoped he would find food, as he didn’t wish to have to eat off the island. Instead he found some locator lights, a few first aid materials, an emergency thermal blanket, and a GPS. He was saved. He glanced over at Robbie’s shelter and saw he was looking right at him. Mike turned his back and set the GPS, then put it out of sight. He stood up and walked towards Robbie. Feeling a little light-hearted with his secret rescue on the way he decided to antagonize his brother.

(3) “Hey do you have anything to eat?” Robbie growled at him as he approached. This was the most he had talked in the last twelve hours, so Mike took advantage of the opening.

(4) “No, what are you doing?” He took the time to inspect Robbie’s little set up. His shelter was made out of natural materials and though he wouldn’t admit it to Robbie, it looked a lot sturdier than his own. He circled Robbie’s fire looking for a place to sit.

(5) “Don’t sit here; go back to your own camp. I don’t want to talk to you.” Robbie was trying to eat a fish he caught and cooked, but he didn’t know how to skin it properly, and he lacked the proper tools.

(6) “Oh come on Robbie-poo,” Mike stuck out his bottom lip in a mock pout. Robbie threw the fish at him and yelled some obscenities. Mike was coming down from his emergency-kit-high really quickly with that outburst. He didn’t particularly like being fish-faced.

(7) “What is your problem man?”

(8) “You’re my problem, Mike. I’m tired of putting up with your crap. Just leave me alone. All you ever do is mess things up, first my girlfriend, now the boat.” Robbie hit a nerve with that one.

(9) “Whoa skipper! What makes you think the boat was my fault? How does hitting a bad storm equal Mike screwed up?” He knew the girlfriend was his fault, and he felt it was a good mistake to make, but this was crossing the line. The sun was setting and everything looked reddish from the fading blaze. The fire seemed enhanced by it, and the water was streaked with crimson shapes emanating from the break. Mike’s anger was starting to build, though it was hardly as severe as Robbie’s instinctual fury.

(10) “You saw the equipment indicated a storm ahead of us; it’s not that difficult to read! I’m sick of you, and I’m stuck with you out here in the middle of nowhere.” Mike was truly offended by the accusatory statement, but he didn’t want to show it. He also had little patience for Robbie’s hyperbole; he was just making outrageous statements out of anger at this point, and they were far from nowhere.

(11) “Stop being such a drama queen.” He did think Robbie was being a bit queen-ish. If he didn’t have a little bit of leftover glee for the GPS, Mike probably would have punched Robbie, reigniting the war again.

(12) “Why are you still crying about her anyway? It’s not like she was a difficult catch.” Mike knew the moment he said it he would get some physical retaliation, and Robbie didn’t disappoint. As Robbie lunged at him, Mike pushed him in the same direction, throwing him face-first in the sand. Robbie sprang up and threw a fist-full of sand back at Mike, stinging his eyes. Mike could hardly see him as their little dance moved away from the fire and into the gathering darkness.

(13) “This isn’t a game Mike, I cared about her!” Robbie’s emotion was swelling beyond dignity now. He didn’t care; there was no one there to see. Mike paused at the passionate declaration but quickly regained his apathetic demeanor.

(14) “She didn’t want a cry-baby.” He thought this was going too far, but he was growing tired of this redundant squabble. The only reason Robbie’s girlfriend left him was because she was honestly interested in someone else, not Mike. Mike never dated her or wanted to; he just let Robbie think he did so he could lord it over him. Mike intended to tell him at the beginning, but the argument had escalated to the point that Robbie wouldn’t believe him now anyway. Mike refused to admit to Robbie that it was all a ruse, so he did what was easy and kept to the lie.

(15) Robbie hung his head at his brother’s words, and stood silent and thinking for a full minute before slowly looking Mike right in the eye. “You go back to your ridiculous shelter and you stay there. I don’t want to see or hear from you again. When I get out of this absurd situation, it will be as if you are dead. You’re dead.” Robbie hissed the words quickly, putting a strong emphasis on the last words, like it was a threat. Mike was stunned at his tone. He knew Robbie wasn’t exaggerating now. He tried not to show his guilt and remorse at the way things spiraled out of control. Feigning indifference, backed away.

(16) Mike decided that if he wasn’t wanted, he wouldn’t bother. He walked back into his camp, sweating, and still hungry. He checked that the GPS was still on and transmitting. The little light on the device shone starkly against the darkness. The ocean roaring in the blackness made Mike uneasy, like a child with a monster under his bed. He reached for an indicator light and cracked it. Placing the light next to his raft, he saw something move. He jumped as he realized it was the slithering body of a snake. Mike grabbed a rock, but the snake slid quickly into the darkness and he guessed that the light scared it off. He cracked the remaining lights and put them around the raft. Checking once again for snakes and animals, he warily settled in. That night, Mike slept restlessly with thoughts of food, Robbie’s ex-girlfriend, wild animals, and sun burn dancing in his head.

(17) Mike didn’t realize how much his brother’s comment stung until the next morning, a poison going right to his core. Bad dreams lingering, he was disinclined to go and reconcile with Robbie, and as the day wore on he let the resentment take hold. Brooding over the situation, Mike realized it had been nearly three days without much more than the one protein bar and two bottles of water they each had. He was beginning to feel beyond hungry. He reassured himself that it wouldn’t be long now before someone tracked down their signal. Feeling ambivalent toward his own needs and Robbie’s lasting anger, Mike began to pace back and forth in the fierce heat.

(18) Unable to stand the hunger any longer, Mike decided to look for food. He glanced over at Robbie who was still lying under his shelter. Mike grabbed a sharpened stick and waded out into the blue water. He didn’t really think he would catch anything; he had never been one for hunting or fishing. Mike struggled for several hours and began to lose hope. The sun was high above him now, an unimpeded eye staring him down, the sweltering heat heavy on his shoulders. He threw the stick down in the water out of frustration. Robbie was perched like a bird in his nest, staring at Mike from under his shelter; he looked like he was chewing something. On the verge of giving in and trying to tell Robbie the truth, Mike started to tread back to shore when he felt an incredible shock of pain across his abdomen, and then across his leg. He froze. He knew immediately what the invisible culprit was. Mike forced himself to torturously step through the water while the box jellyfish injected more venom into his skin. He wanted to cry out, but couldn’t. As hot as the air was, the heat from the sting was greater and pulsed from the contact point outward until his entire body was burning with pain.

(19) Mike looked desperately at Robbie who was now gathering wood in preparation for another fire for the evening. Mike would die before he asked Robbie for help; he didn’t need him. He felt his breath tightening; he could barely draw in air before the choking feeling cheated him of it. Mike knew he had to get the jellyfish off immediately. When he got to the shore he saw there were two medium sized sea beasts attached to him, the stinging, blazing, slicing pain continuing all the time. Mike was sucking in air and feeling faint. He collapsed to his knees and saw Robbie spring up in his peripheral vision. Mike hated that he needed Robbie’s help; he wasn’t going to ask for it, yet he had mixed feelings of indignation and reprieve when he saw Robbie hurrying toward him. The sun was beginning to set and he could barely see straight. He was scarcely conscious when Robbie soaked the jellyfish and removed it, then rubbed sand over the scarring. Mike was determined not to let the jellyfish win.

(20) All Mike could do was look at his brother’s wet face, tears mingling with sweat, confusion mingling with sadness. Mike still did not say anything, and then he stopped breathing. Robbie looked over his brother’s body at the raised scars that were gathered together in rows. The deep red lines that crossed back and forth over his legs and stomach were too many to count. Robbie sat there holding his brother’s body, his mind racing to understand what just occurred. He looked out at the water; everything around him was turning black without the aid of his fire. A crisp white light abruptly appeared on the horizon. He was saved.

  1. Okay cheer up; not every story is full of giggles. What central idea can be derived from the line, “Mike refused to admit to Robbie that it was all a ruse, so he did what was easy and kept to the lie” in paragraph 14?

    Correct Answer:

    Cowardice prevents the brothers’ reconciliation.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (B). Essentially Mike doesn’t want to fess up and apologize. Specifically, “what was easy… [he] kept to the lie,” is the best support for the idea of spinelessness. Option (C) may have distracted you because the two have separate issues with pride, but this option doesn’t state a clear conclusion to be drawn about the issue of pride. Option (A) is incorrect; the concept of trust is not a major idea throughout the text, nor does this line make a comment about trust – trust me. Option (D) is incorrect, though if you’ve ever seen Castaway, you know there is some merit to the statement.

  2. Theme, theme, who’s got the theme? Choose the statement that best exemplifies the theme of the story.

    Correct Answer:

    Admitting defeat or inadequacies requires strength of character.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (A). Mike is unable to admit fault to his brother and is also unable to admit he does not know how to survive when stranded in a natural environment. You might be thinking, well you just said he is stubborn, right? It is true that this is an extremely stubborn character; however, choosing option (B) based on one character attribute would be erroneous. Don’t forget to consider all aspects of the story when determining theme. Option B doesn’t address the fact that Mike loses his life as well as his relationship with Robbie. Option (C) addresses only the nature side of the story, and therefore is incorrect in the same way option (B) is incorrect. Option (D) addresses only the conflict between the brothers, and not Mike’s conflict with nature (and himself). Also, as the brothers do not reconcile at the end, there is no evidence to suggest that familial loyalty is stronger than any other type of bond.

  3. Don’t worry; you’ll get this one right. Read the following quote from paragraph 2 and determine the conflict as it applies to the theme. “Opening the sack, he hoped he would find food, as he didn’t wish to have to eat off the island. Instead he found some locator lights, a few first aid materials, an emergency thermal blanket, and a GPS. He was saved.”

    Correct Answer:

    Man depends on civilization.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (A), a classic archetype in stories. When man is pitted against nature, nature usually wins if man is unable to adapt. The fact that Mike is dependent on the GPS in order to be rescued and survive reveals this conflict. It’s like Survivor, just without the voting and challenges. Option (B) is incorrect because it is the complete opposite of the correct idea. The character Mike does not want to depend on nature in any way. Option (C) may be supportable later in the text, but it is not the best option with the given line. Option (D) may be how Mike feels about things, but the quote makes no argument for which is superior – nature or civilization.

  4. From the list of the following quotes, which lines demonstrate the development of the following idea: Robbie represents all obstacles for Mike, not just his arrogant refusal to ask for forgiveness or help, but he also figuratively illustrates his struggles with the island and the natural world.

     I. “His brother Robbie was more knowledgeable about nature; he built a shelter mostly out of items he found on the island.” Paragraph 1                                                                              II. “Robbie sprang up and threw a fist-full of sand back at Mike, stinging his eyes. Mike could hardly see him as their little dance moved away from the fire and into the growing darkness” Paragraph 12                                                                                                                            III. “When I get out of this absurd situation, it will be as if you are dead. You’re dead.” Robbie hissed the words quickly, putting a strong emphasis on the last words, like it was a threat.” Paragraph 15                                                                                                                            IV. “Mike didn’t realize how much his brother’s comment stung until the next morning, a poison going right to his core.” Paragraph 17                                                                                      V. “He collapsed to his knees and he saw Robbie jump up in his peripheral vision. Mike hated that he needed his help; he wasn’t going to ask for it, yet he had mixed feelings of indignation and reprieve when he saw Robbie hurrying toward him.” Paragraph 19

    Correct Answer:

    Options I-V

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (D). These quotes show a progression of the central idea or theme given. Think of all of these as breadcrumbs in the forest leading you to the candy and cake covered cottage of theme (minus the witch). Since all of these quotes demonstrate the ways in which Robbie represents obstacles for Mike, choosing any one of them and not the others would be incorrect.

  5. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Last question: Which elements of the story help to illustrate the theme?

    Correct Answer:

    All of the above contribute to the theme.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (D). As stated in the description of the standard, all elements of a text must be considered when deducing the theme of a work. In this case, all three of these elements are clearly related to the theme of the story. Robbie and Mike’s relationship obviously demonstrates that admitting defeat takes strength and character. The animals on the island and the island’s natural features (sun, ocean, sand) also become part of the conflict. These elements are adversarial to Mike, yet he does not have the character to admit that he needs help in order to defeat them. These must also be factored in to your conclusions about the text as a whole, so choosing only one of the options would be insufficient.

Aligned Resources

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