Common Core Standards: ELA
This standard requires, in short, the ability to keep asking one question: “And then what happened?” It also requires the ability to explain, with each answer, how what’s happening “now” is related to what happened “then.” Without this ability, texts make no sense; they’re just a bunch of words jumbled up on paper. (We could argue that e.e. cummings’ poems are still a jumble of words on paper, even with the ability to analyze how a text develops – but we digress.)
The Long and Winding Story
There are three things that are certain to develop or grow within a short period of time: bean sprouts, prepubescent teens, and characters in a text. While the characters may not be graduating to shaving cream and push up bras, they will grow through interaction with other characters, the major action or events in the text, and self-reflection. As the characters develop, so does the plot and the central ideas or themes. These elements are like twisting vines, coming in and out of contact, working together to weave a complicated and beautiful text that will take over the side of your garage. Pass out the pruning shears because this standard asks student to untangle the key components of any text in order to understand their development.
All You Need is Character
And, you know, also events and ideas. Let’s take a closer look at each of the three elements addressed in this standard. Here are some talking points to use with your students:
- Characters or Individuals: Buzz words like static and dynamic characters may make you feel like a level one noob in the reading game. You may also hear characters described as flat or round, yet what they are called matters less than being able to articulate how and why characters develop (or don’t) over the course of a text.
- In terms of character growth, a tiny little sapling would be a static, or unchanged character, and a large oak tree would be a dynamic, or changed character. If a character interacts with other characters and has reflections that are emotional or psychological in response to those minglings, he most likely has grown. Main characters tend to grow and change quite a bit; therefore, you will generally have more information and more to say about a protagonist than a minor character.
- Events: In most texts, events shape the people, and people shape the events. Sound like a chicken-and-egg problem? Well, it sort of is. Events influence people. They change our perspectives, teach us lessons, and provide new experiences. Events can cause grief or happiness or worry or confusion. The actions we take are usually reactions to preceding events. But as soon as we react, our actions, in turn, shape the events. A plot that could have gone one direction goes another because of something the character did or did not do. In short, everything is interconnected. The take-away? Don’t try to analyze any one element of a text in isolation. This standard is all about recognizing how these elements interact in order to develop over the course of a text.
- Central Idea: Speaking of interaction, the central idea or theme of a text is developed and revealed through, you guessed it, the characters and events. Remember how we said that main characters tend to grow and change a lot as a result of the events of the story? Well, understanding how and why that growth occurred is exactly where you should be looking for clues to the theme. Consider theme the community piggy bank. The characters, events, and details of the text all make deposits in the ceramic pig, and these precious coins add up to one big important idea.
Happiness is a Warm Sun
Your students’ figurative plants should be blooming nicely now that they know how to care for them. As long as they water the blooms of character, trim the hedge of events, and even fertilize the seeds of ideas they can make a bountiful garden of the text. These notions are meant to be applicable to real situations that we may identify with personally. After all, “Life’s a garden, dig it.”4
4 Joe Dirt quote
Quiz QuestionsHere's an example of a quiz that could be used to test this standard.
Let’s get those hands dirty. The following questions contain samples from the reading passage given in Standard 2. Read the samples and answer the corresponding questions.
- Teaching The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: It Runs in the Family
- Teaching The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: The N-Word
- Teaching A Good Man is Hard to Find: Take Two: A Good Ending Is Hard to Find
- Teaching A Good Man is Hard to Find: Touring the Sites of "A Good Man is Hard to Find"
- Teaching A Good Man is Hard to Find: Killer Short Stories: Flannery O'Connor and Southern Gothic Literature
- Teaching A Tale of Two Cities: Serial Publishing
- Teaching A Tale of Two Cities: Mapping A Tale of Two Cities
- Teaching A Tale of Two Cities: Mix and Match Plot Arrangements
- Night: Survivors Unite
- The Book Thief: The Post-Memory Project
- The Book Thief: Courage Protocol
- The Book Thief: Re-Imagining the Story
- Teaching The Catcher in the Rye: Party Planner
- Teaching The Catcher in the Rye: Searching the Big Apple
- The Great Gatsby: Come a Little Closer
- The Great Gatsby: Reviewing a Classic
- The Great Gatsby: Zelda, My Sweet!
- Teaching Lord of the Flies: I'm Gonna Wait for the Movie
- Teaching Lord of the Flies: Real-Life Lord of the Flies
- Teaching Macbeth: “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility”
- Teaching Macbeth: Wave Those Numbers!