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Common Core Standards: ELA

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading

Reading CCRA.R.3

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.)

Example 1

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.

Example 2

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.

Example 3

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 Questions

Here'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.

  1. What’s the Beef? Identify the problem between the two characters that is demonstrated in the following quote: “Mike never dated [his girlfriend] or wanted to; he just let Robbie think he did so he could lord it over him.”

    Correct Answer:

    Mike is playing an emotional game with Robbie’s girlfriend that has caused a brotherly feud.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (D). Mike’s deception causes the original argument that continues throughout the text. Option (A) is incorrect; though Robbie accuses Mike of this later, the quote given is not about the boat. Option (C) is incorrect, again because it is not in the particular quote given, and Mike called him a cry-baby later, not a girl. Option (B) is incorrect because, well, they are having an argument. Pay attention.

  2.  I. “Mike refused to admit to Robbie that it was all a ruse, so he did what was easy and kept to the lie.” Paragraph 14 A.                                                                                                            II. “He didn’t realize how much his brother’s comment stung until the next morning, a poison going right to his core. Bad dreams still lingering in his mind, he was disinclined to go and reconcile with his brother, and as the day went on he let the resentment take hold.” Paragraph 17                                                                                                                          III. “…he had mixed feelings of indignation and reprieve when he saw Robbie hurrying toward him.” Paragraph 19                                                                                                                  IV. “Mike still did not say anything, and then he stopped breathing.” Paragraph 20

    Is that what she said? Based on the quotes below, which statement best illustrates the development of Mike’s character?

    Correct Answer:

    Mike is too cowardly to take responsibility for actions he knows were wrong, and he stubbornly dies without resolving his own conflicted feelings.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (C). You could say Mike’s thoughts go from, “I don’t even care,” to, “okay, my bad,” to, “ugh, yeah, but I’m not saying sorry.” There is a clear development of his thoughts on the matter. Mike is aware of the conflict, but he never gets to the point of wanting to repair the relationship, as suggested in options (A) and (B). Option (D) is not correct because the character clearly struggles with an internal conflict. Just because he doesn’t decide to resolve it by the time he dies does not mean he didn’t grow.

  3. Some chitchat with the characters. Choose the line that best supports the following statement: Mike’s interaction with the island parallels the conflict with his brother; he is unable to reconcile either, which leads to his death.

    Correct Answer:

    “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.”

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (A). This answer demonstrates the two conflicts Mike faces as one, like Two-Face from Batman. Answer (B) is incorrect because it simply states Mike’s emotional reaction to the island at one time; there is no suggested parallel between the conflicts. Options (C) and (D) use animalistic language to describe Robbie. Though these may foreshadow the death of Mike, the quotes deal primarily with Robbie rather than drawing parallels to the island.

  4. Word up. It’s not lame; it’s a throwback to 80’s hip-hop, bro. What do word choices such as, “perched,” “slid,” “stung,” “spring,” and “growl” suggest about Robbie’s character and his interactions with his brother?

    Correct Answer:

    Both (B) and (C).

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (D). The two options presented are suggested throughout the story, not just by the descriptions given, but also through major events. Option (A) is incorrect because some of these descriptions were in reference to docile and concerned actions. Robbie does attempt to save Mike in the end… remember?

  5.  I. Mike wants to continue looking for objects to help him on the island and finds the GPS.          II. Mike argues with his brother purposefully; the reader discovers that it is a false dispute and Mike would rather lie than correct it.                                                                                        III. Mike grapples with the thoughts of his brother’s hostile feelings towards him and his own guilt in the matter.                                                                                                                              IV. Mike is stung by a jellyfish and is unable to save himself, nor is he willing to call out for help.

    How does the following sequence of events contribute to the theme?

    Correct Answer:

    Mike’s interactions with Robbie and the events on the island point to the same idea of the inability to relinquish pride due to cowardice.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (B). Mike is too much of a coward to admit he was wrong about both the origin of the argument and that the island “won.” He can’t make the decision to forsake his pride, even if it means death. Option (A) is not entirely correct; there is no evidence that he purposefully disregards the dangers on the island. Option (C) does not discuss a relevant theme. Option (D) only discusses one aspect of the conflict, and it does not specifically state a theme.

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