Common Core Standards: ELA
Does a single definitive text on any subject exist? It’s unlikely: not only do we, as humans, love to give our opinions, but no one text could likely discuss every possible angle on any given subject – not even if it’s stored on the Internet.
As a result, it’s important for students to be able to compare texts. Being able to compare and contrast the contents of texts gives greater insight into both of them, and it also allows the reader to understand the approaches the authors take to the subject by giving them a view of the options. It’s also the basis of research, since one source does not a research paper make.
I Just Haven’t Read You Yet
Everybody comes to a decision at some point in their academic career, usually on the brink of college they are faced with one of the biggest questions plaguing the youth of first world countries: Mac or PC? Here we have two computers that perform similar tasks, but approach those tasks in different ways. Just as any consumer must evaluate the similarities and differences between these two products, a reader must also be able to evaluate the differences between two texts on the same topic.
The task in this standard is not as complicated as all this sophisticated jargon might lead you to believe (much like a Mac; go on, give it a try). In the case of fiction: if the topic is love and you have a short story and a poem, then students should discuss the theme (topic) and how it is conveyed in both, as well as the style of communicating this idea. In the case of nonfiction: if you have a speech by Martin Luther King Jr. and an article analyzing or referencing that speech, students should evaluate both for the central theme they have in common and again, note the style.
Still sounding complicated? Let’s take it piece by piece:
- Themes and Topics: Obviously square one with this task is to help your students identify and evaluate the theme that is being presented in multiple documents. Identification of theme can be simple in non-fiction texts when it is explicitly stated in the opening of a speech or debate. When the theme is implicit or implied, as in most fictional works, it can be a bit more difficult. However, careful reading and the comparison of both texts should give you a hint at the central idea they share.
- Building Knowledge: The use of multiple sources to further your knowledge on any topic is absolutely necessary. It is the only way to gain a kind of perspective on an idea. If you’ve only ever used a PC your entire life, then how would you be able to discuss the style and benefits of a Mac (which are vast and thrilling)?
- Above and Beyond: Read more than is necessary on a topic. When asked for two sources, look for a third. Research skills can also come into play when building your knowledge base on a given topic. Don’t groan; knowledge is power (like Mac battery life power; I don’t even want to talk about the ever-present tail on PC laptops).
- Comparing Styles: The approach an author takes in discussing a topic is essentially their style. How does one author communicate an idea differently than another? Consider word choice, rhetorical devices, form, and structure. Remember though, style isn’t just fancy accessories for writing; it shapes the reader’s understanding and response to the content. Students must be able to discuss how and why the style is important to the writing, and it can be a little easier to do a stylistic analysis when you have two texts to compare, so this is a great standard for teaching that. No getting off easy, though; make your students dig in.
So have you decided yet? Did the loaded commercial sway you in your computer decision? The comparison of two similar things is pretty easy; the application of both to the same idea is where it gets a little difficult. Whether you’re a PC or a Mac, a manuscript or a commentary, keep your eyes on the prize and find the common theme.
Quiz QuestionsHere's an example of a quiz that could be used to test this standard.
Read the following two texts and answer the questions that follow.
I Hear America Singing7
By Walt Whitman
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand
singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as
The wood-cutter's song, the ploughboy's on his way in the morning,
or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work,
or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young
fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.
7 Whitman, Walt (2008). Leaves of Grass. Project Gutenberg. Retrieved February 29, 2012, from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1322/1322-h/1322-h.htm
From Chapter 6 “Cotton,” The Quest for the Silver Fleece8
By W.E.B. Dubois
The cry of the naked was sweeping the world. From the peasant toiling in Russia, the lady lolling in London, the chieftain burning in Africa, and the Esquimaux freezing in Alaska; from long lines of hungry men, from patient sad-eyed women, from old folk and creeping children went up the cry, "Clothes, clothes!" Far away the wide black land that belts the South, where Miss Smith worked and Miss Taylor drudged and Bles and Zora dreamed, the dense black land sensed the cry and heard the bound of answering life within the vast dark breast. All that dark earth heaved in mighty travail with the bursting bolls of the cotton while black attendant earth spirits swarmed above, sweating and crooning to its birth pains.
After the miracle of the bursting bolls, when the land was brightest with the piled mist of the Fleece, and when the cry of the naked was loudest in the mouths of men, a sudden cloud of workers swarmed between the Cotton and the Naked, spinning and weaving and sewing and carrying the Fleece and mining and minting and bringing the Silver till the Song of Service filled the world and the poetry of Toil was in the souls of the laborers. Yet ever and always there were tense silent white-faced men moving in that swarm who felt no poetry and heard no song, and one of these was John Taylor.
8 Dubois, W. E. B. (2005). “Cotton,” The Quest for the Silver Fleece. Project Gutenberg. Retrieved February 29, 2012, from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/15265/15265-h/15265-h.htm