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Common Core Standards: ELA

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening

Speaking and Listening CCRA.SL.3

3. Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

Back when we were very young, we started evaluating how believable others were. Our ability to evaluate the truth of another person’s claims got a little stronger that time we accused a classmate of not really spending his summer vacation on the moon, and when we finally stopped crying through daycare because we figured out that Mom and Dad really were going to come back, just like they promised.

By the time your students leave high school, however, they should have a much firmer and more articulate grasp on what it means to evaluate someone else’s words. For instance, a student should be able to listen to a classmate’s claims and answer questions like:

  • Who is this person? Does she have any experience, education, or other qualities that suggest she knows what she’s talking about?
  • What is she trying to prove? 
  • Does her train of thought from point A to point B make sense? If not, where does it derail?
  • What examples does she use to support her point? Are they good examples? 
  • Are there other examples that would also make this point, or that would blow it out of the water? 
  • What parts of this story confuse me? What information would I need to clear up these parts, or to tell whether they are true or false?
  • Is she successful in persuading me to agree with her? Do I “buy what she’s selling,” either literally or figuratively?

A Quick Note on Rhetoric: “Rhetoric” is the five-dollar synonym of “persuasiveness.” Make sure that students understand the difference between rhetoric and charisma. Rhetoric is a person’s ability to convince because his arguments are solid; charisma is a person’s ability to convince because of his magnetic personal qualities. If a classmate convinces you the sky is green because the evidence he gives is so strong you can’t disagree, that’s rhetoric. If a classmate convinces you the sky is green because his fabulous smile and slick moves make you think he’s too awesome to disagree with, that’s charisma.

Example 1

Sample Questions for Use in Class

1. Read the following passage aloud to the class, and then discuss the questions below. (This exercise can also be done in small groups.)

“We have been informed that the legislature has the right to prescribe the course of study in the public schools. Within reason, they no doubt have. They could not prescribe a course of study, I am inclined to think, under your constitution, which omitted arithmetic and geography and writing. Neither, under the rest of the constitution, if it shall remain in force in the state, could they prescribe it if the course of study was only to teach religion; because several hundred years ago, when our people believed in freedom, and when no men felt so sure of their own sophistry that they were willing to send a man to jail who did not believe them, the people of Tennessee adopted a constitution, and they made it broad and plain, and said that the people of Tennessee should always enjoy religious freedom in its broadest terms. So I assume that no legislature could fix a course of study which violated that. For instance, suppose the legislature should say, “We think the religious privileges and duties of the citizens of Tennessee are much more important than education; we agree with the distinguished governor of the state - if religion must go or learning must go, why, let learning go.” I do not know how much it would have to go, but let it go. “And therefore, we will establish a course in the public schools of teaching that the Christian religion as unfolded in the Bible, is true, and that every other religion, or mode or system of ethics, is false; and to carry that out, no person in the public schools shall be permitted to read or hear anything except Genesis, Pilgrim’s Progress, Baxter’s Saint Rest, and In His Image.” Would that be constitutional? If it is, the constitution is a lie and a snare and the people have forgotten what liberty means.”

- Clarence Darrow, opening statements for the defense in Tennessee v. Scopes, 1925

1. Who is this person?

(You may need to drop some hints. Clarence Darrow, the speaker, was the attorney who represented Tennessee schoolteacher John T. Scopes when Tennessee tried to charge Scopes with the crime of teaching evolution in his biology classes. This passage is taken from Darrow’s opening statements at the 1925 trial. In the classroom, any answers that indicate he’s a lawyer or that he’s someone arguing in favor of freedom of religion and/or for keeping religion out of the public schools will suffice.)

2. What is his point of view?

(You may be able to skip this question if your students covered the points in their answers to the first question. Darrow’s position is that evolution cannot be banned from public schools for religious reasons, just like all subjects except Christianity could not be banned from public schools for religious reasons. Darrow leans heavily on the idea of liberty to do, think, and believe whatever one wants, and the fact that the Tennessee state constitution -- and, arguably, the U.S. Constitution -- protects this right.)

3. What reasoning or examples does the speaker use to support his point of view?

(Possible Answers: Darrow tries to point out that Tennessee cannot make it a criminal offense to teach a non-religious subject in schools for a religious reason. He does so by pointing out that the act’s logical opposite -- making it a criminal offense to teach anything but religion in schools for a religious reason -- is also absurd. Darrow also refers to the state constitution and its freedom-of-religion provisions, but he does not specifically lean on it to make his point. If he had, he most likely would have quoted from the state constitution; a quote would be one example of a piece of evidence that would make this part of Darrow’s argument more convincing.

4. How persuasive is the speaker’s argument? Are you convinced to see things his way? If not, what additional evidence might help convince you?

(Possible Answers: The answers to this may be all over the map, depending on how personally convinced the students feel, which in turn likely depends on their views on religious education in public schools to begin with. Students who find Darrow convincing may point out details like Darrow’s point that the state can put certain subjects in the curriculum or take them out, but the state cannot do that with religious subjects according to its own constitution. They may also grasp onto Darrow’s last line and point out that either people have freedom of religion, or the state constitution is “a lie” or otherwise worthless. Meanwhile, students who are not convinced may point out facts like Darrow’s failure to quote the state constitution, so nobody knows what it really says. They may also point out that Darrow never really says the state can’t ban evolution from the public schools; they just can’t do it because of religion.)

Example 2

2. Read the following passage aloud in class, and then discuss the questions that follow. (This will also work for small groups.)

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

- the Declaration of Independence

1. Who is this person? What is his point of view?

(Don’t let your students get away merely with saying “Thomas Jefferson,” “a Founding Father,” “father of Our Country” (that was Washington, anyway), or the equivalent. All of these things are true to some extent. However, the Declaration of Independence is more accurately described as a joint letter with multiple “speakers.” You may need to prompt your students to think about what this letter is trying to convey by asking them questions like what the speaker is advocating (overthrow of an oppressive government) and why he thinks he can do that (the “natural right” to escape unfair governance trumps the legal concern that doing so may be treason).

One particularly striking thing about this particular document is that, at the time, the notion of government getting its power from the consent of the people, and the notion of a natural right to form a republican government were shockingly new - so new, in fact, that most of the “experts” on government would probably have just had a good laugh at the idea. Therefore, the speaker here is not only stating a point of view, but a brand new point of view that might get him mocked, if not killed. How might that have affected what the speaker chose to say in this passage?)

2. What reasoning or evidence does the speaker use to support his point of view?

(Possible Answers: In almost the first sentence, the speaker invokes a “Creator” that gives human beings natural and “unalienable” rights - here, to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”Also, the speaker seems to invoke the “truths” he offers as their own authority by referring to them as “self-evident.” You may wish to discuss with students how persuasive it is to say that something is “self-evident” and then act as if it’s so without giving any other evidence to support it. The speaker also casts the throwing off of oppressive government rule by the people as a “duty.” A duty to whom? At a time when all governments were basically monarchies where all the subjects owed the king their loyalty till they died, how much sense did it make to say the people had a “duty” to turn against the very person (the king) to whom they supposedly had all or any “duty?)

3. How persuasive is the speaker’s argument? Are you convinced to see things his way? If not, what additional evidence might help convince you?

(Like in the previous example, the answers to this question will depend on the students’ particular positions. Many will probably find the document convincing on the grounds that it’s the Declaration of Independence, one of the many things that we tend to believe makes America The Greatest Country Ever. Other support for the speaker’s persuasiveness include his references to oppression that people find intolerable or unbearable, since it makes more sense for people suffering severe oppression to say, “We can’t take this anymore,” than it does for people suffering only mild annoyances to do so. Some students may be persuaded by the references to natural, unalienable, or Creator-given rights. Those who don’t find Jefferson’s words persuasive may say that there’s no way to test whether or not a “self-evident” or Creator-endowed quality is “true” or whether it even exists.)

Example 3

3. Critical Listening

Have students form groups. Within their groups, students should choose one person to tell the story of what he or she did over the weekend. (This story may be real or made up, whichever the speaker prefers.) While this person is speaking, the other students should consider the following questions and take notes if necessary. Once the person has finished speaking, have students share their responses to the student's speech with one another.

  • Does the speaker have experience, education, or other qualities that suggest she knows what she’s talking about?
  • What is she trying to prove? 
  • Does her train of thought from point A to point B make sense? If not, where does it derail?
  • What examples does she use to support her point? Are they good examples? 
  • Are there other examples that would also make this point, or that would blow it out of the water? 
  • What parts of this story confuse me? What information would I need to clear up these parts, or to tell whether they are true or false?
  • Is she persuading me to agree with her - do I “buy what she’s selling,” either literally or figuratively?

Quiz 1 Questions

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

“It seems to me that production of detective stories on so large a scale, and by writers whose immediate reward is small and whose need of critical praise is almost nil, would not be possible at all if the job took any talent. In that sense the raised eyebrow of the critic and the shoddy merchandizing of the publisher are perfectly logical. The average detective story is probably no worse than the average novel, but you never see the average novel. It doesn’t get published. The average—or only slightly above average—detective story does. ...And the strange thing is that this average, more than middling dull, pooped-out piece of utterly unreal and mechanical fiction is not terribly different from what are called the masterpieces of the art. It drags on a little more slowly, the dialogue is a little grayer, the cardboard out of which the characters are cut is a shade thinner, and the cheating is a little more obvious; but it is the same kind of book. Whereas the good novel is not at all the same kind of book as the bad novel. It is about entirely different things. But the good detective story and the bad detective story are about exactly the same things, and they are about them in very much the same way.”

- Raymond Chandler, “The Simple Art of Murder”

  1. The author of this piece writes from the point of view of someone who:

    Correct Answer:

    Has read both good and bad novels and good and bad detective stories.

    Answer Explanation:

    (b) - He speaks knowledegably about good and bad detective stories and novels to support his points.


  2. The author of this piece argues that detective writing doesn’t take much talent, if any. Which of the following points does he use to support this theory?

    Correct Answer:

    There is a huge market for detective stories by writers of middling talent who are not paid well and don’t get praise from literary critics.

    Answer Explanation:

    (c) - This is the point he makes in his first sentence: “It seems to me that production of detective stories on so large a scale, and by writers whose immediate reward is small and whose need of critical praise is almost nil, would not be possible at all if the job took any talent.”


  3. What is one difference the author points out between good and bad novels and good and bad detective stories?

    Correct Answer:

    It’s easy to tell a good novel from a bad one, but almost impossible to tell a good detective story from a bad one.

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - True, but Chandler doesn’t mention it.
    • (d) - *correct answer

  4. Based on the arguments above, which of the following statements would the author of this passage most likely agree with?

    Correct Answer:

    It would be hard to read every detective novel published each year, let alone tell the good ones from the bad ones.

    Answer Explanation:

    (b) - Maybe, but requires an inference that these people don’t also read novels; (a) is the better answer.


  5. The author notes that “shoddy merchandizing” of detective novels is “perfectly logical” if they are books written by people with no talent. Which of the following facts, if true, would also make “shoddy merchandizing” logical when selling detective novels?

    Correct Answer:

    Detective novels will sell whether or not the publisher pays for a glitzy ad campaign.

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - One could infer this means there’s no reason to merchandise, then, but the inference is weak at best.
    • (b) - Not needing high pay or critical acclaim is not the same thing.
    • (c) - Indicates the whole book is cheap - but why would selling it have to be?
    • (d) - Therefore, why waste the money? *correct answer
    • (e) - According to the author, there’s at least one - these are books of poor literary merit.

  6. Suppose that your best friend writes detective fiction and is very proud of her work. You show her this essay, and even though she’s offended, she says, “Well, I can’t argue with him, because____.” Which of the following phrases most likely completes your friend’s sentence?

    Correct Answer:

    “Just last week, a newspaper book review confused my latest book with the new one by I.M. Anovelist.”

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - Perhaps, but it’s an emotional response, not a rational one. Also, a detective fiction writer probably knows that Raymond Chandler is among the most famous American detective fiction writers.
    • (b) - Doesn’t speak to Chandler’s points.
    • (c) - Confirms Chandler’s point that detective fiction novels are rarely distinguishable from one another. *correct answer
    • (d) - Maybe true, but (c) more directly addresses Chandler’s points and is therefore the better answer.
    • (e) - Plenty of things in books aren’t true. Or does your friend really commit all those murders in her novels?

  7. You don’t like hearing your friend give up on herself so easily, and you want to say something that will lift her spirits. Keeping the essay above in mind, which of the following will MOST likely make your friend feel better?

    Correct Answer:

    “You are really talented. Remember how the reviewers all said your novel was excellent?”

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - If Chandler is correct and good novels can be told apart from bad ones, then the fact that critics liked your friend’s novel indicates she does have talent, even if it’s impossible to tell from reading her detective fiction. *correct answer
    • (b) - Chandler doesn’t mention copying, and anyway was your friend really copied by authors who died before she was even born? If so, that would make an awesome detective story.

  8. The author claims that all detective novels are basically the same. Which of the following facts, if true, would make his point even MORE convincing?

    Correct Answer:

    A study done in 2002 found that a class of high school students all agreed on the basic elements of a detective story, even when each person had read a different story.

    Answer Explanation:

    • (c) - Maybe, but (d) is a more specific answer.
    • (d) - Implies that the elements are all basically the same.

  9. The author argues that good novels and bad novels are about entirely different things. Which pair of books described below provides the best evidence to support this claim?

    Correct Answer:

    A “good novel” about learning to see one’s inner beauty and a “bad novel” about how awful it is when ants infest your kitchen.

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - There’s no reason love wouldn’t triumph in the end of the second one.
    • (b) - These two things aren’t even related. *correct answer

  10. Suppose the author of this piece has all five of the characteristics listed below. Which one increases the author’s persuasiveness the MOST in this essay?

    Correct Answer:

    He writes detective fiction.

    Answer Explanation:

    (c) - This would make him a credible commenter on detective fiction.


Quiz 2 Questions

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

For Questions 1 - 10 below, assume that you and your three friends, Brandy, Randy, and Mandy are attending a speech together. The topic is “How to Be A Good Citizen.”

  1. Before the speech starts, you read in the program that the speaker, Candace McDandy, was recently released from prison after serving time for armed robbery of an ice cream truck. Based on this information, you predict that the speaker will say one reason to be a good citizen is that:

    Correct Answer:

    Being a bad citizen by breaking the law might get you sent to prison.

    Answer Explanation:

    (b) - The speech will probably be from the point of view of Candace the ex-convict.


  2. Just before the speech begins, your friend Randy leans over and whispers, “Hey, I know this woman. She went to prison but she only served a year because she bought off the judge.” Assuming this information is true, does it make what you are about to hear about being a good citizen more persuasive or less persuasive, and why?

    Correct Answer:

    Less persuasive - Someone who buys off a judge probably can’t be trusted to give reliable advice on being a good citizen.

  3. Candace begins her speech by saying “Hi, folks. I’m here to talk today about how important it is for good citizens to vote. First, let me introduce myself. Something you may not know about me is____.” Which of the following facts would MOST likely persuade the audience that Candace knows what’s she talking about when it comes to voting?

    Correct Answer:

    Candace was an attorney who did voting rights cases before her stint in prison.

    Answer Explanation:

    (d) - This would be evidence that the speaker has direct experience with the subject matter she is speaking about.


  4. Candace continues: “I’m sure you’ve all heard how important it is to vote. But a lot of young people don’t vote.” She then gives one of the following statistics. Which of these statistics, if true, supports her point that young people don’t vote?

    Correct Answer:

    Only 22 percent of people between 18 and 20 are even registered to vote, and less than half of that 22 percent have ever actually voted.

    Answer Explanation:

    (a) - This statistic is directly related to her point, and gives striking numbers to support her claim.


  5. As she explains the statistics on young people’s voting habits, Candace uses a projector to show graphs and charts of voting statistics. Which of the following images would be LEAST useful in understanding Candace’s argument that young people need to vote?

    Correct Answer:

    A photograph of a 20-year-old college student voting.

    Answer Explanation:

    (d) - This image does not add to her argument.


  6. Candace then begins to explain how voting is part of being a good citizen. Which of the following arguments is LEAST likely to persuade the audience that voting is part of being a good citizen?

    Correct Answer:

    Voting was so important to Candace that she went to court to get her voting rights back after she got out of prison.

    Answer Explanation:

    (c) - Shows that voting is important to Candace, but offers no evidence of the link between voting and being a good citizen. Presumably, Candace had voting rights before going to prison, but she committed armed robbery anyway.


  7. You get what Candace is saying about how voting can make someone a good citizen, but you don’t really agree. Which of the following arguments is MOST persuasive in showing that voting doesn’t always make you a good citizen?

    Correct Answer:

    Candace voted but she went to prison for robbery anyway, so voting did not make her a good citizen.

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - True, but that doesn’t mean that voting doesn’t make good citizens as well.
    • (b) - *correct answer

  8. During the question and answer session, your friend Mandy stands up as asks, “Why is voting so important? Can’t we be good citizens by picking up litter or volunteering at a pet shelter or something?” Which of the following responses would be MOST persuasive in making Candace’s point that voting is more important than other ways of being a good citizen?

    Correct Answer:

    Voting affects far more than just your local community.

    Answer Explanation:

    (a) - This addresses Mandy’s concerns directly and provides a thoughtful, convinicng reason to vote.


  9. Randy also stands up to ask a question: “How is voting supposed to help anything when people steal elections, like you did ten years ago?” Candace admits Randy is right, but then suggests other ways to be a good citizen. Given Candace’s obsession with voting, which of the activities listed below is most likely the one she recommends?

    Correct Answer:

    Working at the polls on voting day.

    Answer Explanation:

    (e) - This is the only answer choice that is directly related to voting.


  10. On the way home from the speech, your friend Randy says, “That was the worst speech I’ve ever heard. I know for a fact that all votes are rigged so the cool kids win.” Randy’s point of view is most likely the result of the fact that:

    Correct Answer:

    Randy is bitter after losing a student president election in sixth grade.

    Answer Explanation:

    (c) - This experience in his past has soured his view of elections in general.


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