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Common Core Standards: ELA

Grades 11-12

Language L.11-12.1

L.11-12.1. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

  • Apply the understanding that usage is a matter of convention, can change over time, and is sometimes contested.
  • Resolve issues of complex or contested usage, consulting references (e.g., Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, Garner’s Modern American Usage) as needed.

Standard American English is like the “common language” of the U.S.: you’ll be understood by almost everyone else when you use it, even if it’s not the way of speaking you’re most comfortable with or that even makes the most sense to you. It is, however, a useful way to get things done in business, law, education, and nearly everywhere else. It is not, unfortunately, always the most mind-blowingly exciting thing to teach. That’s where we come in. This Common Core State Standard challenges students to understand and use standard English words, phrases, and grammar successfully, with an emphasis on usage in grades 11 and 12.

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Example 1

Sample Activities for Use In Class

1. The President’s Speech

(Adapted from http://www.nytimes.com/learning/teachers/studentactivity/20090226.pdf )

Give each student a worksheet, or display for students to read and copy, the following questions. Each one is taken from a 2009 speech by U.S. President Barack Obama. In each question, have students write down which sentence uses the correct pronouns, with a brief explanation of why the student’s choice is the correct one.

Once students have worked through all three examples, have them discuss in groups or as a class the following questions:

  • Which one of the sample sentences in each question was actually the sentence the President used? (Answer: it’s the first one in each set.)
  • Does the President appear to use proper standard English pronouns? If not, why not? What appear to be the mistakes he’s making?
  • Are you surprised that the President uses pronouns in this way? What might be some reasons he might choose to do so deliberately? What might be some reasons he made a genuine mistake?

1. I have told each of my cabinet, as well as mayors and governors across the country, that they will be held accountable by me and the American people for every dollar they spend.

I have told each of my cabinet, as well as mayors and governors across the country, that they will be held accountable by the American people and me for every dollar they spend.

I have told each of my cabinet, as well as mayors and governors across the country, that they will be held accountable by the American people and I for every dollar they spend.

I have told each of my cabinet, as well as mayors and governors across the country, that they will be held accountable by I and the American people for every dollar they spend.

2. Now, I understand that, on any given day, Wall Street may be more comforted by an approach that gives bank bailouts with no strings attached and that holds nobody accountable for their reckless decisions, but such an approach won't solve the problem.

Now, I understand that, on any given day, Wall Street may be more comforted by an approach that gives bank bailouts with no strings attached and that holds nobody accountable for his reckless decisions, but such an approach won't solve the problem.

3. So I know how unpopular it is to be seen as helping banks right now, especially when everyone is suffering in part from their bad decisions.

So I know how unpopular it is to be seen as helping banks right now, especially when everyone is suffering in part from his bad decisions.

Example 2

2. Moving Targets

Usage is a “moving target.” Unlike, say, the Pythagorean Theorem or how many atoms make up a mole (6.0221415 × 10^23), the “correct” ways to use Standard American English change over time, requiring students to pay constant attention in order to keep up. Luckily, the rules of Standard American English change more slowly than the rules of slang terms.

Share with students, via display or on worksheets, the following terms that describe different usage changes and their definitions:

Economy: over time, people make words and phrases shorter, or combine or change word sounds in order to make words and phrases easier to say. Example: “gonna” as a shorter, quicker version of “going to.”

Analogy: certain words disappear from the language, or are invented, based on the rules people already use for other words in the language. Example: the verb “to help” once had the past tense “holp,” as in “I help with the dishes; yesterday Janie holp with the dishes.” Today, “holp” has been replaced by “helped,” which is based on the past tense version of other, regular verbs like “danced” and “washed.”

Language Contact: words borrowed from other languages become standard parts of English over time. Example: the Japanese word “tsunami,” which English speakers in the U.S. now understand as a word that means the same as the English “tidal wave.”

Medium of Communication: words, phrases, and grammar are invented, changed, or dropped out of use depending what tools people use to communicate them. Example: text-message abbreviations, like “idk” (I don’t know) or “LOL” (laugh out loud), arose out of the medium of electronic communication.

Cultural Environment: words and phrases are invented or changed to reflect the world around the people using the language. Example: in the late 1700s, the phrase “the United States” was plural, because the emphasis was on separate states that had united under one common government. Today, however, the phrase “the United States” is almost always singular, emphasizing that the identities of the individual states are no longer as important as the identity of the whole country as one piece.

Alone or in groups, have students brainstorm additional examples of each type of language change. You may want to provide them with dictionaries, usage guides, or other tools to help them look up examples. If students hesitate or are confused, suggest they begin with “nonstandard” words, phrases, or usages that have become standard over time and can now be found in the dictionary, explaining what kinds of change might have created each word. Examples include “irregardless,” “ain’t,” “disrespect” used as a verb, or “bling” (describing shiny jewelry or other expensive objects).

Quiz 1 Questions

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

  1. Where would it be appropriate to use Standard American English when speaking or writing?

    Correct Answer:

    Any of the above

    Answer Explanation:

    (e) - The above scenarios are all reasonably formal, so Standard American English would be the best mode of communication rather than the slang you use with your friends.


  2. Why is studying Standard American English a life-long project?

    Correct Answer:

    Because language changes over time.

    Answer Explanation:

    (b) - Yes! Language evolves and changes; new methods of expression come into the language, and archaic language gets phased out.


  3. Which of the following is an example of language changing through contact with another language?

    Correct Answer:

    The Japanese word “shanpuu” was borrowed from the English equivalent, “shampoo.”

    Answer Explanation:

    (d) - This is the only answer choice that deals with the influence of one language on another.


  4. Which of the following is an example of language changing through analogy?

    Correct Answer:

    The plural of “house” is “houses,” so the plural of “mouse” (as in “computer mouse”) is “mouses” - as in, “We should order some new mouses for the workstations.”

    Answer Explanation:

    (a) - Since this is based on the rule for another word in the language, it depicts how language changes through analogy.


  5. In the sentence “I was gonna go to the store, but now I don’t wanna,” the words “gonna” and “wanna” are examples of which kind of language change?

    Correct Answer:

    economy

    Answer Explanation:

    (c) - “Going to” and “want to” are contracted into “gonna” and “wanna” because they are easier to say.


  6. Questions 6-10 are based on the following scenario: Suppose that you are the captain of the first human space mission to Mars. All six members of your crew (including yourself) can speak and understand Standard American English, in addition to speaking at least one other language or dialect in addition to Standard American English. Upon landing on Mars, your team discovers that in fact there are such people as “Martians” and that they live underground.

    Which language or dialect are your spaceship’s computer screens MOST likely to display information in, and why?

    Correct Answer:

    Standard American English, because everyone on the crew understands it.

    Answer Explanation:

    (d) - A common language that everyone understands would be the most practical choice.


  7. As you’re preparing to land on the surface of Mars, your spaceship is suddenly caught in a storm of red dust. Some of the dust blows into the ventilation ports near the engines, and all your computer screens suddenly go black. Your engineer begins to curse in Spanish about “las computadoras,” a word you notice is very similar to the English word “computer.” Which of the following types of language change BEST explains this similarity?

    Correct Answer:

    borrowing from one language to another by language contact

    Answer Explanation:

    (d) - This shows how one language has influenced another.


  8. Upon meeting the Martians, you realize that, while they all speak the same language when working or communicating with strangers, individual groups of Martians seem to speak a different language when they are in private or around family or close friends. Which of the following is MOST likely the reason Martians use a common language when speaking to other Martians they don’t know as well?

    Correct Answer:

    They can accomplish more work, buy things, and do other activities of daily living more easily when everyone can communicate with everyone else.

    Answer Explanation:

    (d) - They seem to have their own Martian version of Standard American English that all of them can understand!


  9. After a few days in the Martian underground city, you begin picking up some of the Martian language. You notice that the shops where Martians buy food all have signs that say “kalamazoo” on them, but that when Martians talk about buying food, they talk about going to the “kala.” The difference between the spoken word for a food shop and the written one is an example of what kind of language change?

    Correct Answer:

    Economizing by shortening longer words

    Answer Explanation:

    (c) - The Martians are shortening longer words just like we do when we say “’cause” for “because” or “won’t” for “will not.”


  10. One of your crew members decides to stay in the Martian city instead of going back to Earth with the rest of the team. Which of the following changes to her use of Standard American English is MOST likely to occur the longer she stays on Mars?

    Correct Answer:

    Her vocabulary will pick up Martian words for things through language contact.

    Answer Explanation:

    (b) - Prolonged contact with another language will result in her picking up Martian words and adding them to her own vocabulary.


Quiz 2 Questions

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

  1. In the book The Neverending Story, the characters speak two languages: the language their own species uses, and High Fantastican, a language spoken by everybody in the mythical land of Fantastica. High Fantastican MOST likely developed for which purpose?

    Correct Answer:

    To make it easier for different species to communicate, buy and sell goods, and make political agreements like peace treaties.

    Answer Explanation:

    (e) - It’s always practical to have a common language that anyone can use in order to communicate.


  2. In the 1930s, the word “gangster” was used to describe groups that engaged in organized criminal activities, often involving extortion, money laundering, and other financial shenanigans. After the bank instability in the late 2000s, the word “bankster,” a combination of “banker” and “gangster” began to appear, describing bankers who “took the money and ran” instead of acting responsibly. The word “bankster” is MOST likely an example of:

    Correct Answer:

    Making an analogy to the word “gangster.”

    Answer Explanation:

    (e) - The two words share a similar structure and sound, and therefore it is easy for listeners or readers to pick up on what the invented word “bankster” means even if they are previously unfamiliar with the word.


  3. Suppose you have a little brother, and he just came back from summer camp - with a head full of lice! You’re helping him wash his hair with the lice-killing shampoo when he tells you that the word “lice” should actually be “louses.” “The plural of ‘house’ is ‘houses,’ so the plural of ‘louse’ must be ‘louses,’” he says. Which kind of language change did your brother use to come up with this conclusion?

    Correct Answer:

    The rules of analogy state that two words that are similar when singular should also be similar while plural.

    Answer Explanation:

    (c) - Yes, your little brother is using the rules of analogy here.


  4. After your brother tells you that the plural of “louse” is “louses,” you decide to use an analogy to correct him. Which of the following will explain why he’s incorrect?

    Correct Answer:

    The plural of “mouse” is “mice.”

    Answer Explanation:

    (a) - Therefore, the plural of louse is lice!


  5. Tucked deep in the Rocky Mountains is a small town where the residents usually refer to more than one deer by adding an “s” to the end. For instance, a man from this town might say that today he saw one deer cross the road, and yesterday he saw three deers cross the road. When this man goes to a job interview on the East Coast, however, he gets funny looks for talking about the “two deers” he saw on his drive to the interview. Which of the following is the MOST likely reason the interviewers are confused?

    Correct Answer:

    In Standard American English, the plural of “deer” is “deer.”

    Answer Explanation:

    (c) - Standard American English has some odd rules, and this is one of them. The man who said “two deers” was getting funny looks because he was using language incorrectly.


  6. In English, the word is “book.” In Dutch, the word is “boek.” In Norwegian and Swedish, the word is “bok.” The fact that these three languages have a similar word for “book” MOST likely means that:

    Correct Answer:

    The languages traded words with one another when people speaking them came into contact via trade or other meetings.

    Answer Explanation:

    (a) - This is the way in which many languages impacted and influenced one another.


  7. In U.S. politics, a “recall election” is a second vote held on whether to keep a current representative in government or kick that person out. Which of the following represents a change in the use of the word “recall” over time?

    Correct Answer:

    A hundred years ago, a politician who was “recalled” was voted out of office, but today a politician who is “recalled” is up for a vote on whether or not to vote that person out of office.

    Answer Explanation:

    (b) - This is an example of how language evolves and changes with time.


  8. The use of the word “lol” to stand for “laugh out loud” arose from which of the following types of language change?

    Correct Answer:

    changes in technology that changed how people communicate

    Answer Explanation:

    (c) - The medium of communication influences languages in many ways, and communication technologies like SMS and instant messaging have had a huge impact on language.


  9. The word “lolworthy,” meaning “worthy to be laughed at,” was MOST likely created using which of the following examples of language change?

    Correct Answer:

    an analogy combining the Internet acronym “lol” with the suffix “-worthy,” as used in words like “laughworthy.”

    Answer Explanation:

    (a) - The word “lolworthy” was invented using the rules that existed for other similar words in the language – so this is an example of an analogy.


  10. If “lol” means “laugh out loud” and “lolworthy” means “worthy to be laughed-out-loud at,” then the word “loltastic” MOST likely means:

    Correct Answer:

    So fantastically funny it makes you laugh out loud

    Answer Explanation:

    (b) - You can figure this out by applying the rules of analogy yourself, and recognizing that it is a combination of “lol” and “fantastic.”


Aligned Resources

More standards from Grades 11-12 - Language