Common Core Standards: ELA
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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Using this Standard
Sample Activities for Use In Class
1. The President’s Speech
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.
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).