Common Core Standards: ELA
L.11-12.2. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
- Observe hyphenation conventions.
- Spell correctly.
Using standard American English also means knowing how to capitalize, punctuate, and spell the standard American English one puts in writing. By grades 11 and 12, most students should be familiar with the basics, such as that capital letters come at the beginning of sentences and proper nouns and that periods (or question marks, exclamation points, or ellipses) end them. These grades provide the opportunity, in the opinion of the Common Core State Standards, to deal with a more subtle punctuation problem - the use of the hyphen - and to continue the lifelong battle to master English-language spelling.
Sample Activities for Use in Class
1. Hyphenated Adjectives
The hyphen is often used to combine several words that are all part of an adjective phrase describing a noun. Knowing when to hyphenate adjectives can be tricky, so it pays to practice.
Give students the following six questions and have them mark which ones use hyphens correctly and which do not. Students may work alone or in groups. When they’re finished, discuss the answers students came up with and explain the correct answers.
1. My pet parakeet, Mariposa, is eleven-years-old today.
(Answer: “eleven years old” should not contain hyphens, since it is the object of the sentence, and it does not directly modify any noun.)
2. Mariposa is the smartest eleven-year-old parakeet I know, even if she is getting old.
(Answer: “eleven-year-old” should be hyphenated, since it immediately precedes and describes “parakeet.”)
3. The vet told me that parakeets as old as Mariposa are difficult-to-find, especially in the wild.
(Answer: no hyphens, for the same reasons as Question 1.)
4. In addition to being my difficult-to-find parakeet, Mariposa can also sing the trombone part in John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” even though she thinks Sousa is a terrible composer.
(Answer: hyphens, for the same reasons as Question 4.)
5. Lots of people and other parakeets seem to like Sousa, though, because his terrible-composer music is played all over the world and people always applaud for it.
(Answer: hyphens, because “terrible-composer” directly modifies “music.”)
6. I’ve played the trombone part in “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” though, and I can tell you that it’s not-as-fun-as-it-looks.
(Answer: no hyphens, for the same reasons as Questions 1 and 3.)
2. Homophones: The Hidden Traps of English Spelling
Homophones are words that sound the same, but are spelled differently. There are a wide range of these in English, and by grades 11-12, most kids have mastered - or are at least familiar with - the easy ones, like to/too/two and their/they’re. Nevertheless, there’s a whole world of homophones just waiting to show up as spelling errors in a paper or email.
Have students review the seven sentences below. All the underlined words are spelled correctly, but not all are the correct word in the context of the sentence. Have students identify which ones they think are correct and why, then discuss the right answers as a class.
1. After seeing the Porsche run the red light, the officer pulled the driver over and sited
(Answer: “sited” means “located.” The correct word to use here is “cited.”)
2. Although the other kids thought it was a great idea, Carrie refused to shoplift any candy, deciding instead to be true to her principals
(Answer: the “principal” is the person who is in charge of a school. Carrie is actually being true to her “principles,” or guidelines for moral behavior.)
3. Malia poured over the ancient manuscript, realizing she was the first person to see it in over a thousand years.
(Answer: if Malia “poured” something on an ancient manuscript, she’d be in deep trouble, because she probably would have ruined it. Instead, Malia is examining the manuscript carefully, which should be expressed by using the word “pored” (present tense “pore”).)
4. Manuel brought red wine to the party because he knew it would compliment the hostess’s choice to serve roast beef.
(Answer: Complimenting the hostess would be a polite thing for Manuel to do, but it has nothing to do with which wine goes with roast beef. “Compliment” means to praise someone; “complement” means to go along well with something.)
5. Jonas was shocked to learn that his football coach had caught HIV, but he promised to be discrete by not revealing the information.
(Answer: “discrete” refers to a series or group of separated things. Jonas needs to be “discreet” about his coach’s sensitive information by keeping it on the down low.)
6. Although they still loved England, the entire family became ex-patriots when they moved to Canada.
(Answer: an “ex-patriot” is someone who used to love his country, but doesn’t anymore. When this family moved to Canada, they more likely became “expatriates,” not “ex-patriots.”)
7. The twins thought babysitting would be a snap, until they found themselves overcome by a hoard of their charge’s screaming best friends.
(Answer: a “hoard” is a collection of something. A “horde” is a group of people or animals, usually stampeding.)