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Common Core Standards: ELA

Grades 11-12

Language L.11-12.6

L.11-12.6. Acquire and use accurately general academic and domain-specific words and phrases, sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.

This final language-related core standard requires students to “put it all together” - to use their skills in understanding usage, spelling, syntax, figuring out word meanings, and understanding figurative language to tackle new and unfamiliar reading in college and/or the workplace. Being able to tackle standard American English - especially being able to recognize what one doesn’t know and find it out - independently is a major necessary life skill.

Example 1

Sample Activities for Use in Class

1. Review 1: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Have students read (aloud or to themselves) the following passage from Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, then try to answer the questions below. Then, gather students into groups or as a class, and discuss student’s answers along with possible other responses to the questions.

“Do you ever think of yourself as actually dead, lying in a box with a lid on it? No. Nor do I really. It's silly to be depressed by it. I mean, one thinks of it like being alive in a box. One keeps forgetting to take into account the fact that one is dead, which should make all the difference. Shouldn't it? I mean, you'd never know you were inside a box, would you? It would be just like you were asleep in a box. Not that I'd like to sleep in a box, mind you, not without any air. You'd wake up dead for a start, and then where would you be? Apart from inside a box. That's the bit I don't like, frankly. That's why I don't think of it. Because you'd be helpless, stuffed in a box like that, I mean, you'd be in there for ever. Even taking into account the fact that you're dead, it isn't a pleasant thought. Especially if you're dead, really. Ask yourself, if I asked you straight off, “I'm going to stuff you in this box now, would you rather be alive or dead?” Naturally, you’d prefer to be alive. Life in a box is better than no life at all. I expect. You'd have a chance at least. You could lie there thinking well, at least I'm not dead! In a minute somebody is going to bang on the lid and tell me to come out. [bangs fists on floor] Hey, you! What's yer name! Come out of there!”

1. The speaker in this passage repeats the words “alive,” “dead,” and “life” to drive home his point. What are some synonyms for each of these words? How does the passage change if you replace the words “alive,” “life,” and/or “dead” with one or more of their synonyms? Do the changes improve the passage, or do they interrupt its flow and/or make it more confusing?

2. The speaker’s statement that if you slept in a box without any air, “you’d wake up dead for a start” is an example of a paradox. What is the paradox created by this phrase? How does it add to (or confuse) your understanding of the speaker’s point? Is the speaker afraid of sleep? Of death? What does the speaker seem to think happens to you after you die, if anything?

3. The speaker in this passage uses a number of short sentences. Some consist of only a single word. Try combining some of these short sentences into longer ones, rearranging the words if necessary. Can you reduce the entire passage to only one, two, or three sentences? What happens to its meaning when you do? Is it easier or harder to follow?

4. The speaker claims that it’s better to be alive in a box, rather than dead in a box, because at least you would be alive. Does the speaker indicate there’s a difference between “being alive” and “living”? If so, what images does the speaker use to convey this difference? How would your understanding of the passage change if the speaker said “I think the difference between being alive and living is _____”?

Example 2

2. Review II: Reading On the Job

The following passage is an abstract from a U.S. Forest Service Research Report, “Drinking Water From Forests and Grasslands: A Synthesis of the Scientific Literature.” Have students read the passage and then try to answer the questions that follow. During discussion, have students share their answers and brainstorm additional possible answers as a group.

“This report reviews the scientific literature about the potential of common forest and grassland management to introduce contaminants of concern to human health into public drinking water sources. Effects of managing water, urbanization, recreation, roads, timber, fire, pesticides, grazing, wildlife and fish habitat, and mineral, oil, and gas resources on public drinking water source quality are reviewed. Gaps in knowledge and research needs are indicated. Managers of national forests and grasslands and similar lands in other ownerships, environmental regulators, and citizens interested in drinking water may use this report for assessing contamination risks associated with land uses.”

1. Where would you look if you weren’t sure what the word “synthesis” in the title meant? How does knowing what this word means change your understanding of what the report is about? What possible synonyms could the writer have used in place of “synthesis”?

2. The first sentence uses no fewer than six prepositional phrases. What are they? Try to rewrite the sentence in order to make it easier for a reader to understand. Break it into two or even three sentences if necessary. Are “contaminants of concern to human health” different from “contaminants”? If so, how? Would the writer of this abstract think to include a “contaminant” in water that didn’t harm (or even improved) human health in the report? Should the writer do so?

3. Based on the context, what does the sentence “Gaps in knowledge and research needs are indicated” most likely mean? If you aren’t sure, try looking up the various words in the sentence and replacing them with possible synonyms. Does this make the sentence’s meaning clearer?

Quiz 1 Questions

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

Questions 1-10 are based on the following passage from Shakespeare’s Richard III:

His majesty
Tendering my person's safety, hath appointed
This conduct to convey me to the Tower.

Upon what cause?

Because my name is George.

Alack, my lord, that fault is none of yours;
He should, for that, commit your godfathers:
O, belike his majesty hath some intent
That you shall be new-christen'd in the Tower.
But what's the matter, Clarence? may I know?

Yea, Richard, when I know; for I protest
As yet I do not: but, as I can learn,
He hearkens after prophecies and dreams;
And from the cross-row plucks the letter G.
And says a wizard told him that by G
His issue disinherited should be;
And, for my name of George begins with G,
It follows in his thought that I am he.
These, as I learn, and such like toys as these
Have moved his highness to commit me now.


We are the queen's abjects, and must obey.
Brother, farewell: I will unto the king;
And whatsoever you will employ me in,
Were it to call King Edward's widow sister,
I will perform it to enfranchise you.
Meantime, this deep disgrace in brotherhood
Touches me deeper than you can imagine.”

  1. In the last part of the passage, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, says “We are the queen’s abjects, and must obey.” This is a play on the phrase “we are the queen’s subjects.” To understand what Gloucester is really saying, you should:

    Correct Answer:

    Look up the word “abjects” in the dictionary or a thesaurus.

    Answer Explanation:

    (a) - Since this is a play on words, the best way to figure out what it means would be to look up the meaning of the word “abjects.” Since “abject” means “lowly or wretched,” we can figure out that Gloucester means that they are slaves to the queen’s every whim.

  2. When Gloucester says he will do anything “to enfranchise” his brother George, Duke of Clarence, the context of the poem reveals that “enfranchise” most likely means:

    Correct Answer:

    Get Clarence set free from prison.

    Answer Explanation:

    (c) - If you look up “enfranchise” in a dictionary, you will find that it means to either give someone the right to vote, or to give a slave freedom. In this context, it means that he will try to release Clarence from prison.

  3. In Standard American English, the line “brother, farewell; I will unto the king” should read:

    Correct Answer:

    “Goodbye for now, brother. I’m going to go talk to the king.”

    Answer Explanation:

    (d) - “Unto the king” means “go to the king.”

  4. Clarence explains why he’s being taken to the Tower of London under armed guard by saying “His majesty/Tendering my person's safety, hath appointed/This conduct to convey me to the Tower.” In literal Standard American English, this sentence would MOST likely be:

    Correct Answer:

    “The king wants to keep me safe, so he’s having me taken to the Tower by armed guards.”

    Answer Explanation:

    (e) - In this passage, “tendering” means “guarding,” “conduct” means “escort,” and “convey” means “take.”

  5. Clarence’s statement in Question 4 is an example of irony, or language that actually means the opposite of what is intended. Here, Clarence really means that:

    Correct Answer:

    The king is having Clarence locked up to keep the king safe, not to keep Clarence safe.

    Answer Explanation:

    (a) - The king clearly believes that if Clarence manages to escape, the king himself might be in danger; so he has sent guards to ensure that Clarence cannot escape.

  6. Clarence’s reference to “toys” that “have moved his Highness to commit me now” most likely means:

    Correct Answer:


    Answer Explanation:

    (c) - By calling them “toys,” the speaker makes it clear that he does not think very highly of these prophecies and superstitions.

  7. The phrase “he hearkens after prophecies and dreams,” in literal Standard American English, should read:

    Correct Answer:

    He listens to fortune-tellers and dream-interpreters.

    Answer Explanation:

    (b) - “Hearkens” means “listens.”

  8. In the line “his issue disinherited should be,” the underlined word MOST likely means:

    Correct Answer:

    Prevented from becoming king after he dies

    Answer Explanation:

    (c) - “Issue” means child or heir.

  9. If you needed to look up the meanings of the words in this passage, which of the following might give you the answers you need?

    Correct Answer:

    any of the above

    Answer Explanation:

    (e) - All of the above are great resources!

  10. Which of the following facts would be MOST helpful to keep in mind when reading Shakespeare?

    Correct Answer:

    The English language has changed between Shakespeare’s time and ours.

    Answer Explanation:

    (c) - English keeps evolving and changing with time, so some of the words that Shakespeare used are unfamiliar to us today.

Quiz 2 Questions

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

Questions 1-10 are based on the following introductory passage from the U.S. Department of Transportation report, “Traffic Safety Facts Research Note: Distracted Driving 2009.”

“As defined in the Overview of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Driver Distraction Program (DOT HS 811 299), “distraction” is a specific type of inattention that occurs when drivers divert their attention from the driving task to focus on some other activity instead. It is worth noting that distraction is a subset of inattention (which also includes fatigue, physical conditions of the driver, and emotional conditions of the driver).

There has been a revision in NHTSA’s classification of distracted driving since the September 2009 Research Note, An Examination of Driver Distraction as Recorded in NHTSA Databases (DOT HS 811 216). With this change, there will be fewer crashes, fatalities and injuries that reportedly involve driver distraction than would have been reported with the previous definition. For a full explanation of the change and the corresponding coding changes within NHTSA databases, please see Appendix A. There are inherent limitations in the data for distracted driving-related crashes and the resulting injuries and fatalities. These limitations are being addressed through efforts in and out of NHTSA as detailed in the Overview of NHTSA’s Driver Distraction Program. Appendix B describes limitations in the distracted-driving data. Appendix C discusses the specific coding for distracted driving data from the National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey (NMVCCS).”

  1. The passage MOST likely begins by giving a definition of “distraction” because:

    Correct Answer:

    The report uses a narrower definition of “distraction” than most Standard American English speakers use in their daily lives.

    Answer Explanation:

    (c) - In this passage, “distraction” is defined only in terms of driving.

  2. Based on the definition of “distraction” given in the first sentence, why would it be inappropriate to replace all the uses of the word “distraction” in this report with the words “driver inattention”?

    Correct Answer:

    The phrase “driver inattention” includes both “distractions” and things that are not distractions.

    Answer Explanation:

    (a) - “Driver inattention” also includes things like fatigue and the driver’s emotional state.

  3. Based on the context, the strings of letters and numbers beginning “DOT HS” in parentheses in the article are MOST likely:

    Correct Answer:

    Citations to other papers published by the Department of Transportation.

    Answer Explanation:

    (b) - “DOT HS” stands for “Department of Transportation Highway Safety.”

  4. Based on the context, Appendixes A, B, and C are MOST likely:

    Correct Answer:

    Separate but related reports that clarify terms, phrases, or methods used in this report.

    Answer Explanation:

    (d) - This is clear from the way these Appendixes are introduced and described.

  5. The report defines “distraction” as “a specific type of inattention that occurs when drivers divert their attention from the driving task....” The word “divert” could be replaced with which of the following synonyms?

    Correct Answer:

    take away from

    Answer Explanation:

    (e) - Drivers who typify “distraction” and “inattention” are NOT properly attending to their driving.

  6. In the sentence, “With this change, there will be fewer crashes, fatalities and injuries that reportedly involve driver distraction than would have been reported with the previous definition,” which of the following words is NOT spelled correctly?

    Correct Answer:

    all the words are spelled correctly

  7. Which of the following sentences is another way to say, in Standard American English, the same information given in the sentence “With this change, there will be fewer crashes, fatalities and injuries that reportedly involve driver distraction than would have been reported with the previous definition”?

    Correct Answer:

    Due to the change in the definition of “distraction,” fewer accidents, deaths, and injuries will be listed as being caused by “distraction” than were listed last year.

    Answer Explanation:

    (b) - This passage narrows down the definition of driver distraction, and points out the difference between that and other forms of driver inattentiveness which can be caused by fatigue and so on. So the numbers of deaths, accidents, and injuries reported as being caused by distraction will be lower than before, when “distraction” had a broader meaning.

  8. The last paragraph of the passage states that “There are inherent limitations in the data for distracted driving-related crashes and the resulting injuries and fatalities.” If you did not know the meaning of the words “inherent” or “limitations,” which of the following would be MOST likely to help you understand them?

    Correct Answer:

    a dictionary

    Answer Explanation:

    (d) - This would be the best choice in this case. The meanings of these words cannot really be guessed at through context in this passage.

  9. The passage defines “distractions” as a group of things that does not include driver fatigue, but the general English dictionary on your desk includes “driver fatigue” in the definition of “distractions.” Which definition should you rely on when reading this article, and why?

    Correct Answer:

    The report, because it uses a narrow, technical definition of “distractions” that is not used by English speakers in general.

    Answer Explanation:

    (d) - Since this report provides a new definition of “distraction,” rely on this while reading the article since it speaks of “distraction” in this context.

  10. Which of the following choices combines the last two sentences of the passage into one complete Standard American English sentence?

    Correct Answer:

    “Appendix B describes limitations in the distracted-driving data, Appendix C discusses the specific coding for distracted driving data from the National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey (NMVCCS).”

    Answer Explanation:

    (d) - This is a complete, single sentence and it combines the ideas of the last two sentences of the passage.

More standards from Grades 11-12 - Language