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Common Core Standards: ELA

Grades 9-10

Language L.9-10.1

Conventions of Standard English

L.9-10.1. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

  • Use parallel structure.
  • Use various types of phrases (noun, verb, adjectival, adverbial, participial, prepositional, absolute) and clauses (independent, dependent; noun, relative, adverbial) to convey specific meanings and add variety and interest to writing or presentations.

Okay, What the Heck Does That Mean?
We all know that ninth and tenth graders can send text messages in their sleep.
Wat r u doin?
Nt 2 mch. U?
We don’t, however, want them to write like that in class – or anywhere else! This is the standard that teaches kids that text-speak and conventional English are not always identical.

By the ninth and tenth grades, the Common Core State Standards assume that most students are fluent in basic English: they can read, write, and speak simple sentences. They may even be able to read, write, and speak complex, compound, and compound-complex sentences as well, although, like most of us, their chances of identifying these correctly off the tops of their heads are slim. But what will help students most is knowing how to use various phrases and sentences, even if they can’t always remember what to call them.

In grades 9 and 10, “demonstrat[ing] command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage” means focusing on creating meaning, variety, and interest in speaking, reading, and writing by using:

  • Parallelism, also known as parallel structure;
  • Phrase types (noun, verb, adjectival, etc.); and
  • Clause types (independent, dependent, etc.)

Communicating in short subject-verb-object sentences is popular in the land of Dick and Jane, where even Baby Sally has the same lucid vocabulary as her adult parents and “See Spot run. Run, Spot, run” is the highlight of the day. It’s also a recipe for boredom. Understanding how to shuffle sentences around, make lists, alternate sentence lengths, and join closely-related ideas makes reading, writing, and speaking more interesting and precise - and it won’t put the audience to sleep.

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Example 1

Sample Activities for Use in Class

Parallelism

Parallelism is used to convey related ideas that have equal weight. It commonly appears in lists of words or phrases. Sentences that should have parallel structures but don’t often sound clunky or uncertain, like the writer can’t choose a form or doesn’t really believe his own statement.

Have students compare the following sentences:

1. His online dating profile says he loves penguins, walking in the moonlight, and when he finds money he forgot he had.
2. His online dating profile says he loves watching penguins, walking in the moonlight, and finding money he forgot he had.

The first one lacks parallellism: the three things listed are, respectively, an object, a gerund attached to a prepositional phrase, and a prepositional phrase. The second sentence is one example of how the parallelism in this sentence can be fixed (by changing everything to a gerund phrase). Some other ways of fixing this sentence’s parallel structure include:

His online dating profile says he loves to watch penguins, to walk in the moonlight, and to find money he forgot he had.
His online dating profile says he loves penguin-watching, moonlight-walking, and money-finding.

Have students, alone or in groups, try fixing the parallelism in the following sentences:

1. I went to the store for milk, to buy eggs, and meeting Santa Claus from noon to 1 pm.
2. He says that he stole a bicycle, skipping school, and had chased chickens around the yard, but I don’t believe any of it.
3. Her brand-new car, clothes, and singing voice make me suspect she got a record contract.

Phrases and Clauses

A phrase is a chunk of words that is missing a subject, a predicate, or both. Unlike a clause, a phrase will never be a complete sentence on its own; it needs the help of other words or phrases to achieve sentence-hood. Phrases come in anywhere from four to several dozen types, depending on who’s counting.

A clause, meanwhile, is a chunk of words that may have both a subject and a predicate, or it may not. A clause with a subject and a predicate is also known as an “independent clause” or a “complete sentence.” A clause that lacks both a subject and a predicate needs another word, phrase, or clause to kick in the missing bit and complete the sentence.

To explore phrases, make up a set of flashcards (at least one per student) from lined index cards. Each card should have one of the following definitions on the blank side:

  • Participle Phrase: a phrase that contains a participle and everything connected to it.
  • Prepositional Phrase: a phrase that starts with a preposition. Can act like a noun, adjective, or adverb, depending on the sentence.
  • Gerund Phrases, which begin with a gerund and may also contain the object of the gerund or a complete object or subject phrase.
  • Infinitive Phrases, which being with an infinitive and may also contain the object of the infinitive or a complete object or subject phrase.

Alone or in groups, students should use the back of the card to write down two or three examples of the type of phrase written on the front of the card. Then, have students share their phrases and discuss whether they exemplify the type of phrase or not and why.

The same activity can be done with clauses, with the index cards containing one of the following definitions:

  • Independent Clause: A complete sentence.
  • Dependent Clause: Any clause that is not a complete sentence on its own, but could be if connected to an independent clause.

Quiz 1 Questions

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

  1. Which of the following sentences does NOT use parallel structure?

    Correct Answer:

    George collects glass jars, has operated a rental shop for oversized tuxedos, and blue yarn is his favorite thing to untangle.

    Answer Explanation:

    “collects,” “has operated,” and “blue yarn” aren’t all matching parts of speech, the way “collects,” “rents,” and “untangles” are (for instance).


  2. Patrinella’s pet mutant spider has the following characteristics:

    • Seventeen legs
    • Eleven pairs of eyes, plus one spare
    • Can swim exceptionally well
    • Remarkably calm under pressure

    Which of the following sentences uses parallelism to describe Patrinella’s pet spider?

    Correct Answer:

    Patrinella’s pet spider has seventeen legs, has eleven pairs of eyes (plus one spare), can swim exceptionally well, and stays remarkably calm under pressure.

    Answer Explanation:

    Each of these is a verb phrase.


  3. Which of the following is an independent clause?

    Correct Answer:

    Also, penguins can giggle.

    Answer Explanation:

    • (c) - This choice has a subject, “penguins,” and a verb phrase/predicate, “can giggle,” making it a complete sentence and also an independent clause. *correct answer
    • (e) - “Except” turns this into a clause that needs to be attached to some previous clause, making (c) the best answer.

  4. All of the following are dependent clauses EXCEPT:

    Correct Answer:

    once upon a time, my brother started a library in his tree house

    Answer Explanation:

    (a) - This is an independent clause or a complete sentence. It expresses a complete idea and is grammatically correct. All you need to do is make the “o” in “once” upper case and add a period at the end and you’ll have yourself a perfect sentence!


  5. Which of the following sentences contains a prepositional phrase?

    Correct Answer:

    I mean, what’s wrong with swimming in the public swimming pool?

    Answer Explanation:

    The prepositional phrase is “in the public swimming pool.”


  6. Which of the following sentences contains a participial phrase?

    Correct Answer:

    Running for the goal line, he dropped the ball and then tripped on it.

    Answer Explanation:

    “Running for the goal line”” is the participial phrase - “running” is the participle, and “for the goal line” is a prepositional phrase attached to the participle.


  7. Which of the following sentences contains a gerund phrase?

    Correct Answer:

    Ethan opposes making the school day shorter by two hours.

    Answer Explanation:

    “making the school day shorter” is the gerund phrase - “making” is a gerund because it is the object of the verb “opposes”.


  8. Which of the following is both a dependent clause AND an infinitive phrase?

    Correct Answer:

    To be left alone with his humiliation.

    Answer Explanation:

    This is a dependent clause that begins with the infinitive “to be”.


  9. Which of the following is both an independent clause AND contains more than one prepositional phrase?

    Correct Answer:

    I knew no one in the school would vote for me unless I proved I was awesome.

    Answer Explanation:

    (b) - While choices A, C, and D are independent clauses, the word “unless” indicates that what follows is a prepositional phrase.


  10. Which of the following sentences uses prepositional phrases in parallel structure?

    Correct Answer:

    During my speech I promised a student government by a student (me), of a student (me), and for a student (me).

    Answer Explanation:

    “by,” “of,” and “for” are all prepositions.


Quiz 2 Questions

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

  1. Which of the following sentences uses gerund phrases in parallel structure?

    Correct Answer:

    However, Gerald supports helping smokers quit, offering free help for smokers, and creating outdoor “smoking zones” for those who aren’t ready to quit yet.

    Answer Explanation:

    (b) - The three gerunds in this sentence are “helping”, “offering”, and “creating”, which occur here in parallel structure.


  2. Which of the following sentences does NOT use parallel structure?

    Correct Answer:

    Their parents suspect that Caitlin, her twin Kaitlyn, and third daughter Kate Lynn are just exploring their options, in college to go through a phase, and know that they really want to be insurance adjusters like their mother.

    Answer Explanation:

    Neither the names nor the actions are parallel.


  3. Which of the following is an independent clause?

    Correct Answer:

    the boy wondered

    Answer Explanation:

    The subject is “the boy,” and the verb/object is “wondered.”


  4. Which of the following is a dependent clause?

    Correct Answer:

    avoiding danger and injury better than any other cute animal

    Answer Explanation:

    This is a participle phrase, and also not a complete sentence, making it a dependent clause.


  5. Which of the following can be turned into an independent clause by adding the verb “collapsed”?

    Correct Answer:

    All of the above can be turned into independent clauses by adding the verb “collapsed.”

    Answer Explanation:

    (e) - While all of the above are currently incomplete sentences, the addition of the word “collapsed” at the end of each would transform them into complete sentences that express complete ideas – or in other words, independent clauses.


  6. Which of the following contains ONE participial phrase?

    Correct Answer:

    Deshaun spotted his younger brother throwing rocks at a hornet’s nest and immediately yelled at him to stop before he got stung.

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - “eating...” is a gerund phrase
    • (c) - “throwing rocks” is the participle phrase. *correct answer

  7. Which of the following contains ONE infinitive phrase?

    Correct Answer:

    I need to understand why I can’t mix the ice cream flavors without permission.

    Answer Explanation:

    “to understand” is the infinitive.


  8. Which of the following contains ONE gerund phrase?

    Correct Answer:

    I wish I could remember putting my trumpet on the bus, but it’s all a blur.

    Answer Explanation:

    (a) - The gerund in this sentence is “putting,” so the gerund phrase would be “putting my trumpet on the bus.” There is an “ing” word in C, as well (“baton-twirling”), but it is used as an adjective; and the “ing” word in D (“going”) depicts tense, so it isn’t a gerund, either.


  9. Which of the following contains ONE prepositional phrase?

    Correct Answer:

    Walking a long way in her white dress, Kate looked uncomfortable.

    Answer Explanation:

    “In her white dress” is the one prepositional phrase.


  10. Which of the following sentences contains both a dependent clause and an independent clause?

    Correct Answer:

    I bought my new turtle and a bowl to put him in.

    Answer Explanation:

    “I bought my new turtle” is the independent clause, “a bowl to put him in” is the dependent clause, and “and” connects the two.


Aligned Resources

More standards from Grades 9-10 - Language