Common Core Standards: ELA
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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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Using this Standard
Sample Activities for Use in Class
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 QuestionsHere's an example of a quiz that could be used to test this standard.
Quiz 2 QuestionsHere's an example of a quiz that could be used to test this standard.
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