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Common Core Standards: ELA See All Teacher Resources



Grades 9-10

Language L.9-10.4

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use

L.9-10.4. Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grades 9–10 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.

  • Use context (e.g., the overall meaning of a sentence, paragraph, or text; a word’s position or function in a sentence) as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase.
  • Identify and correctly use patterns of word changes that indicate different meanings or parts of speech (e.g., analyze, analysis, analytical; advocate, advocacy).
  • Consult general and specialized reference materials (e.g., dictionaries, glossaries, thesauruses), both print and digital, to find the pronunciation of a word or determine or clarify its precise meaning, its part of speech, or its etymology.
  • Verify the preliminary determination of the meaning of a word or phrase (e.g., by checking the inferred meaning in context or in a dictionary).

As students move up in grade level, the reading they’re asked to tackle gets progressively more difficult. Not only do compound sentences and complex arguments appear, but so do words and phrases that students have not seen before or that may have multiple meanings. This Common Core Standard asks students to figure out the meanings of these new invaders on their territory by using three primary methods:
1. guessing at the word’s meaning in context;
2. identifying changing word parts that might signal what part of speech the word is or what words it’s related to;
3. checking a dictionary or other reference materials both to find out word meanings and to verify their guesses.

P.S. If your students need to brush up on their spelling and grammar, send 'em over to our Grammar Learning Guides so they can hone their skills before conquering the Common Core.

Standard Components

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Example 1

Sample Activities for Use In Class


Read, or have students read, the following passage from Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights:

1801. - I have just returned from a visit to my landlord - the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with. This is certainly a beautiful country! In all England, I do not believe that I could have fixed on a situation so completely removed from the stir of society. A perfect misanthropist's heaven: and Mr. Heathcliff and I are such a suitable pair to divide the desolation between us. A capital fellow! He little imagined how my heart warmed towards him when I beheld his black eyes withdraw so suspiciously under their brows, as I rode up, and when his fingers sheltered themselves, with a jealous resolution, still further in his waistcoat, as I announced my name.

Discuss how context and word formation help readers understand the meaning of the word “misanthropist’s,” as follows:

Misanthropist(‘s): Contextual clues like “removed from the stir of society” and “heaven” indicate that a lonely place, devoid of people (see “that solitary neighbor whom I shall be troubled with”), is the kind of place a misanthropist likes; therefore, a “misanthropist” is someone who likely doesn’t have much to do with people.

Parts of the word that also indicate its meaning include “mis-”, “anthrop,” and “-ist.” Have students check the dictionary for definitions of these parts of the word in order to reconstruct it. From their reconstruction, they should be able to develop the related parts of speech, such as “misanthropy” (noun) and “misanthropic” (adjective).

Repeat this exercise for words like “desolation,” “suspiciously,” or any others the students point out. For a longer lesson with more examples, use several paragraphs or even an entire chapter of Wuthering Heights or another grade-appropriate book, such as Jane Eyre, Catch-22, The Catcher in the Rye, and so on.

Word Parts and Dictionary Uses
Give students a list of words with multiple prefixes and/or suffixes, such as:


Have students (individually, in groups, or as a class) take each word apart, pulling out its prefixes, root, and suffixes. For instance, the word “unextraordinarily” contains the prefixes “un-” and “extra-”, the root “ordinary”, and the suffix “-ily.”

Next, have students identify the meaning of each portion, looking up the word part in the dictionary if needed. A few words for each definition should suffice. For instance, a student may jot down (or you may write on the blackboard) the following:

“un-” = not
“extra-” = more than
“ordinary” = common, boring
“-ily” = makes the word an adverb

If a word has more than one definition, write down each definition. Definitions that have similar denotations but different connotations should also be written down separately, as for “ordinary” above.

Third, reassemble the word using the definitions found in the dictionary or in students’ brains. For instance, the word “unextraordinarily” can be reassembled to mean “some action [represented by the verb that the adverb modifies] is not more than common or usual.”

Finally, have students go back to the dictionary and look up the original word. How close do their definitions come to the dictionaries’ definitions? If they’re very different, how are they different, and what might have caused the students to get the definition they did instead of one closer to what’s in the dictionary?

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:

For having lived in Westminster — how many years now? over twenty,— one feels even in the midst of the traffic, or waking at night, Clarissa was positive, a particular hush, or solemnity; an indescribable pause; a suspense (but that might be her heart, affected, they said, by influenza) before Big Ben strikes. There! Out it boomed. First a warning, musical; then the hour, irrevocable. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. Such fools we are, she thought, crossing Victoria Street. For Heaven only knows why one loves it so, how one sees it so, making it up, building it round one, tumbling it, creating it every moment afresh; but the veriest frumps, the most dejected of miseries sitting on doorsteps (drink their downfall) do the same; can’t be dealt with, she felt positive, by Acts of Parliament for that very reason: they love life. In people’s eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment of June.

For it was the middle of June. The War was over, except for some one like Mrs. Foxcroft at the Embassy last night eating her heart out because that nice boy was killed and now the old Manor House must go to a cousin; or Lady Bexborough who opened a bazaar, they said, with the telegram in her hand, John, her favourite, killed; but it was over; thank Heaven — over. It was June. The King and Queen were at the Palace. And everywhere, though it was still so early, there was a beating, a stirring of galloping ponies, tapping of cricket bats; Lords, Ascot, Ranelagh and all the rest of it; wrapped in the soft mesh of the grey-blue morning air, which, as the day wore on, would unwind them, and set down on their lawns and pitches the bouncing ponies, whose forefeet just struck the ground and up they sprung, the whirling young men, and laughing girls in their transparent muslins who, even now, after dancing all night, were taking their absurd woolly dogs for a run; and even now, at this hour, discreet old dowagers were shooting out in their motor cars on errands of mystery; and the shopkeepers were fidgeting in their windows with their paste and diamonds, their lovely old sea-green brooches in eighteenth-century settings to tempt Americans (but one must economise, not buy things rashly for Elizabeth), and she, too, loving it as she did with an absurd and faithful passion, being part of it, since her people were courtiers once in the time of the Georges, she, too, was going that very night to kindle and illuminate; to give her party. But how strange, on entering the Park, the silence; the mist; the hum; the slow-swimming happy ducks; the pouched birds waddling; and who should be coming along with his back against the Government buildings, most appropriately, carrying a despatch box stamped with the Royal Arms, who but Hugh Whitbread; her old friend Hugh — the admirable Hugh!

- Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

  1. In the first sentence, the word “indescribable” is which part of speech?

    Correct Answer:

    an adjective describing the word “pause”

    Answer Explanation:

    (a) - Pause is a noun, and since “indescribable” describes it, it is an adjective.

  2. The word “irrevocable” in sentence four most likely means:

    Correct Answer:

    something that cannot be taken back

    Answer Explanation:

    “irrevocable” literally means “unable to be revoked,” or taken back

  3. In the context of the paragraph’s first five sentences, what does the phrase “leaden circles” in sentence five most likely describe?

    Correct Answer:

    the sound of Big Ben chiming the hour

    Answer Explanation:

    the bells would not “dissolve in the air,” but the sound they make would, making this this best answer

  4. In the sentence that begins “The War was over, except for some one like Mrs. Foxcroft at the Embassy last night eating her heart out because that nice boy was killed and now the old Manor House must go to a cousin....,” the phrase “eating her heart out” most likely means:

    Correct Answer:


    Answer Explanation:

    Mrs. Foxcroft is upset that the house will no longer be in the family when its current owner dies, not that the person who was supposed to inherit it was killed, making (b) the better answer than (c).

  5. Near the end of the first paragraph, the phrase “veriest frumps” most likely means:

    Correct Answer:

    the frumpiest of the frumpy

    Answer Explanation:

    “veriest,” which appears to be a combination of “very” and “-ist,” probably means something similar to “the most,” making (c) the best answer.

  6. In the sentence: “...laughing girls in their transparent muslins who, even now, after dancing all night, were taking their absurd woolly dogs for a run,” which word or phrase uses a prefix that means “to see”?

    Correct Answer:


    Answer Explanation:

    “trans-” means “across” or “through,” and “transparent” means “see-through.” Compare “apparent,” or “easily seen.”

  7. If the prefix “trans-” in “transparent” means “across” or “through,” which of the following words is defined correctly?

    Correct Answer:

    transplant = to move a living thing from one habitat or system to another

    Answer Explanation:

    both organs and flowers can be “transplanted” or moved from their original habitat or system to another.

  8. In the context of the phrase “discreet old dowagers were shooting out in their motor cars on errands of mystery,” the word “discreet” most likely means:

    Correct Answer:


    Answer Explanation:

    the dowagers on “errands of mystery” are keeping the purpose of their trips to themselves.

  9. Which of the following reference sources would be LEAST useful to someone who wanted to know the meaning of “dowager”?

    Correct Answer:

    a history of England

    Answer Explanation:

    it may appear there, but the previous four sources point directly to the word’s definition, instead of merely providing additional context for guessing what it means, making this the best answer.

  10. In the sentence, “but one must economise, not buy things rashly for Elizabeth,” the word “rashly” most likely means what?

    Correct Answer:

    on a whim

    Answer Explanation:

    (a) - The character wants to “economise” or save money, so it makes sense that she doesn’t want to buy things on a whim. Placing the word in context will help you arrive at its meaning.

Quiz 2 Questions

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

  1. The word “irreligiously” works as what part of speech?

    Correct Answer:

    an adverb

    Answer Explanation:

    The suffix “-ly” indicates an adverb

  2. Which of the following suffixes tells you the word is something that is NOT a noun?

    Correct Answer:


    Answer Explanation:

    Indicates an adjective; see “rebellious,” “cantankerous,” etc.

  3. What do the words “anarchy,” “monarchy,” and “hierarchy” all have in common?

    Correct Answer:

    they all use the same suffix

    Answer Explanation:

    “-archy,” implying a type of rule

  4. Which of the following reference works would be MOST likely to help you answer Question 3?

    Correct Answer:

    a dictionary that defines “-archy”

    Answer Explanation:

    (b) - This would be the most direct way for you to find the answer.

  5. If your teacher was wearing a shirt nobody would notice or comment on, you might say the shirt is:

    Correct Answer:


    Answer Explanation:

    “unable to be remarked upon”

  6. If an “automatic” event happens by itself and an “autobiography” is a book someone writes about himself, then the prefix “auto-” most likely means:

    Correct Answer:


    Answer Explanation:

    (c) - Since this is the meaning that both words share, this choice would make the most sense.

  7. Which of the following prefixes or suffixes means “against”?

    Correct Answer:


    Answer Explanation:

    (a) - In words like “counterattack” and “counterclockwise,” the prefix “counter-” suggests the meaning “against.”

  8. Which of the following types of dictionary would be most likely to contain both the words “democracy” and “plutocracy”?

    Correct Answer:

    a dictionary of politics, because both words describe a kind of government

    Answer Explanation:

    “-cracy” is a suffix indicating a type of government

  9. Which of the following suffixes does NOT change the part of speech of the root word?

    Correct Answer:


    Answer Explanation:

    “s” and “es” change a word from singular to plural, but they don’t change its part of speech

  10. Which of the following prefixes does NOT mean “before”?

    Correct Answer:


    Answer Explanation:

    peri- means “during”

More standards from Grades 9-10 - Language