© 2015 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.

Common Core Standards: ELA - Literacy

Grade 9-10

Reading RH.9-10.5

RH.9-10.5. Analyze how a text uses structure to emphasize key points or advance an explanation or analysis.

The Walking Trends

For some, high school is a place where you learn a bunch of stuff, while for others it is an opportunity to showcase their latest fashion wares. It’s true that much can be understood about a person based on their fashion sense. If you see someone walking down the hall in skinny jeans and metallic stilettos, they probably have a different personality than the person wearing boho boots and a maxi dress. A person’s style emphasizes their personality and point of view, just as a text’s structure helps to enhance its ideas. Structure on a paragraph is like clothes on a person: both can have certain swag by the way they are clad, and this helps our knowledge about what statement is meant to be conveyed.


Game of Structure

This standard is all about how a text’s structure enhances its meaning. A text will never be all dressed up with nowhere to go. A text will always be fashionably arranged so that the ideas are more easily understood. Often there is a pattern to the way information is presented. For example, if you’re reading about an event in history or economic trends of a time period, the text may be structured as a sequence of events, or cause and effect explanation. However, if you are reading about people’s liberties in a period of American history versus today, then you may be reading a piece with a compare and contrast structure. Even if there isn’t a defined or apparent structure, there will always be a pattern to good writing, including narration.

The Big Point Theory

The second half of the standard specifically asks readers to study a text’s structure with the purpose of identifying how it “emphasizes key points.” So if the point of a text is to explain how the Constitution has changed over a period of time, a compare/contrast structure may not be as effective as a sequence of events structure that emphasizes the progression and controversy surrounding each change or addition.

  • Marking the text that you are reading is always helpful when breaking down its trends; you can’t beat a pair of well-placed brackets with annotations when analyzing the structure.

Two and a Half Ideas

Whatever the style, the text should have a purpose that can be recognized by its structure and form; hopefully it won’t be on the 10 worst structured list, and recognizing the key ideas will be an easy task. If you are mindful of the trends in the passage and check that the form suits the purpose, then you (and it) won’t go down in history as committing the worst fashion crime: the unexamined text.

Quiz Questions

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

Read the following article, and then answer the questions regarding the structure and key points.


From The Godfather to The Sopranos to the still airing Boardwalk Empire, America is obsessed with its own historical mishaps and failures in regards to organized crime. Some even idolize the crime organizations as noble or heroic, with the police force of the time period being the bad guys. Even Bugs Bunny has found himself in the company of mobsters and crime bosses. American mobs have been a major part of its history and continue to be a resource-sucking machine today. Everything from man-power, to money for fire-arms, to stagnant legislation have been invested and reallocated to fight the ongoing battle. The beginnings of America’s domestic conflict can be traced to the Prohibition era; however, this ninety-year-irk continues to draw the attention of modern federal police.

Many events led to the banning of alcohol on a federal level. Religious revivals and state-to-state movements against drunkenness were building, with advertisements and propaganda citing alcohol as the marriage killer and the cause of poverty by such groups as the Anti-Saloon League of the early 1900’s1. It may be concluded that Americans of this time period would first “make thieves and then punish them2,” (Moore, 1901) as they continually campaigned for the prohibition of alcohol, which after achieved, caused a dramatic increase in domestic crime. This is where the iconic figures such as Al Capone and Bugsy Siegel became wealthy, boot-legging entrepreneurs, taking advantage of the coveted items in even higher demand because of its restriction, such as gambling, alcohol, and prostitution3. Thus the organized business of criminal commodities came to America.

As time progressed so too did the Mob, expanding and continuing to carry out business as usual. With the millions gained from the bootlegging of newly illicit goods, the gangsters set their sights on infiltrating legitimate business ventures, such as the construction industry, while still keeping true to the illegal substance trafficking. By the 1950’s the Mob was ingrained in American culture; even celebrities such as Frank Sinatra were rumored to have associations with them. The arms of the Mafia reached so far that, “by the mid-20th century, there were 24 known crime families in America, comprised of an estimated 5,000 full-fledged members and thousands of associates across the country4.” It seemed as though there was no stopping the crime-based, money making machine.

Today organized crime is not a romanticized past event, it is a real entity, though the faces may have changed dramatically from its fedora wearing ancestors. The crime family regimes of America are no longer major players in the organized crime game, with the FBI claiming Mafia problems of the past were small potatoes compared to the global threats that America faces today. The New York Times printed a laundry list of known criminal organizations and affiliated countries that the American FBI has stakes in, proving this is no invention of Hollywood (Organized Crime, 2012). It seems a constant threat on the red, white, and blue doorstep, a far more menacing and exponentially more profitable venture than it was once known to be.

1  The Saloon Must Go (2012). Westerville Public Library. Retrieved March 13, 2012, from http://www.wpl.lib.oh.us/AntiSaloon/history/

2 Moore, Thomas (1901). Utopia. OregonState University. Retrieved March 13, 2012, from http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/texts/more/utopia-I.html

3 Prohibition (2012). The History Channel Website. Retrieved March 12, 2012, from http://www.history.com/topics/prohibition

4 Mafia in the United States. (2012). The History Channel website. Retrieved March 12, 2012, from http://www.history.com/topics/mafia-in-the-united-states

  1. You’re welcome by the way for that awesome article on the Mob. If that doesn’t put you in the mood to get cookie-faced and snuggle up on the couch with some heartwarming movies like The Untouchables, Scarface, or The Departed, I don’t know what will. In fact, you could find more than one movie depicting the different stages of the Mob evolution in America; glad I could help with your weekend plans. Now, answer some questions:

    What is the essential point being analyzed in this passage?

    Correct Answer:

    America’s involvement and tracking of modern criminal activity by various organizations is an extension of the original crime family hierarchies.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (d). This answer identifies the topic as a representation of the Mob in the past and present of America, as well as touches on the negative connotation the term carries. Options (a) and (b) make organized crime sound like gold stickers and Disney Land, and option (c) is a distracter that has one key false idea: passing fad.

  2. What is the basic structure of the writing? Keep in mind the historical information being presented.

    Correct Answer:

    The article is structured with a sequence of events pattern, describing events pertaining to the Mob starting with its earliest beginnings and ending with modern examples.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (a). This article’s structure is clearly a sequence of events, with the opening outlining the past to present approach. Options (b) and (d) give an incorrect structure description as well as incongruent information to the passage. Option (c) claims there is no organization to the passage, an easy throw away.

  3. Choose the answer that explains how the structure emphasizes the following assumption: Organized Crime has been a growing threat to America from its earliest manifestations to modern day.

    Correct Answer:

    The article presents information in a progression format of America’s dealings with organized crime from the past internal threats to modern global dangers.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (b). This answer specifically addresses both the structure and the claim given in the question. Options (a) and (c) offer the incorrect structure as compared to a misconstrued interpretation of the claim to be applied to the passage. Option (d) says a whole lot of nothing: it explains a basic definition of structure as it applies to a writing, but does not address the specific information in either the question or the passage.

  4. Choose the quotes that best illustrate the progression of the article’s secondary claim that the Mafia is an intrinsic part of America’s criminal culture.

    • I. “America is obsessed with its own historical mishaps and failures in regards to organized crime.”
    • II. “…this ninety-year-irk continues to draw the attention of modern federal police.”
    • III. “This is where the iconic figures such as Al Capone and Bugsy Siegel became wealthy, boot-legging entrepreneurs, taking advantage of the coveted items in even higher demand because of their restriction.”
    • IV. “…even celebrities such as Frank Sinatra were rumored to have associations with them.”
    • V. “Today Organized Crime is not a romanticized past event; it is a real entity, though the faces may have changed dramatically from its fedora wearing ancestors.”

    Correct Answer:

    Options I-IV

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (d). All of the quotes presented offer support for the secondary claim relating to America’s culture. The other options narrow down the choices to mentions of popular figures, in option (c), and police activity only, as in option (a). Though these are different points discussed in the article, all may contribute to the idea offered.

  5. How does the article present the idea that the Mob is a part of America’s pop culture through its structure?

    Correct Answer:

    The article begins with a modern reference to several movies from pop culture that depict mafia activity, then mentions an iconic movie figure in the body of the article, and finally closes with a reference to Hollywood.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (b). This is the only answer that addresses both the pop culture aspect and the structure aspect of the question given. Option (a) only lists the references made in the passage and says “throughout the passage” which is way too vague. Option (c) suggests that the Mob in pop culture was the essential claim of the article, with the Mafia’s history only being a sub-point. Option (d) states that the Mob discussion is sparse and pop culture prevalent, neglecting structure altogether (bad).