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Common Core Standards: ELA

Grades 11-12

Reading RI.11-12.10

Standard 10:

By the end of grade 11, read and comprehend literary nonfiction in the grades 11–CCR text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.

Breakin’ it Down:

This standard doesn’t mean much unless you have example texts for each complexity level (see the next section). And categorizing texts is never an exact science. But English scholars have compiled the following lists of texts that you can use as guides when picking your own class readings.

Below are examples of text categories that can help you compile readings to ensure students master Standards 1-9. Suggested genres are:

  • personal essays
  • speeches
  • opinion pieces/ journalism pieces
  • essays about art or literature
  • biographies/ memoirs
  • historical, scientific, technical, or economic accounts (including digital sources) written for a broad audience

Example 1

Teacher Feature: Ideas for the classroom

By the end of high school, students should be able to read and answer questions about these texts, or similar texts, without much support from you. Remember, this list was compiled as a guide by content area experts, but shouldn’t be restrictive.

  • Common Sense by Thomas Paine (1776)
  • Walden by Henry David Thoreau (1854)
  • “Society and Solitude” by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1857)
  • “The Fallacy of Success” by G. K. Chesterton (1909)
  • Black Boy by Richard Wright (1945)
  • “Politics and the English Language” by George Orwell (1946)
  • “Take the Tortillas Out of Your Poetry” by Rudolfo Anaya (1995)

Drill 1

Read this excerpt from “Society and Solitude” by Ralph Waldo Emerson and answer the questions that follow:

“Few substances are found pure in nature. Those constitutions which can bear in open day the rough dealing of the world must be of that mean and average structure,—such as iron and salt, atmospheric air, and water. But there are metals, like potassium and sodium, which, to be kept pure, must be kept under naphtha. Such are the talents determined on some specialty, which a culminating civilization fosters in the heart of great cities and in royal chambers. Nature protects her own work. To the culture of the world, an Archimedes, a Newton is indispensable; so she guards them by a certain aridity. If these had been good fellows, fond of dancing, Port, and clubs, we should have had no "Theory of the Sphere," and no "Principia." They had that necessity of isolation which genius feels. Each must stand on his glass tripod, if he would keep his electricity….

We have known many fine geniuses have that imperfection that they cannot do anything useful, not so much as write one clean sentence. 'Tis worse, and tragic, that no man is fit for society who has fine traits. At a distance, he is admired; but bring him hand to hand, he is a cripple. One protects himself by solitude, and one by courtesy, and one by an acid, worldly manner,—each concealing how he can the thinness of his skin and his incapacity for strict association. But there is no remedy that can reach the heart of the disease, but either habits of self-reliance that should go in practice to making the man independent of the human race, or else a religion of love. Now he hardly seems entitled to marry; for how can he protect a woman, who cannot protect himself? 

We pray to be conventional. But the wary Heaven takes care you shall not be, if there is anything good in you. Dante was very bad company, and was never invited to dinner. Michel Angelo had a sad, sour time of it. The ministers of beauty are rarely beautiful in coaches and saloons. Columbus discovered no isle or key so lonely as himself. Yet each of these potentates saw well the reason of his exclusion. Solitary was he? Why, yes; but his society was limited only by the amount of brain Nature appropriated in that age to carry on the government of the world.” 

1. [Medium] Which of the following statements would Emerson disagree with?
a. People who are geniuses are usually not very sociable. (Emerson would fully agree with this statement. He writes of Archimedes and Newton: “They had that necessity of isolation which genius feels.”)
b. Emerson considers himself to be a genius, as well, and feels this social awkwardness that he describes. (Emerson writes: “We pray to be conventional.” That pronoun “we” gives him away, doesn’t it? So, yes, he’d agree with this statement.)
c. Some brilliant artists and painters would be terrible company on a long bus ride. (He’d agree with this, as well. Here’s the line that proves it: “The ministers of beauty are rarely beautiful in coaches and saloons.”)
d. People who are geniuses don’t care what the world thinks about them. (Good job! Emerson would disagree with this statement because he says that their solitude is a means of “concealing how [they] can the thinness of [their] skin.”)

Drill 2

Read this extract from the first chapter from Thoreau’s Walden, and then answer the questions that follow:

“When I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house which I had built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, and earned my living by the labor of my hands only. I lived there two years and two months. At present I am a sojourner in civilized life again.

I should not obtrude my affairs so much on the notice of my readers if very particular inquiries had not been made by my townsmen concerning my mode of life, which some would call impertinent, though they do not appear to me at all impertinent, but, considering the circumstances, very natural and pertinent. Some have asked what I got to eat; if I did not feel lonesome; if I was not afraid; and the like. Others have been curious to learn what portion of my income I devoted to charitable purposes; and some, who have large families, how many poor children I maintained. I will therefore ask those of my readers who feel no particular interest in me to pardon me if I undertake to answer some of these questions in this book. In most books, the I, or first person, is omitted; in this it will be retained; that, in respect to egotism, is the main difference. We commonly do not remember that it is, after all, always the first person that is speaking. I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience. Moreover, I, on my side, require of every writer, first or last, a simple and sincere account of his own life, and not merely what he has heard of other men's lives; some such account as he would send to his kindred from a distant land; for if he has lived sincerely, it must have been in a distant land to me. Perhaps these pages are more particularly addressed to poor students. As for the rest of my readers, they will accept such portions as apply to them. I trust that none will stretch the seams in putting on the coat, for it may do good service to him whom it fits.

I would fain say something, not so much concerning the Chinese and Sandwich Islanders as you who read these pages, who are said to live in New England; something about your condition, especially your outward condition or circumstances in this world, in this town, what it is, whether it is necessary that it be as bad as it is, whether it cannot be improved as well as not. I have travelled a good deal in Concord; and everywhere, in shops, and offices, and fields, the inhabitants have appeared to me to be doing penance in a thousand remarkable ways. What I have heard of Bramins sitting exposed to four fires and looking in the face of the sun; or hanging suspended, with their heads downward, over flames; or looking at the heavens over their shoulders "until it becomes impossible for them to resume their natural position, while from the twist of the neck nothing but liquids can pass into the stomach"; or dwelling, chained for life, at the foot of a tree; or measuring with their bodies, like caterpillars, the breadth of vast empires; or standing on one leg on the tops of pillars- even these forms of conscious penance are hardly more incredible and astonishing than the scenes which I daily witness. The twelve labors of Hercules were trifling in comparison with those which my neighbors have undertaken; for they were only twelve, and had an end; but I could never see that these men slew or captured any monster or finished any labor. They have no friend Iolaus to burn with a hot iron the root of the hydra's head, but as soon as one head is crushed, two spring up.

I see young men, my townsmen, whose misfortune it is to have inherited farms, houses, barns, cattle, and farming tools; for these are more easily acquired than got rid of. Better if they had been born in the open pasture and suckled by a wolf, that they might have seen with clearer eyes what field they were called to labor in. Who made them serfs of the soil? Why should they eat their sixty acres, when man is condemned to eat only his peck of dirt? Why should they begin digging their graves as soon as they are born? They have got to live a man's life, pushing all these things before them, and get on as well as they can. How many a poor immortal soul have I met well-nigh crushed and smothered under its load, creeping down the road of life, pushing before it a barn seventy-five feet by forty, its Augean stables never cleansed, and one hundred acres of land, tillage, mowing, pasture, and woodlot! The portionless, who struggle with no such unnecessary inherited encumbrances, find it labor enough to subdue and cultivate a few cubic feet of flesh.”

2. [Easy] Who does Thoreau assume will be the readers of this work?
a. Residents of New England. (Yes! He writes: “I would fain say something, not so much concerning the Chinese and Sandwich Islanders as you who read these pages, who are said to live in New England….”)
b. Chinese and Sandwich Islanders. (Nope. Though the phrasing is slightly awkward, Thoreau says that he will not talk about Chinese and Sandwich Islanders, but rather about the residents of New England to the residents of New England.)
c. The people of Concord, Massachusetts. (Thoreau says he lived “on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts,” but he doesn’t specify anywhere in this extract that his book is addressed to the people of this place.)
d. “Bramins” who do penance. (He uses the “Bramins” and their penance to illustrate a point, but they are not his intended readers.)

3. [Medium] Why does Thoreau decide to write the book in the first person?
a. Most authors of his time did not write in the first person, and Thoreau wanted his book to be unique. (It’s true that Thoreau says that most writers of the time did not use first-person narration in their work; but he doesn’t say that he chose it in order to be unique.)
b. Even though other writers might not use first person narration, they are writing from their personal experiences, which makes their writing a first person of sorts, in any case. (This is a rephrasing of Thoreau’s line: “We commonly do not remember that it is, after all, always the first person that is speaking.” However, this is not the reason that Thoreau gives for why he chose the first person.)
c. Out of all the people in the world, he knows himself the best; so he chooses first person narration because he will be writing about his own personal experiences. (Nice work! He writes: “I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience.”)
d. He believes that first person narration is the most direct and effective way to tell a story. (Nope. This is not mentioned anywhere.)

4. [Medium] Which of the following does Thoreau find most astonishing?
a. Authors of his time did not favor first person narration. (Nope. In fact, he doesn’t seem to find this astonishing at all.)
b. Iolaus burned the root of the hydra's head with a hot iron. (He uses this allusion, but isn’t astonished by it.)
c. The “Bramins” who do forms of extreme penance, like hanging suspended over flames, and crawling for miles on their bellies. (While the tales of these “Bramins” do astonish Thoreau, they are not what he finds most astonishing.)
d. The young men who inherit farms and then become slaves to the things they own, and are unable to break away from their circumstances. (Good work! This “penance” seems to Thoreau to be even more painful and prolonged than those the “Bramins” undergo.)

Drill 3

Read this excerpt from G. K. Chesterton’s “The Fallacy of Success”, and then answer the following question:

“There has appeared in our time a particular class of books and articles which I sincerely and solemnly think may be called the silliest ever known among men. They are much more wild than the wildest romances of chivalry and much more dull than the dullest religious tract. Moreover, the romances of chivalry were at least about chivalry; the religious tracts are about religion. But these things are about nothing; they are about what is called Success. On every bookstall, in every magazine, you may find works telling people how to succeed. They are books showing men how to succeed in everything; they are written by men who cannot even succeed in writing books. To begin with, of course, there is no such thing as Success. Or, if you like to put it so, there is nothing that is not successful. That a thing is successful merely means that it is; a millionaire is successful in being a millionaire and a donkey in being a donkey. Any live man has succeeded in living; any dead man may have succeeded in committing suicide. But, passing over the bad logic and bad philosophy in the phrase, we may take it, as these writers do, in the ordinary sense of success in obtaining money or worldly position. These writers profess to tell the ordinary man how he may succeed in his trade or speculation—how, if he is a builder, he may succeed as a builder; how, if he is a stockbroker, he may succeed as a stockbroker. They profess to show him how, if he is a grocer, he may become a sporting yachtsman; how, if he is a tenth-rate journalist, he may become a peer; and how, if he is a German Jew, he may become an Anglo-Saxon. This is a definite and business-like proposal, and I really think that the people who buy these books (if any people do buy them) have a moral, if not a legal, right to ask for their money back. Nobody would dare to publish a book about electricity which literally told one nothing about electricity; no one would dare to publish an article on botany which showed that the writer did not know which end of a plant grew in the earth. Yet our modern world is full of books about Success and successful people which literally contain no kind of idea, and scarcely any kind of verbal sense.”

5. [Easy] According to Chesterton, what is success?
a. The achievement of something one has always wanted. (This might be what the dictionary says “success” is, but Chesterton wouldn’t agree.)
b. It cannot be defined. (Nope. He never calls it indefinable; in fact, he defines it.)
c. It is nothing. (Chesterton writes: “But these things are about nothing; they are about what is called Success.” However, this answer is too vague, and later in the paragraph, Chesterton goes into more detail – so this is not the best answer.)
d. That a thing is successful merely means that it is. (Yep! This is how he defines it. And he goes on to elaborate: “[A] millionaire is successful in being a millionaire and a donkey in being a donkey. Any live man has succeeded in living; any dead man may have succeeded in committing suicide.”)

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