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Common Core Standards: ELA

Grades 11-12

Reading RI.11-12.2

Standard 2: Determine two or more central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to provide a complex analysis; provide an objective summary of the text.

Breakin’ it Down:

Your juniors and seniors are already experts at finding the main ideas in a text. However, what might be new for them at this level is that college entrance exams are going to ask students to compare and contrast the main ideas of non-fiction texts on the same topic. (This comes up in the “dueling scientists” section of the ACT). Students have to be able to formulate a main idea statement that is not too broad (because that might miss the subtle differences between various author’s arguments) and not too narrow (to ensure they don’t miss the overarching points.)

This standard also asks students to find the main idea of sub-sections of the text. Make sure they can find or state the main idea of each smaller paragraph and explain how all the smaller ideas build to or support the overall main idea.

Note: The trickiest part of this standard is that, sometimes, the author’s opinion or the main idea shifts at some point during the reading. In such a case, make sure that students can formulate a main idea statement that incorporates both sections!

Example 1

Teacher Feature: Ideas for the classroom

1. UNDERSTUDY: Round Table

This is a class favorite that has a number of different iterations in teaching manuals. After reading a complex non-fiction piece, ask students to highlight the most important sentence in the text, then the most important phrase, and then the most important word. (These can come from anywhere in the text). When students have made their selections, go around the circle and have them read their sentences back-to-back without pausing. Then repeat the process for the phrases and the words. This opens up a great discussion for identifying important ideas in a slightly more exciting way than multiple-choice questions.

As a follow up, ask students to write a short response that details the main ideas that were most frequently cited. Do they agree or disagree with their classmates’ choices?

Example 2

COLLEGIATE: Polar Opposites

For students to really master this standard, they need to be able to analyze the main points of multiple texts on the same topic. Pick at least two related non-fiction pieces. After reading, develop a series of statements that represent a major idea in one text, both texts, or neither text. If you want to get in a workout while teaching non-fiction, tape up “A”, “B”, “BOTH”, “NEITHER” markers on your walls and make students get up and move to the appropriate areas as you read the statements. And if you’re looking for something more low key, have students make flashcards with each option and hold them up as you read the main ideas.

This is a great opportunity for students to physically see where their answers are divided. And having the different groups talk it out will force students to return to the text to convince their classmates to switch places. Students may also want to create their own statements to try to trip up their classmates (not literally, we hope).

Quiz Questions

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

  1. Read this excerpt from James Madison’s 1788 letter to Thomas Jefferson. Then, answer the questions that follow:

    “Dear Sir,

    I have written a number of letters to you since my return here, and shall add this…. The States which have adopted the new Constitution are all proceeding to the arrangements for putting it into action in next March. How the other elections there and elsewhere will run is matter of uncertainty. The Presidency alone unites the conjectures of the public. The vice president is not at all marked out by the general voice. As the President will be from a Southern State, it falls almost of course for the other part of the Continent to supply the next in rank.

    South Carolina may however think of Mr. Rutlidge unless it should be previously discovered that votes will be wasted on him. The only candidates in the Northern States brought forward with their known consent are Hancock and Adams, and between these it seems probable the question will lie. Both of them are objectionable […]. Hancock is weak, ambitious, a courtier of popularity given to low intrigue and lately reunited by a factious friendship with S. Adams.

    J. Adams has made himself obnoxious to many particularly in the Southern states by the political principles avowed in his book. Others, recollecting his cabal during the war against General Washington, knowing his extravagant self-importance, conclude that he would not be a very cordial second to the general. […]

    The little pamphlet herewith enclosed will give you a collective view of the alterations, which have been proposed for the new Constitution. Various and numerous as they appear, they certainly omit many of the true grounds of opposition. The articles relating to Treaties, to paper money, and to contracts, created more enemies than all the errors in the System, positive and negative put together.

    It is true, nevertheless, that not a few, particularly in Virginia have contended for the proposed alterations from the most honorable and patriotic motives; and that among the advocates for the Constitution, there are some who wish for further guards to public liberty and individual rights. As far as these may consist of a constitutional declaration of the most essential rights, it is probable they will be added; though there are many who think such addition unnecessary […].

    My own opinion has always been in favor of a Bill of Rights, provided it be so framed as not to imply powers not meant to be included in the [Constitution]. I have favored it because I supposed it might be of use, and if properly executed, could not be of disservice.”

    Which of the following statements best summarizes the main points of James Madison’s letter?

    Correct Answer:

    He is concerned about whether the public will agree on both the appointment of the vice president and additions to the Constitution.

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - Yes! The first half of the letter discusses the problems and disagreements with potential vice presidential candidates. The second half of the letter explains the public’s conflict about adding a Bill of Rights to the Constitution.
    • (b) - This answer can’t be right because he never says that he has a problem with the presidential nomination. In fact, he says in the first paragraph that the “Presidency alone” unites the public. All of his concerns in the letter focus on just the vice presidential candidates. Also, this answer completely ignores the main idea of the second half of the letter—the Bill of Rights.
    • (c) - While this answer does talk about topics that come up in the letter, its logic is wrong. He is giving details about potential problems with vice presidential candidates. Then he writes about his concerns regarding the Bill of Rights. He isn’t predicting how specific men will react to those changes.
    • (d) - The correct answer is A. He actually says in the first paragraph that it’s almost given that the other part of the Continent (the North) will supply the vice president. This isn’t up for debate. Also, this answer choice completely ignores the second half of the letter, which addresses the concerns about adding a Bill of Rights to the Constitution.

  2. Which of the following best summarizes the author’s opinions about the vice presidential nominees from the Northern States?

    Correct Answer:

    He believes Hancock and Adams have character flaws that make both of them less than ideal candidates.

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - Nope. The first few paragraphs outline all the flaws of these men, including ‘obnoxious’ and ‘weak’. Nowhere does he endorse either one of them. In fact, he calls them both ‘objectionable’.
    • (b) - Good! He calls Hancock weak and Adams obnoxious. He ultimately decides that ‘both are objectionable’.
    • (c) - While it is true that he points out the personal flaws of both men, nowhere does he say one is better than the other. In fact, he directly says that ‘both are objectionable’.
    • (d) - This answer can’t be right because he says that Adams ‘would not be a very cordial second to the general.’ The general he is referring to is General Washington.

  3. Read this excerpt from President Kennedy’s 1961 report on the Berlin Crisis. Then, answer the questions that follow:

    “Seven weeks ago tonight I returned from Europe to report on my meeting with Premier Khrushchev and the others. His grim warnings about the future of the world, his aide memoire on Berlin, his subsequent speeches and threats which he and his agents have launched, and the increase in the Soviet military budget that he has announced, have all prompted a series of decisions by the Administration and a series of consultations with the members of the NATO organization. In Berlin, as you recall, he intends to bring to an end, through a stroke of the pen, first our legal rights to be in West Berlin-and secondly our ability to make good on our commitment to the two million free people of that city. That we cannot permit.

    We are clear about what must be done-and we intend to do it. I want to talk frankly with you tonight about the first steps that we shall take. These actions will require sacrifice on the part of many of our citizens. More will be required in the future. They will require, from all of us, courage and perseverance in the years to come. But if we and our allies act out of strength and unity of purpose--with calm determination and steady nerves--using restraint in our words as well as our weapons, I am hopeful that both peace and freedom will be sustained.”

    The most appropriate sub-heading for the first paragraph would be:

    Correct Answer:

    Berlin: The Epitome of Worsening Relationships in Europe

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - Nope! The whole point of the first paragraph is that relationships with Europe are getting much worse. Note the words “threat,” “grim warnings,” and “cannot permit.”
    • (b) - Great! This is a perfect answer because it addresses the point made in the first half of the paragraph that relationships with European countries are deteriorating, thanks to ‘threats’ and ‘grim warnings’ from the Soviets. And it also incorporates the idea that Berlin is at the center of all the conflicts.
    • (c) - The correct answer is B. This is not an appropriate title because the first paragraph really isn’t focused on the timing and schedule of plans for Berlin. It’s more of a recap of what has been happening lately in Europe.
    • (d) - The correct answer is B. This answer has led you astray! If you read carefully, the President has made a commitment to protect the free citizens of Berlin. They are not doing anything wrong. Instead, it is the Soviet leader, Khrushchev, who is behaving in an unacceptable manner.

  4. Which of the following best represents the author’s complete opinion about Berlin?

    Correct Answer:

    The unacceptable state of Berlin can only be fixed with international cooperation and patience and sacrifice from the American people.

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - This can’t be correct because he says he intends to take action and that he is ‘hopeful that both peace and freedom will be sustained’.
    • (b) - This is not correct. The President asks his country to use ‘restraint in words as well as in weapons,’ meaning that he is not pushing for violence. However, the second part of the statement asking for sacrifice from the American people is correct.
    • (c) - This answer isn’t logical because he is asking the American people to make sacrifices in order to help the people in Berlin. Also, nowhere does he directly compare the freedom of the two groups.
    • (d) - Good! This is a great summary of all the major points in his speech. The other answer choices leave out at least one important point, but this one hits them all!

  5. Read this excerpt from President Johnson’s 1964 speech, “The Great Society,” which he delivered at the University of Michigan. Then, answer the question that follows:

    “I have come today from the turmoil of your capital to the tranquility of your campus to speak about the future of your country. The purpose of protecting the life of our Nation and preserving the liberty of our citizens is to pursue the happiness of our people. Our success in that pursuit is the test of our success as a Nation.

    For a century we labored to settle and to subdue a continent. For half a century we called upon unbounded invention and untiring industry to create an order of plenty for all of our people. The challenge of the next half century is whether we have the wisdom to use that wealth to enrich and elevate our national life, and to advance the quality of our American civilization.

    Your imagination and your initiative and your indignation will determine whether we build a society where progress is the servant of our needs, or a society where old values and new visions are buried under unbridled growth. For in your time we have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society.

    The Great Society rests on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and racial injustice, to which we are totally committed in our time. But that is just the beginning.

    The Great Society is a place where every child can find knowledge to enrich his mind and to enlarge his talents. It is a place where leisure is a welcome chance to build and reflect, not a feared cause of boredom and restlessness. It is a place where the city of man serves not only the needs of the body and the demands of commerce but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community. It is a place where man can renew contact with nature. It is a place which honors creation for its own sake and for what is adds to the understanding of the race. It is a place where men are more concerned with the quality of their goals than the quantity of their goods.”

    Johnson’s Great Society can best be summarized as:

    Correct Answer:

    A place where quality of life is just as important as power and wealth.

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - Correct! The last sentence is the best indicator that this is the best answer. In his speech, he notes the importance of balancing the quality of life with America’s already increasing wealth, power, and unbridled growth. He believes the new society can be rich and powerful, but that it should also provide ‘abundance and liberty for all’.
    • (b) - The correct answer is A. He emphasizes the importance of caring for community and ensuring the happiness of the people in his Great Society. He also says it will require ‘liberty and abundance for all’, not just for a few individuals.
    • (c) - The correct answer is A. He refers to the Great Society as more than just ‘unbridled growth’ and a ‘rich…powerful society.’ So this answer isn’t the best summary.
    • (d) - The correct answer is A. This answer is way too specific to be a summary of his vision for the Great Society. Choose the answer that focuses on the bigger ideas rather than on a tiny detail.