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Common Core Standards: ELA

Grades 11-12

Reading RI.11-12.5

Standard 5: Analyze and evaluate the effectiveness of the structure an author uses in his or her exposition or argument, including whether the structure makes points clear, convincing, and engaging.

Breakin’ it Down:

Analyzing the ‘structure’ of a text can encompass a number of different things. This can be an analysis of sub-headings or the order of paragraphs. It can also mean searching a text for ineffectual tangents or contradictory evidence. Or it can mean discussing why or how the points of an argument are presented.

While 18th and 19th century informational texts may tend to present ideas in rambling, endless paragraphs, many modern authors have adopted subheadings and bulleted lists to clarify arguments. Prepare students to read both text types, and analyze which techniques are reader-friendly.

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Example 1

Teacher Feature: Ideas for the classroom

1. UNDERSTUDY: Summary Trump Cards

While verbose or wordy non-fiction texts may have been appreciated in their time, students often end up frustrated with the lack of structure and clarity in early American texts. Acknowledge their potential frustration with a game of trumps!

Give students a section of a wordy text (increase the length as students get better). After reading, ask each student or group of students to write the shortest summary possible of the author’s argument without removing any essential ideas. Have them write their word count on their page. Randomly choose one group to read their summary and evaluate the completeness and accuracy of their work. Other groups may ‘trump’ the previous group by presenting a comprehensive summary with fewer words.

Example 2

2. COLLEGIATE: Genre Studies

There are definite differences in the formats and writing conventions of texts in different genres or subject areas. Students should be able to recognize the formats and conventions of a biology text versus a book review. This is an area of literacy that is often passed over in high school classrooms, but it is vital to building advanced literacy skills.

If you can team up with other departments, a great cross-curricular project is to assign a replication writing assignment in each subject area that requires students to follow the formatting and conventions of that subject area. Give them expert texts as a guide to structure, but ask them to create a text with brand new material. As students complete the assignment in different classes, they will start to recognize the subtleties of text structure. And it’s a great opportunity to test their mastery of material while building literacy!

Quiz Questions

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

  1. Read this extract from Malcolm X’s 1964 speech “The Ballot or the Bullet”, and then answer the questions that follow:

    “So it's time to wake up. And when you see [whites] coming up with that kind of conspiracy, let them know your eyes are open. And let them know you -- something else that’s wide open too. It's got to be the ballot or the bullet. The ballot or the bullet. If you're afraid to use an expression like that, you should get on out of the country; you should get back in the cotton patch; you should get back in the alley. They get all the Negro vote, and after they get it, the Negro gets nothing in return. All they did when they got to Washington was give a few big Negroes big jobs. Those big Negroes didn't need big jobs, they already had jobs. That's camouflage, that's trickery, that's treachery, window-dressing. But it is true; you put the Democrats first and the Democrats put you last.

    You take the people who are in this audience right now. They're poor. We're all poor as individuals. Our weekly salary individually amounts to hardly anything. But if you take the salary of everyone in here collectively, it'll fill up a whole lot of baskets. It's a lot of wealth. If you can collect the wages of just these people right here for a year, you'll be rich -- richer than rich. When you look at it like that, think how rich Uncle Sam had to become, not with this handful, but millions of black people. Your and my mother and father, who didn't work an eight-hour shift, but worked from ‘can't see’ in the morning until ‘can't see’ at night, and worked for nothing, making the white man rich, making Uncle Sam rich. This is our investment. This is our contribution, our blood.

    Not only did we give of our free labor, we gave of our blood. Every time he had a call to arms, we were the first ones in uniform. We died on every battlefield the white man had. We have made a greater sacrifice than anybody who's standing up in America today. We have made a greater contribution and have collected less.

    If you don't take this kind of stand, your little children will grow up and look at you and think ‘shame.’ If you don't take an uncompromising stand, I don't mean go out and get violent; but at the same time you should never be nonviolent unless you run into some nonviolence. I'm nonviolent with those who are nonviolent with me. But when you drop that violence on me, then you've made me go insane, and I'm not responsible for what I do. And that's the way every Negro should get. Any time you know you're within the law, within your legal rights, within your moral rights, in accord with justice, then die for what you believe in. But don't die alone. Let your dying be reciprocal.

    In the first paragraph, the speaker tries to gain support by:

    Correct Answer:

    showing the potential misfortune of those who will not conform to his beliefs

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - Correct! He tells those who don’t agree with him to ‘get back in the cotton patch…get back in the alley’, implying that they will continue to live a lifestyle without opportunity.
    • (b) - His examples are actually in the past tense, so he is giving examples of problems that have already occurred. There’s a better answer!
    • (c) - The correct answer is A. There are no questions at all in the first paragraph, so this answer can be immediately ruled out.
    • (d) - He only offers one solution: ‘It's got to be the ballot or the bullet.’ He’s pretty direct with his belief that this is the only answer.

  2. In the second paragraph, the author shows the weakness of his individual followers in order to:

    Correct Answer:

    show the contrasting image of their collective power later in the text.

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - This speech is not at all about hopelessness. In fact, he shows their individual weakness to then suggest how they can come together to gain power. He offers solutions for how to fix the problem.
    • (b) - Nice work! He argues that individuals in the audience are poor and powerless, but later says that if they came together, they’d be ‘richer than rich’.
    • (c) - The word ‘permanent’ makes this answer choice false. In his speech, he calls for changes to be made so that the situation can improve. He does not think the problems are permanent.
    • (d) - He actually argues that no individual can do any good, and that they have to work together to make an impact.

  3. Read this extract from The Declaration of Independence, and then answer the question that follows:

    “Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive… it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. […] The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

    He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

    He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

    He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only. 

    He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures. 

    He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.”

    Which of the following accurately describes the structure of the argument in this portion of the Declaration of Independence?

    Correct Answer:

    A general belief is followed by a list of specific examples to support the belief.

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - Good job! The first paragraph states that when a group of people is unhappy with its government, it should be able to demolish the government. Then, we get a list of all the ways the King of Great Britain has done these people wrong, which they give as evidence to show why they should be able to get rid of him.
    • (b) - The text focuses only on evidence to support its point that the people should be allowed to get rid of the King’s government. The opposing viewpoint is not represented.
    • (c) - The list is not different individuals’ interpretations, but a list of specific examples of the King treating the people unfairly.
    • (d) - The list is not presenting recommendations. Instead, it is a collection of the King’s wrongdoings.

  4. Read this extract from Martin Luther King’s 1963 speech “I Have a Dream” Then, answer the questions that follow:

    “I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

    Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

    But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

    In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

    It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’”

    The repetition of the phrase ‘one hundred years later’ serves to:

    Correct Answer:

    emphasize that black people have been cheated of fair treatment for a very long time

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - He isn’t giving us any exact dates. He just wants to show how much time has passed since freedom was first promised to his people.
    • (b) - Good. By repeating this phrase, followed by descriptions of the awful conditions of black people’s lives, he is refusing to let the audience forget how long his people have been waiting for the privileges of freedom and fairness.
    • (c) - If anything, this phrase shows that too much time has passed without the Emancipation Proclamation being fully realized.
    • (d) - There’s definitely nothing in this speech to indicate that the Emancipation Proclamation will expire! Remember that you have to have specific evidence or lines from the text to support your answer.

  5. The author makes reference to the Emancipation Proclamation in order to

    Correct Answer:

    remind the American government of an unfulfilled promise

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - He refers to this leader as a ‘great American,’ so this can’t be right.
    • (b) - He is not criticizing the actual document in any way. He uses positive phrases to describe it, like ‘momentous decree’ and ‘joyous daybreak’.
    • (c) - This isn’t a contest among documents. He actually admires the ideas in all of these documents. He just isn’t happy with how the documents have been ignored or unfairly implemented.
    • (d) - Correct! The whole point of bringing up the document is to show how the government never followed through with its promise of freedom, even after a hundred years.

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