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Common Core Standards: ELA See All Teacher Resources

Grades 9-10

Reading RI.9-10.2

Standard 2: Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

Breakin’ it Down:

The good news is that this standard is just a fancy way of saying: “Make sure students can figure out the main idea of a non-fiction text.” In most cases, main idea statements (or thesis statements) are easier to formulate for non-fiction texts than for fiction or poetry. Usually, the authors of nonfiction texts explicitly state the main idea somewhere at the beginning of the text.

This standard also asks students to find the main ideas of sub-sections of the text. So, we’ll have to make sure that 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: Sometimes, the author’s opinion or the main idea shifts at some point during the reading, and this can be tricky for students to figure out and articulate. In such a case, make sure that students can formulate a main idea that incorporates both sections!]

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Teaching Guides Using this Standard

Example 1

Teacher Feature: Ideas for the classroom

1. HATCHLING: The Goldilocks Test (Not too broad, not too narrow, but just right!)

As students start reading high school texts, they need to be able to identify main ideas without getting tricked by common distracters. The easiest way to do this is teach them to apply the Goldilocks Formula. A good main idea statement will not focus in on a small detail or an idea that is present in only one section of the text (too narrow). It also will not be a claim that is too big to be supported by the text or is not specific enough to address what the text was actually about (too broad).

As students sift through the answer choices to main idea questions, have them label the answers using the Goldilocks Formula so they can pinpoint the answer that’s just right.

Example 2

TAKE FLIGHT: Compare/Contrast

The hardest version of this standard is to ask students to compare two texts that address the same topic but have different interpretations. Design activities where students must find the subtle differences between the main ideas of two texts. You can even organize a debate day when students must analyze the differences, side with one author, and explain their choice.

Quiz Questions

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

  1. Read the following two excerpts from the speeches of President Obama and President Clinton. Then answer questions 1-2 below.


    Address to Congress on Health Care
    (September 9, 2009): Barack Obama

    “I want to thank the Members of this body for your efforts and your support in these last several months, and especially those who've taken the difficult votes that have put us on a path to recovery. I also want to thank the American people for their patience and resolve during this trying time for our Nation. But we did not come here just to clean up crises. We came here to build a future. So tonight, I return to speak to all of you about an issue that is central to that future, and that is the issue of health care.
    I am not the first President to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last. It has now been nearly a century since Theodore Roosevelt first called for health care reform, and ever since, nearly every President and Congress, whether Democrat or Republican, has attempted to meet this challenge in some way. A bill for comprehensive health reform was first introduced by John Dingell, Sr., in 1943. Sixty-five years later, his son continues to introduce that same bill at the beginning of each session.
    Our collective failure to meet this challenge, year after year, decade after decade, has led us to the breaking point. Everyone understands the extraordinary hardships that are placed on the uninsured who live every day just one accident or illness away from bankruptcy.
    We are the only democracy—the only advanced democracy on Earth—the only wealthy nation that allows such hardship for millions of its people. There are now more than 30 million American citizens who cannot get coverage.”


    Address on Health Care Reform
    (September 22, 1993): Bill Clinton

    “If Americans are to have the courage to change in a difficult time, we must first be secure in our most basic needs. Tonight I want to talk to you about the most critical thing we can do to build that security. This health care system of ours is badly broken, and it is time to fix it. Despite the dedication of literally millions of talented health care professionals, our health care is too uncertain and too expensive, too bureaucratic and too wasteful. It has too much fraud and too much greed.
    At long last, after decades of false starts, we must make this our most urgent priority, giving every American health security, health care that can never be taken away, heath care that is always there. That is what we must do tonight.
    So tonight I want to talk to you about the principles that I believe must embody our efforts to reform America's health care system: security, simplicity, savings, choice, quality, and responsibility […]
    We have to preserve and strengthen what is right with the health care system, but we have got to fix what is wrong with it. Now, we all know what's right. We're blessed with the best health care professionals on Earth, the finest health care institutions, the best medical research, the most sophisticated technology […]
    But we also know that we can no longer afford to continue to ignore what is wrong. Millions of Americans are just a pink slip away from losing their health insurance and one serious illness away from losing all their savings.”

    Which statement best summarizes a concern that both presidents use to persuade their readers that health care is an urgent issue?

    Correct Answer:

    Health problems can unexpectedly ruin someone’s entire life because our health care system doesn’t protect those without insurance.

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - Nice work! This is a great summary of both Obama’s concern that people are “just one accident or illness away from bankruptcy” and Clinton’s claim that some people are “one serious illness away from losing all their savings”.
    • (b) - The correct answer is A. This answer is definitely not right because Obama calls us an “advanced democracy” and Clinton says we have the “best”/“most sophisticated” medical system in the world.
    • (c) - The correct answer is A. First, this isn’t a bad thing, so it’s probably not their concern. Second, both presidents talk about how expensive health care is, but neither of them talk about it getting cheaper!
    • (d) - The correct answer is A. Even though Obama’s speech mentions Congress, this is not anywhere to be seen in Clinton’s speech, so this can’t be a summary of a common concern.

  2. Which statement best summarizes one of the complaints that both presidents have with the health care dilemma?

    Correct Answer:

    Health care problems have been around for a long time but we still aren’t fixing them.

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - Yes! Both speeches share this idea. Obama says we have ‘failed to meet the challenge year after year’ and it’s still an issue ‘sixty-five years later’. Clinton says he wants to fix it ‘at long last, after decades of false starts’.
    • (b) - The correct answer is A. This idea of fraud and greed comes up in Clinton’s speech, but not in Obama’s. This question is asking you to find a similarity in both speeches.
    • (c) - The correct answer is A. This answer cannot be right because both presidents, especially Clinton, highlights how advanced our health care system really is. So they do not think it is poor quality. Don’t get tricked because the first part of the statement is true -- they both agree it is expensive.
    • (d) - The correct answer is A. Everything in both speeches goes against this idea. Both presidents highlight the fact that Americans can’t get good health care when they need it, not that they don’t want it.

  3. Read the excerpt below from President Kennedy’s speech, “We choose to go to the moon”. Then, answer the questions that follow:

    “Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the industrial revolution, the first waves of modern invention, and the first wave of nuclear power, and this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space. We mean to be a part of it--we mean to lead it. For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace. We have vowed that we shall not see space filled with weapons of mass destruction, but with instruments of knowledge and understanding. […]

    We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

    It is for these reasons that I regard the decision last year to shift our efforts in space from low to high gear as among the most important decisions that will be made during my Presidency. In the last 24 hours we have seen facilities now being created for the greatest and most complex exploration in man's history.”

    Which sentence is the best summary of the first paragraph?

    Correct Answer:

    Just like other challenges in history, America needs to take control of the space exploration revolution to ensure its success.

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - The correct answer is B. The idea of cost doesn’t even come up in the first paragraph, so this can’t be right.
    • (b) - Nice! The first half of the paragraph talks about other periods in history when America was a leader, and the second half of the paragraph talks about how we need to make sure we control who or what ends up in space. So this is a great summary sentence for the paragraph.
    • (c) - The correct answer is B. Well, the president does mention the flag, but it’s just a symbol of American power. He is not really focused on the flag, but on having control over all of space exploration.
    • (d) - The correct answer is B. Even though inventions are mentioned, this statement is way too broad to be right. This paragraph is specifically about focusing on space exploration, so the summary has to include that idea in order to be correct.

  4. Which line from the text best summarizes the text as a whole?

    Correct Answer:

    “I regard the decision last year to shift our efforts in space from low to high gear as among the most important decisions that will be made during my Presidency.”

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - The correct answer is C. This answer can’t be right because the main topic of the text is the space program and going to the moon. This quote doesn’t mention that at all.
    • (b) - The correct answer is C. This quote is too specific to be the main idea. The space facilities are not the main focus of the text.
    • (c) - Great work! This is the best main idea sentence because everything in the text is explaining why the space project is so important. All the examples support his idea that the space race cannot be ignored.
    • (d) - The correct answer is C. This is definitely an important idea about why he wanted the U.S. to explore space, but it isn’t the main idea.

  5. Read the excerpt below from Nelson Mandela’s speech, “I am Prepared to Die”. Then, answer the question that follows:

    “Africans want to be paid a living wage. Africans want to perform work which they are capable of doing, and not work which the Government declares them to be capable of. Africans want to be allowed to live where they obtain work, and not be endorsed out of an area because they were not born there. Africans want to be allowed to own land in places where they work, and not to be obliged to live in rented houses which they can never call their own. Africans want to be part of the general population, and not confined to living in their own ghettoes. Africans want to be allowed out after eleven o'clock at night and not to be confined to their rooms like little children. Africans want to be allowed to travel in their own country and to seek work where they want to and not where the Labor Bureau tells them to. Africans want a just share in the whole of South Africa; they want security and a stake in society.

    Above all, we want equal political rights, because without them our disabilities will be permanent. I know this sounds revolutionary to the whites in this country, because the majority of voters will be Africans. This makes the white man fear democracy. But this fear cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the only solution which will guarantee racial harmony and freedom for all […]

    During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

    The main point of Nelson Mandela’s speech is that:

    Correct Answer:

    White men and Africans will only be equal when they are given equal opportunities in society, especially equal political power.

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - The correct answer is D. This statement is too broad to be true. He says that he is willing to die, but there is nothing in the speech to indicate that all African people feel the same way.
    • (b) - The correct answer is D. Even though all these ideas definitely come up in the speech, he says in the final paragraph that he doesn’t want whites to dominate blacks OR blacks to dominate whites. He wants everyone to be equal. So he’s not asking white citizens to give everything up.
    • (c) - The correct answer is D. This is not the right answer because Mandela says, “above all, we want equal political rights”, meaning that is most important. So even though jobs are a huge part of the speech, this is not the main idea.
    • (d) - Well done! This is definitely the best main idea because it incorporates the main idea from the first paragraph that Africans want equal opportunities is all areas of society: housing, jobs, travel, etc. It also brings up the idea of the last two paragraphs that political equality is the most important freedom for the Africans.

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