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Common Core Standards: ELA

Grades 9-10

Reading RI.9-10.4

Standard 4: Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language of a court opinion differs from that of a newspaper).

Breakin’ it Down:

This standard has two different skills disguised as one. The first is that students have to be able to figure out the meaning of a word using context clues. They’ve probably been exposed to this skill since elementary school, but you have to make sure they can do it with 9th and 10th grade texts.

The second skill in this standard is the ability to analyze the overall language patterns or style of a technical text. For informational texts, you’ll probably want to expose students to texts written for a wide range of technical audiences: art critics, car mechanics, historians, doctors, artists (or whatever floats your boat). This gives them a chance to find patterns in tone or diction across genres of writing.

Give students plenty of opportunities to analyze the different language patterns in various texts, and the effects that these have on the reader. In short, students have to be able to articulate how the audience of a particular text affects the writer’s language choice.

Example 1

Teacher Feature: Ideas for the classroom

1. HATCHLING: Define a word using context clues

Once students hit high school, they have to be willing to dig deeper and read further for context clues. Give them passages where the clues to a word require reading in another paragraph, or making connections between two parts of a text. In informational writing, students can’t expect the definition of a word to always be sitting right next to the word itself.

You can create multiple-choice context clue questions with any text you have in class or find plenty of released practice tests from college entrance exams to keep students fresh.

Example 2

2. TAKE FLIGHT: Do-It-Yourself

In our increasingly digital society, you can learn just about anything by pulling up an online article. A fun way to test this standard is to give students a technical document (how to make a paper airplane, how to assemble a blender, how to write a press release), and challenge them to make something or answer a quiz about the topic with only the text to guide them. It forces them to figure out the technical vocabulary and keep all their terms in order. Follow it up with a short vocab quiz on the important terms from the text.

It might seem silly, but these types of texts are becoming more frequent on standardized reading exams. With just a little bit of creativity, you can find technical documents that tie-in to your thematic units or supplement your class readings.

Quiz Questions

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

  1. Read the excerpt below from “African American New Woman”. Then, answer the question that follows:

    “Society's preoccupation with glamour permeated black communities during the 1910s and 1920s, where beauty parlors were ubiquitous and cosmetics sales soared. While contemporary black artists stressed the beauty and strength of African American culture and people, black women sometimes accepted the assumption that white was better; among popular cosmetics were skin-lightening creams and hair-straightening products.”

    In the paragraph above, the word ubiquitous most closely means:

    Correct Answer:

    Widespread

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - The correct answer is C. Your clue about the definition comes later in the sentence when it says cosmetics sales soared. Based on this you, have to figure out what would have been true about beauty parlors. There is no evidence that they were expensive. In fact, we know nothing about the costs.
    • (b) - The correct answer is C. Your clue about the definition comes later in the sentence when it says cosmetics sales soared. Based on this, and the clue in the first sentence that people were obsessed with glamor, you can assume that beauty parlors were popular.
    • (c) - Yes! You can figure this out based on the clue later in the sentence that cosmetics sales soared. Based on this, you can assume that there was also demand for beauty parlors and that there were lots of them. You could also figure this out based on the first line that society was preoccupied with glamor.
    • (d) - The correct answer is C. The sentence gives you a clue when it says cosmetics sales soared. Based on this, you have to figure out what would have been true about beauty parlors. There is also a clue in the first sentence when it says people were obsessed with glamor. Dirty is not the best answer because we know nothing about the cleanliness of these places. There’s definitely a better choice.

  2. Read the excerpt below from “Law, Justice, and the Holocaust”. Then, answer the question that follows:

    “In the course of this state-sponsored tyranny, the Nazis left countless lives shattered and millions dead. The most significant perpetrators of these crimes are well known: Hitler, Adolf Eichmann, Heinrich Himmler, and Reinhard Heydrich, as well as the SS, among others. But less known are the contributions of “ordinary” people—doctors, lawyers, teachers, civil servants, officers, and other professionals throughout German society— whose individual actions, when taken together, resulted in dire consequences. Put simply, the Holocaust could not have happened without them.”

    In the paragraph above the word tyranny most closely means:

    Correct Answer:

    Cruel or destructive behavior

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - The correct answer is D. We know that the tyranny led to shattered lives and millions of deaths, so a positive definition of the word doesn’t make sense.
    • (b) - The correct answer is D. We know that the tyranny led to shattered lives and millions of deaths, so this definition isn’t severe or negative enough to fit the situation.
    • (c) - The correct answer is D. We know that the tyranny led to shattered lives and millions of deaths. Based on those clues, we know that this word is not positive. This definition doesn’t fit.
    • (d) - Yes, this is the only answer choice that makes sense when you look at the details in the rest of the paragraph. We know that the tyranny led to shattered lives and millions of deaths, so this definition fits.

  3. Read the excerpt below from Patrick Henry’s speech “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death”. Then, answer the question that follows:

    “The war is inevitable—and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.

    It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace—but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle?”

    Which definition of gale is Patrick Henry using in the context above?

    Correct Answer:

    A surge in troops

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - The correct answer is C. Even though this is a possible definition for gale, he is using a more figurative definition here. He is talking about war and the clash of arms (weapons), so the best answer will be war-related.
    • (b) - The correct answer is C. Even though this is a possible definition for gale, he is using a more figurative definition here. He is talking about war and the clash of arms (weapons), so the best answer will be war-related.
    • (c) - Good! Even though all of these choices are possible definitions for the word, this is the only one that fits the context. The first clue is that the speaker is talking about a war that has already begun. The other clue is that when the gale happens, it will bring the clash of arms -- as in weapons, not limbs! Therefore, a movement of troops is the best answer.
    • (d) - The correct answer is C. Even though this is a possible definition for gale, he is using a more figurative definition here. He is talking about war and the clash of arms, so the best answer will be war-related.

  4. Read the excerpt below from Thomas Paine’s “The Crisis”. Then, answer the question that follows:

    “If ever a nation was made and foolish, blind to its own interest and bent on its own destruction, it is Britain. Britain, as a nation, is, in my inmost belief, the greatest and most ungrateful offender against God on the face of the whole earth. Blessed with all the commerce she could wish for, and furnished, by a vast extension of [land], with the means of civilizing both the eastern and western world, she has made no other use of both than proudly to idolize her own "thunder," and rip up the [intestines] of whole countries for what she could get.”

    In the final line of the paragraph, the author’s uses the metaphor of Britain determined to rip up the [intestines] of whole countries for what she could get. This represents:

    Correct Answer:

    Britain ripping up the land of conquered countries to take valuable natural resources

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - The correct answer is B. This is an image of destruction, literally someone pulling out intestines, so it can’t represent something being built or put together.
    • (b) - This is the best answer. The image is of someone literally pulling the intestines out of a living thing to get to something inside them -- gross! So the intestines have to represent something valuable that Britain would want to dig up—as in, natural resources.
    • (c) - The correct answer is B. This comparison is all about getting to something valuable that’s already in the countries. So it wouldn’t make sense that this is about bringing something in from the outside.
    • (d) - The correct answer is B. This is an image of destruction, so it can’t represent something positive.

  5. Read the excerpt below from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” . Then, answer the question that follows:

    “… the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. That's a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding.

    Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee -- the cry is always the same: ‘We want to be free.’”

    Based on the speaker’s word choice and descriptions, his tone can best be described as:

    Correct Answer:

    Hopeful

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - The correct answer is C. Even though he seems disgusted at the beginning, you cannot ignore the shift in his tone towards the end when he says something is happening, men are responding. He also uses the image of stars emerging from the darkness to show that good things can come out of hard times.
    • (b) - The correct answer is C. Apathetic means he has absolutely no emotion or strong feelings about the topic. Words like “messed up”, “sick”, and “trouble” automatically rule out this choice.
    • (c) - Correct! Although his speech starts out negative, you see hope in his comments that “something is happening/ men are responding”. He also uses the image of stars emerging from the darkness to show that good things can come out of hard times.
    • (d) - The correct answer is C. There is nothing to indicate that he is ashamed or embarrassed about what is happening. This word doesn’t accurately describe how he feels about the changes in the world.

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