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Common Core Standards: ELA

Grades 9-10

Reading RI.9-10.9

Standard 9: Analyze seminal U.S. documents of historical and literary significance (e.g., Washington’s Farewell Address, the Gettysburg Address, Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech, King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”), including how they address related themes and concepts.

Breakin’ it Down:

Well, the good news is that you’ll probably have support from your history department with this standard. The bad news is that most history classes focus on memorizing the people, places, and dates, rather than analyzing the documents that influenced history.

This standard exists to make sure that students have a common core set of non-fiction texts. Just like there are works of literary fiction that students are expected to know, there are also famous works of non-fiction that students should have in their repertoire.

To meet this standard, make sure that when you are selecting non-fiction texts for your curriculum, you include texts that have influenced the history of the U.S.

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Example 1

Teacher Feature: Ideas for the classroom

The main skill to cover in this standard is the art of comparison. Pick speeches, essays, and critiques that address similar topics or themes. Give students opportunities to compare and contrast the nuances of the authors’ opinions. (Look back at Standard 2 for ideas).

  • Possible themes to consider:
  • Rights and freedoms
  • Role of government
  • Injustice and prejudice
  • Treatment of minority populations
  • Resistant and rebellion
  • Justification for and against war

Quiz Questions

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

  1. Read President Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” (1863) and the extract below from his “Second Inaugural Address” (1865). Then, answer the questions that follow:

    “One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained….Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully….Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. 

    …With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

    According to Lincoln, what was the problem with slavery?

    Correct Answer:

    The concept of slavery went against the ideas of equality and liberty for all, which was one of our nation’s founding principles.

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - Good job! The answer is in the first two lines of the “Gettysburg Address.” This requires careful reading and thinking because the word “slaves” is not directly mentioned.
    • (b) - This is certainly true, but doesn’t apply here since Lincoln doesn’t talk about these things in these two speeches. Answer A is the better choice.
    • (c) - Nope. Lincoln doesn’t mention this.
    • (d) - While Lincoln does say that “One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves,” nowhere does he mention that the slaves might start a war.

  2. In the “Second Inaugural Address,” Lincoln says that:

    Correct Answer:

    the death and destruction in the war shocked both sides.

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - Nope. In fact, he specifically says, “With malice toward none, with charity for all…” The governing emotion here is not anger.
    • (b) - Nowhere does he say this, so this answer is incorrect.
    • (c) - Correct. He says: “Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained….Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding.”
    • (d) - Nope. In fact, the Civil War was fought to keep our nation united.

  3. These two speeches differ with regard to:

    Correct Answer:

    their purposes. In the “Gettysburg Address,” Lincoln’s purpose is to inspire his troops to fight bravely in the war; but in the “Second Inaugural Address,” he seems saddened by the destruction caused by the war, and hopes that it will end soon. He calls on his people to care for all who suffered in the war.

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - Um, no. While the “Second Inaugural Address” was given during the inauguration of Lincoln’s second term as President, one can hardly call it a happy speech.
    • (b) - Nope. Both these reasons are closely linked in both speeches.
    • (c) - Yes! Good job.
    • (d) - Incorrect. These two speeches bring up different ideas.

  4. Re-read President Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” (1863), and read Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” (1963) speech. Then answer the questions that follow:

    Why do you think King says “Five score years ago” instead of saying “A hundred years ago” in the first line of his second paragraph?

    Correct Answer:

    He wanted to remind his audience of Lincoln’s famous “Gettysburg Address,” which begins with the words: “Fourscore and seven years ago.”

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - One score = 20. So five score = 5 x 20 = 100.
    • (b) - Not really. Later in the speech, King says “hundred” several times – so this can’t be the best reason why.
    • (c) - Nope. See above.
    • (d) - Correct! Good job on paying close attention to word choice. King wanted to remind his listeners of Lincoln’s fight for equality and freedom, and link his own cause with Lincoln’s. He goes on to refer directly to Lincoln as “a great American” later in that paragraph.

  5. With reference to these two speeches, which of the following statements is NOT true?

    Correct Answer:

    Lincoln seeks to inspire his troops to fight with renewed vigor, and King says that supporters of the African-American cause must be prepared to inflict physical violence on people who oppose them.

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - This isn’t the right answer because this statement is true. Remember, you are looking for the statement that is not true. Here are some examples of figurative language from King’s speech: “great beacon of light of hope,” “seared in the flames of withering injustice,” “joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity” – and these are all from just the second paragraph! Here is a striking example of a Biblical reference: “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; ‘and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.’” While Lincoln’s speech does make use of some figurative language (for instance, he uses the phrase “that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom”), King’s speech undoubtedly uses more.
    • (b) - Correct! Good work. While the first half of this statement is true, the second part about King is untrue. King calls for just the opposite, and emphasizes that their struggle should be a nonviolent one. He says: “We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”
    • (c) - Again, this statement is true, so it can’t be the right answer. Lincoln says: “our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” And King says, “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.’”
    • (d) - This is true, so it can’t be the right answer.