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Common Core Standards: ELA See All Teacher Resources

Grades 11-12

Reading RL.11-12.3

Analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).

Breakin’ it Down:

If you think about it, an author is a lot like the director of a movie. Authors cast their characters, dress their sets, manipulate dialogue and pacing, determine the sequence of scenes, etc. While they may not have all the Hollywood glam or the cool canvas chair (sad, we know), authors are saddled with just as many nuanced choices to make as film directors. This standard asks students to examine those choices; it asks them to wrestle with complex questions of author’s purpose. Students should be able to step behind the camera and analyze why the author included a particular element or made a stylistic choice. They should be able to discuss how the author’s choices impact the text and the reader’s experience of the text:

  • What choices cause the reader to like or dislike certain characters? 
  • Why do we trust the blue-eyed charmer and question the brooding, shadowy stranger? The author couldn’t be playing with our preconceived notions, could they? 
  • How does the choice and development of setting create a particular mood? 
  • Why did the author choose to reveal the events of the story in this order?

This is a great time to team up with your friendly, neighborhood Writing Standards for Grades 11-12 since students will need to think like writers in order to accomplish the goals of this standard.

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Teaching Guides Using this Standard


The Daily Grind: Teaching the Standard

NOVICE: Give students one element of the text to focus on (say, setting or point of view) and ask them to track the author’s choices for that particular element. Then, give students some probing questions to help them analyze the purpose and effect of the choices they’ve identified.

INTERMEDIATE/ALL-STAR: Give students a list of several elements from the text and ask them to track the author’s choices for these elements as they read. You might give them a few probing questions to get started (see below), but then students should be able to take the reins and continue their analysis on their own.

Here are some ideas of choices to examine and questions to ask:

What choices did the author make with...Look for...Probing questions...
Elements of the setting
  • Historical context (time period and major events happening in society)
  • Geographic location (What can you figure out about the culture, religion, etc.?)
  • What kind of society do you see in the story?
  • What are the roles of different groups of people in this society?
  • Who is in power and why?
  • What would change about the characters or events if the author changed the time period?
  • Could anything in this story be an allegory for an actual historical event?
Order of Events
  • Chronology (Are the events in chronological order or do they jump around?)
  • Conflicts
  • Resolutions to conflicts
  • At which points are readers disoriented or confused about elements of the plot? How did this change the story or change the reader's experience with the story?
  • Which conflicts are instantly resolved and which are present throughout the entire text?
  • Are any events/problems left unresolved? If so, why?
Point of View and Characterization
  • Point of view (Does it change or stay constant?)
  • Unanswered questions about characters or character relationships
  • Is there anything about the characters or events that the author is holding back or purposely not telling you? If so, why?
  • Who is controlling the story? How does the point of view change what we know or assume about the characters or events
  • Are there any secrets about the characters that are kept for a portion of the story? Why?

Quiz Questions

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

  1. Why would an author frequently stop the beginning of a narrative and include the phrases, “…but that will be explained later” or “that’s a story for a later time?”

    Correct Answer:

    The author wants to build a sense of suspense.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (D). These phrases make you wonder what will happen later in the story and keep you hooked. The author wants you to keep reading to figure out how these events will play out. Pretty obvious, right?

  2. Excerpt from The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark by William Shakespeare
    Adapted from http://shakespeare.mit.edu/hamlet/full.html

    The guard FRANCISCO is at his post. Enter BERNARDO

    Who's there?

    Nay, answer me: stand, and unfold yourself.

    Long live the king!



    You come most carefully upon your hour.

    'Tis now struck twelve; get thee to bed, Francisco.

    For this relief much thanks: 'tis bitter cold,
    And I am sick at heart.

    Have you had quiet guard?

    Not a mouse stirring.

    Well, good night.
    If you do meet Horatio and Marcellus,
    The rivals of my watch, bid them make haste.

    I think I hear them. Stand, ho! Who's there? […]

    Which of the following describes the narrative structure at the beginning of the play?

    Correct Answer:

    The scene begins in mid-action, leaving readers to piece together the setting and relationships between characters.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (B). There is no introduction to give us a clue as to the setting or character relationships. We feel a sense of excitement as we try to anticipate where the scene will go next. Answers (A) and (C) are completely different from the play’s structure. Shakespeare gives us nothing at the beginning—no details, no insight into characters or relationships, and definitely no description of the community. Answer (D) might trick you if your automatic response to Shakespeare is that his dialogue is complex. If so, you’re not alone, but if you can get past the archaic language, the conversation is really just brief small-talk between the guards. “Hey, how was your shift?” stuff. Also, there’s no jealous feud going on here.

  3. Excerpt from “A Double Barrelled Detective Story” By Mark Twain

    The first scene is in the country, in Virginia; the time, 1880. There has been a wedding, between a handsome young man of slender means and a rich young girl—a case of love at first sight and a precipitate marriage; a marriage bitterly opposed by the girl's widowed father.

    Jacob Fuller, the groom, is twenty-six years old, is of an old but unconsidered family. […] The bride is nineteen and beautiful. She is intense, high-strung, romantic, immeasurably proud of her Cavalier blood, and passionate in her love for her young husband. For its sake she braved her father's displeasure, endured his reproaches, listened with loyalty unshaken to his warning predictions, and went from his house without his blessing […]

    The morning after the marriage there was a sad surprise for her. Her husband put aside her proffered caresses, and said: "Sit down. I have something to say to you. I loved you. That was before I asked your father to give you to me. His refusal is not my grievance—I could have endured that. But the things he said of me to you—that is a different matter. There—you needn't speak; I know quite well what they were; I got them from authentic sources. Among other things he said that my character was written in my face; that I was treacherous, a dissembler, a coward, and a brute without sense of pity or compassion. Any other man in my place would have gone to his house and shot him down like a dog. I wanted to do it, and was minded to do it, but a better thought came to me: to put him to shame; to break his heart; to kill him by inches. How to do it? Through my treatment of you, his idol! I would marry you; and then—Have patience. You will see."

    Based on the way the plot has been introduced, what does the reader logically expect to happen next?

    Correct Answer:

    The husband will begin mistreating his new wife.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (D). We know that this story isn’t going in a good direction for the wife when the husband says he’s going “to put him to shame; to break his heart; to kill him by inches. How to do it? Through my treatment of you, his idol!” Yikes. While (A) might be what you’d do in this situation (and us too), you have to look back for clues. The daughter has been described as proud of her husband and deeply in love. We have no evidence that she is about to leave. The plot design in (B) wouldn’t be logical because the father doesn’t know what his new son-in-law is planning. He is purposely keeping his evil thoughts to himself. Answer (C) should have been easy to cross out because the first paragraph says her father was widowed.

  4. What stylistic choice does Mark Twain make at the beginning of the text to interest the reader and set the tension?

    Correct Answer:

    He immediately introduces the conflict between father and son-in-law and builds suspense by leaving the conflict unresolved.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (B). From the very beginning, we know that the father has a beef with his new son-in-law, and we know that the marriage came about hastily (that’s what precipitate marriage means, by the way). We smell trouble right away. Answer (A) isn’t right because we don’t get much detail about the setting or the society. Be careful with (C). The narrator in the story is not the daughter. This is actually told by a third-person omniscient (god-like) narrator. We see the father and husband’s opinions as equally as the daughter’s. Answer (D) is wrong because if you read closely, the father is actually in no physical danger here that we know of. The husband is clear that rather than shoot the father, he will be cruel to the daughter. He’s a real keeper, huh?

  5. Excerpt from “Shame” by Stephen Crane

    "Don't come in here botherin' me," said the cook, intolerantly. "What with your mother bein' away on a visit, an' your father comin' home soon to lunch, I have enough on my mind -- and that without bein' bothered with you. The kitchen is no place for little boys, anyhow. Run away, and don't be interferin' with my work." She frowned and made a grand pretense of being deep in herculean labors; but Jimmie did not run away.
    "Now -- they're goin' to have a picnic," he said, half audibly.
    "Now -- they're goin' to have a picnic."
    "Who's goin' to have a picnic?" demanded the cook, loudly. Her accent could have led one to suppose that if the projectors did not turn out to be the proper parties, she immediately would forbid this picnic.
    Jimmie looked at her with more hopefulness. After twenty minutes of futile skirmishing, he had at least succeeded in introducing the subject. To her question he answered, eagerly:
    "Oh, everybody! Lots and lots of boys and girls. Everybody."
    "Who's everybody?"

    The conflict in this scene is built mainly by…

    Correct Answer:

    the aggressive and unbalanced dialogue between Jimmie and the cook.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (C). We start realizing there is a problem in this story when the cook immediately starts lecturing Jimmie as he enters the kitchen. Then Jimmie barely says a word. In fact, he seems afraid to explain the picnic. Clearly there is something uncomfortable happening between these two characters. Answer (A) is wrong because Jimmie doesn’t have anything close to a monologue in this story. He hardly speaks at all. Answer (B) is wrong because we actually get no clues about the physical characteristics of Jimmie or the cook. Answer (D) is wrong because even though the parents aren’t present in the kitchen, that doesn’t really seem to be the source of the problem. The tension is between Jimmie and the cook.