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Common Core Standards: ELA

Grades 11-12

Reading RL.11-12.5

Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.

Breakin’ it Down:

This standard asks students to notice and analyze the structure of the writing and the layout of the story. Students will immediately have perceptions about the structure, but they may not be able to articulate the significance of what they notice. If you hear any of the following complaints or grumblings, it means you have a great starting point for discussing this standard:

  • Ummm…what’s going on? This first chapter just starts with this wedding! Who’s even getting married?
  • Why does this dude spend the first three pages describing flowers! Like seriously, why is he so obsessed with them?
  • Miss, I’m lost. This story keeps jumping from one thing to another. I can’t keep up.

These points of confusion are opportunities to ask students to dig further into the text. Like Standard 3, students will need to think like writers here and determine why the author made these structural choices. What is the effect on the reader? How does the structure impact our understanding of the text’s meaning? Could it be that confusion is exactly what the author wanted you to feel here? What might be the purpose for that? Hmm, we hear their wheels turning already. That “aha” moment is just ahead.

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Teaching Guides Using this Standard

Example

The Daily Grind: Teaching the Standard

NOVICE: Grab those flashcards.

Start by helping students tackle tough plot vocabulary. We recommend this online literary dictionary that gives detailed definitions for a HUGE list of literary terms. For this standard, start students off with these terms:

  • episodic
  • stream of consciousness
  • in medias res
  • foreshadowing
  • flashback 
  • suspense
  • tragedy (as in, the dramatic structure, like Shakespearean plays)
  • comedy (as in, the dramatic structure, like Shakespearean plays)

Students also need to figure out the focus for each scene or piece of the narrative. Each part of a story is commonly built around one of the following:

  • Internal thoughts of a character
  • Emotions
  • Actions/interactions between characters
  • Dialogue

The focus will ultimately influence the work as a whole. Get students engaged in a discussion of the effects of one choice over another. What are you missing in a story that’s fast-paced and jumping from scene to scene? What happens if the story is completely controlled by the thoughts and emotional rants of a main character?

INTERMEDIATE: It’s all in the ending.

The ending of a work is perhaps the most important part when it comes to this standard. Does the author leave you hanging, perched on the edge of your seat? Surprise you with a twist? Leave you confused and questioning, ready to tear out your hair? Make you feel sadness or anger for the characters’ situations? The author’s decision on how to conclude the story will affect the theme or message of the work. Students should always be able to discuss what we learn in the final pages and how that influences our understanding and interpretation of the text.

ALL-STAR: Flip It!

A great way to get students to really engage with narrative structure is to give them a section of a text and ask them to flip it to a completely different structure. Have student rewrite the beginning or end of a story and explain how their structural changes would influence major elements like tone or theme.

NOTE: Noticing a pattern that the standards seem to conveniently overlap at the highest levels? There are plenty of ways to cover multiple standards in a single assignment.

Quiz Questions

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

  1. Text A. “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne
    http://www.online-literature.com/hawthorne/125/

    In the latter part of the last century there lived a man of science, an eminent proficient in every branch of natural philosophy, who not long before our story opens had made experience of a spiritual affinity more attractive than any chemical one. He had left his laboratory to the care of an assistant, cleared his fine countenance from the furnace smoke, washed the stain of acids from his fingers, and persuaded a beautiful woman to become his wife. In those days when the comparatively recent discovery of electricity and other kindred mysteries of Nature seemed to open paths into the region of miracle, it was not unusual for the love of science to rival the love of woman in its depth and absorbing energy. The higher intellect, the imagination, the spirit, and even the heart might all find their congenial aliment in pursuits which, as some of their ardent votaries believed, would ascend from one step of powerful intelligence to another, until the philosopher should lay his hand on the secret of creative force and perhaps make new worlds for himself. We know not whether Aylmer possessed this degree of faith in man's ultimate control over Nature. He had devoted himself, however, too unreservedly to scientific studies ever to be weaned from them by any second passion. His love for his young wife might prove the stronger of the two; but it could only be by intertwining itself with his love of science, and uniting the strength of the latter to his own.

    Text B. The Tempest by William Shakespeare
    http://shakespeare.mit.edu/tempest/full.html

    ACT I. SCENE I.
    On a ship at sea: a tempestuous noise. Enter a Master and a Boatswain

    Master
    Boatswain!

    Boatswain
    Here, master: what cheer?

    Master
    Good, speak to the mariners: fall to't, yarely,
    or we run ourselves aground: bestir, bestir.
    Exit
    Enter Mariners

    Boatswain
    Heigh, my hearts! cheerly, cheerly, my hearts!
    yare, yare! Take in the topsail. Tend to the
    master's whistle. Blow, till thou burst thy wind,
    if room enough!

    Enter ALONSO, SEBASTIAN, ANTONIO, FERDINAND, GONZALO, and others

    Which of the following excerpts disorients the reader by starting the story in medias res?

    Correct Answer:

    Text B

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (B). In medias res means we get thrown into the middle of the action from minute one. Shakespeare’s play begins with little explanation of the time, place, or character relationships. Instead, we are thrust into the middle of a tense scene where the characters are trying to keep their boat from running aground. This is different from Text A where we get the entire back story of the characters’ lives before we get into the action.


  2. The author of Text A chooses to structure the beginning of the story mainly around…

    Correct Answer:

    a detailed flashback to establish characterization and setting.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (B). The narrator jumps back in time to give us the juicy details about the scientist and his new wife. We learn a lot about the scientist and the time period of the story. Answer (A) might be tricky because it’s possible there will be a feud between the two characters, but there’s no evidence of one yet. You know, they’re still in the honeymoon phase. In answer (C) you have to remember that a monologue is when a character talks for an extended period of time, usually to the audience or to himself. The scientist in not talking at the beginning; the story is being told by an omniscient narrator.


  3. “Million Man March” by Maya Angelou
    http://www.math.buffalo.edu/~sww/angelou/poems-ma.html

    The night has been long,
    The wound has been deep,
    The pit has been dark,
    And the walls have been steep.

    Under a dead blue sky on a distant beach,
    I was dragged by my braids just beyond your reach.
    Your hands were tied, your mouth was bound,
    You couldn't even call out my name.
    You were helpless and so was I,
    But unfortunately throughout history
    You've worn a badge of shame.

    I say, the night has been long,
    The wound has been deep,
    The pit has been dark
    And the walls have been steep.

    But today, voices of old spirit sound
    Speak to us in words profound,
    Across the years, across the centuries,
    Across the oceans, and across the seas.
    They say, draw near to one another,
    Save your race.
    You have been paid for in a distant place,
    The old ones remind us that slavery's chains
    Have paid for our freedom again and again.

    The night has been long,
    The pit has been deep,
    The night has been dark,
    And the walls have been steep. […]

    The ancestors remind us, despite the history of pain
    We are a going-on people who will rise again.

    And still we rise.

    Which of the following elements in the poem help evoke the speaker’s pain?

    Correct Answer:

    A disturbing flashback.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (A). The second stanza starts the flashback where the speaker and the “you” are separated and dragged into slavery. Even though there are lots of metaphors in this poem, there’s really nothing being compared to a marathon or running, so (B) is way off. Answer (C) is incorrect because the last lines are not tragic. Her statement that they will ‘rise again’ is hopeful prediction that her people will overcome the past. Answer (D) is wrong because although there is a bouncy rhyme scheme, it doesn’t contribute to the feeling of pain.


  4. From The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson

    I took my power in my hand
    And went against the world;
    ’T was not so much as David had,
    But I was twice as bold.

    I aimed my pebble, but myself
    Was all the one that fell.
    Was it Goliath was too large,
    Or only I too small?

    Which statement best describes the impact of the poem’s ending?

    Correct Answer:

    Readers are left with a tragic ending, making the message of the poem melancholy.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (C). Within this short poem, we see the speaker battle the world (Goliath) and tragically lose because he/she was too small to win the fight. This definitely wasn’t the happy ending we were hoping for. Answer (A) can’t be right because we already know that the speaker ‘fell’ after trying to hit Goliath with the pebble. The conflict is resolved and it doesn’t look good for the speaker. Answer (B) is wrong because the speaker went against the world (Goliath) and lost, making this a pretty discouraging ending. At the end, the speaker is reflecting on the battle with the world and is actually pretty bummed out to have lost the fight. No amusement here.


  5. "The Appointment in Samarra" as retold by W. Somerset Maugham 1933          http://www.k-state.edu/english/baker/english320/Maugham-AS.htm

    The speaker is Death.

    There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me.  She looked at me and made a threatening gesture. Now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate.  I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.  The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went.  

    Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, “Why did you make a threating gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?”  

    “That was not a threatening gesture,” I said, “it was only a start of surprise.”  I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.

    Which of the following describes the conclusion of the story?

    Correct Answer:

    Situational irony leaves the reader surprised.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (A). In this story, we expect the servant to have escaped death. The whole time we think Death is coming for him in the market, but it turns out death is coming for him in Samarra from the start. That Death is a sneaky dude. This is a perfect example of a story taking an unexpected twist. Answer (B) can’t be right because there’s no real hero in the story. Heroes are those that overcome great odds or triumph in the face of evil. In this story, Death ultimately wins. So this isn’t the best choice. Even though (C) might seem like a good answer at first, Death makes it clear that he has an “appointment” with the servant and knows where to find him. Not much is left to the imagination. The author implies that the servant has no chance. Answer (D) is wrong because even though there is definitely an implied moral that no one can escape death, no characters in the story actually tell us that. We have to infer it from the events of the story.


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