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Common Core Standards: ELA See All Teacher Resources

Grades 11-12

Reading RL.11-12.9

Demonstrate knowledge of eighteenth-, nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century foundational works of American literature, including how two or more texts from the same period treat similar themes or topics.

Breakin’ it Down:

Whoa! This is definitely not a standard that has a quick-and-easy fix, but it’s incredibly important. The purpose of this standard is to make sure that students enter college with a respectable repertoire of foundational texts in their backgrounds. Students should also have a general knowledge of the periods of literature, the major writers in those periods, and the styles and themes associated with those periods.

Plenty of research shows that a successful English student needs to be able to discuss the merits and styles of more than just their favorite author. While we all enjoy a good (trashy) romance novel, students need exposure to all kinds of readings outside of their comfort zone.

The way the national standards have been structured recommends that students focus on American Literature in 11th or 12th grade. However, this is not written in stone, and different schools have different ways of arranging their English curriculum over the four years of high school. Just make sure that your students are spending a significant portion of time on 17th century to 20th century American authors so they can compete with their college-bound peers!


The Daily Grind: Teaching the Standard

The debate around which texts are best or most important in each time period has been raging since formal English teaching began. The good news is that there are hundreds of texts to choose from and plenty of released book lists from test prep companies and local school districts. The bad news is that there are hundreds of texts to choose from and plenty of released book lists.

Deciding what you will teach can take more time than actually teaching it. But if you have the freedom to choose, pick those books that get you revved up. Your energy will be contagious in your classroom.

LINK: Check out the Shmoop resources for Literature http://www.shmoop.com/literature/
LINK: Check out the Shmoop resources for Poetry http://www.shmoop.com/poetry/

NOVICE: Build a timeline.

In the fast-paced classrooms of today, your best bet is to start with an overview of the major literary movements of from the 1700s to the 1930s. For each movement, give students a quick study guide consisting of:

  • 3-4 characteristics, themes, or world events related to the movement.
  • 3-4 of the most famous authors from the movement.
  • Small excerpts from plays, novels, and poems that show the patterns mentioned above, just to help students get their bearings.
  • FAN FAVORITE: If you’re feeling artsy, literary movements have a lot in common with major musical movements. Try giving students songs or song lyrics from the equivalent time periods to get them in the mood for reading a particular text.

There are hundreds of categories and sub-categories, but here is a short list of major movements to get you started:

  • Renaissance (even though this time period isn’t mentioned in this standard, these texts show up everywhere—including other standards for 11th and 12th grade!)
  • Romanticism/Transcendentalism
  • Enlightenment
  • Gothic/Southern Gothic
  • Modernism/ Stream-of-Consciousness
  • Harlem Renaissance

INTERMEDIATE: Put a spin on it!

As you choose the texts for each unit or time period, give students an overarching theme or focus that appeals to even the most apathetic teens. It’s all about targeted advertising of canonical literature. This will make some of the tougher time periods more engaging. Here are some ideas to get you going:

  • THE DARK SIDE: Gothic/Southern Gothic literature: Welcome to the dark side of human nature. Students love the weird characters, gruesome plot twists, and shocking endings. Great core authors for this include Flannery O’Connor and Edward Albee.
  • THE SAUCY SIDE OF SHAKESPEARE: Students can quickly find humor in the euphemisms and bedroom jokes of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. This makes the wordy and archaic texts easier to enjoy when students realize that these guys are just as funny. Again, Shakespeare doesn’t exactly fall into the realm of this standard, but students should obviously have a foundational knowledge of his work in order to pick up on many allusions and references in later literature.
  • GREED, CORRUPTION, AND DIRTY POLITICIANS: This is always a winner. Students love to find connections to the modern American Dream and the lives of the rich and famous. There are hundreds of characters and plots that connect to this theme. A Raisin in the Sun and The Great Gatsby are great, just to name a few.
  • FIGHT THE MAN: Racism, Sexism, and Social Injustice: In every time period you will find characters and story lines that can start heated debates on these hot topic issues, but this is especially prominent in Enlightenment and Harlem Renaissance texts that focused on the rights and moral dilemmas of different groups in society. Great core texts could include Invisible Man (Ralph Ellison) and Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad).

ALL-STAR: Building Bridges

The last part of this standard asks students to compare and contrast texts with similar elements. If you are teaching Advanced Placement or senior-level English, a great way to hit this part of the standard is to give students a sampling of texts from different time periods with the author names and dates removed. Instead of giving them the overarching themes, styles, or topics, ask them to find the similarities themselves.

You can also challenge students to describe the characteristics of the time period or make observations about the culture of the time based on the texts. When students are forced to do the heavy lifting (intellectually), it’s more likely they will ace this standard.

Quiz Questions

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

  1. Authors such as Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay, Countee Cullen were key players in which literary movement:

    Correct Answer:

    Harlem Renaissance

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (D). All of these authors focused on building a new identity for black Americans during the Harlem Renaissance. Their works all dealt with issues of race and culture. Thoreau, Emerson, and Whitman are authors commonly associated with Transcendentalist literature. The superstars of Southern Gothic literature are Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, and Tennessee Williams. Enlightenment authors were writers like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine.

  2. American Enlightenment authors commonly dealt with which themes and topics in their writing?

    Correct Answer:

    Religious freedom, personal liberty, role of government.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (A). This time period was dominated by great thinkers like Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, and John Locke who loved to debate about the new American government and rights of the people. For answer (B), keep in mind that Enlightenment authors were writing during a time of complicated and quickly-changing political events as new nations were developing their identities. These authors were not known for stopping to smell the roses. The characteristics in (C) are usually reserved for texts written before the Enlightenment period. By the time Enlightenment authors started, people were starting to question religious rules and even the church itself. All of the topics in (D) were actually the focus of Southern Gothic literature.

  3. The following poem belongs to which author? Use the style and what you know about literary movements to help you.

    If you were coming in the Fall,
    I'd brush the Summer by
    With half a smile, and half a spurn,
    As Housewives do, a Fly.

    If I could see you in a year,
    I'd wind the months in balls --
    And put them each in separate Drawers,
    For fear the numbers fuse --

    If only Centuries, delayed,
    I'd count them on my Hand,
    Subtracting, till my fingers dropped
    Into Van Dieman's Land.

    If certain, when this life was out --
    That yours and mine, should be
    I'd toss it yonder, like a Rind,
    And take Eternity --

    But, now, uncertain of the length
    Of this, that is between,
    It goads me, like the Goblin Bee --
    That will not state -- its sting.


    Correct Answer:

    Emily Dickinson

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (A). Dickinson is a gal you have to know. Dead giveaways that this is Dickinson are the lack of a title (she never titled any of her poems), the crazy capitalization of nouns (a Dickinson favorite), and her fixation on death. The biggest clue that (B) is not the right answer is the lack of Shakespearean pronouns and contractions like thy, thou, thou’st, thine, will’st, think’st. Good ol’ Ben wasn’t really known for poetry, so (C) should be easily eliminated. Douglass was known for his vivid autobiography and narratives about slavery. This doesn’t fit the bill for him.

  4. Which work and author does not belong with the others, according to the time period in which they were writing?

    The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne                                                           Walden by Henry David Thoreau                                                                           “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” by Emily Dickinson                                      The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

    Correct Answer:

    The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (D). The Great Gatsby is a modern work, written in 1925. This one is definitely not part of the Transcendentalist movement that connects the other authors on the list. The other three works were part of the Victorian/American Transcendentalist period. The Scarlet Letter was written in 1850; Walden was written in 1854; and Dickinson’s poems were written somewhere between 1860 and 1890.

  5. All of the following belong to the Modern Era of literature EXCEPT:

    Correct Answer:

    Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (D). This lady came way before the others…like hundreds of years earlier! She wrote Sense and Sensibility in 1811, during the Romantic Period. Animal Farm was written in 1946; Of Mice and Men was written in 1937; and Death of a Salesman was written in 1949—all definitely modern.