Common Core Standards: ELA
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!
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Using this Standard
- 1984 Teacher Pass
- A Rose For Emily Teacher Pass
- Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Teacher Pass
- Animal Farm Teacher Pass
- Antigone Teacher Pass
- Beowulf Teacher Pass
- Brave New World Teacher Pass
- Death of a Salesman Teacher Pass
- Fahrenheit 451 Teacher Pass
- Fences Teacher Pass
- Frankenstein Teacher Pass
- Grapes Of Wrath Teacher Pass
- Hamlet Teacher Pass
- Julius Caesar Teacher Pass
- King Lear Teacher Pass
- Narrative of Frederick Douglass Teacher Pass
- Oedipus the King Teacher Pass
- Of Mice and Men Teacher Pass
- One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Teacher Pass
- Othello Teacher Pass
- Romeo and Juliet Teacher Pass
- The As I Lay Dying Teacher Pass
- The Bluest Eye Teacher Pass
- The Canterbury Tales General Prologue Teacher Pass
- The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath's Prologue Teacher Pass
- The Cask of Amontillado Teacher Pass
- The Catch-22 Teacher Pass
- The Catcher in the Rye Teacher Pass
- The Crucible Teacher Pass
- The Great Gatsby Teacher Pass
- The Iliad Teacher Pass
- The Lottery Teacher Pass
- The Metamorphosis Teacher Pass
- The Old Man and the Sea Teacher Pass
- The Tell-Tale Heart Teacher Pass
- Their Eyes Were Watching God Teacher Pass
- To Kill a Mockingbird Teacher Pass
- Wide Sargasso Sea Teacher Pass
- Wuthering Heights Teacher Pass
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.
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!)
- 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.