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Common Core Standards: ELA

Grades 9-10

Reading RL.9-10.2

RL.9-10.2. Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

This second Common Core State Standard for ninth- and tenth-grade literature requires skills that are similar to those required for the first standard in this group. Instead of requiring students to support their own interpretations of the text by using textual details, however, this standard requires students to figure out what the author’s point is, and then examine the details and summarize the text. An “objective” summary is merely one that describes the text (see also “expository writing”) without commenting on the author’s point, his or her ability to support it, and whether or not the reader agrees.

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Teaching Guides Using this Standard

Example 1

Sample Activities for Use in Class

1. Pass out copies of Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall”. Read, or have students read, the poem aloud.

Next, have students (individually or in groups) go over the poem - pencil, pen, or crayons in hand - and put a star beside the line or lines that they think contain the main idea of the poem. (The lines could be adjacent, repeat one another, or be completely separate; this is a good time to use the Mysterious Teacher Smile when asked which it is, and let students figure it out on their own.) While reading, students should also underline the lines that they think support the main idea they’ve identified.

Once everyone is more or less finished, choose three to five students (or a representative from each student group) to write a short summary of the poem on the board or somewhere else the rest of the class can see it. The summary can consist of just the main idea lines, followed by bullet points for each of the “supporting” lines. Then, discuss whether each student’s or group’s summary makes sense, and why (or why not). Possible discussion questions include:

1. Is the main idea of this piece “something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” “good fences make good neighbors,” some other line or lines, or some combination of the above?
2. Is it possible that both “something there is that doesn’t love a wall” and “good fences make good neighbors” are equally true in the context of the poem?
3. If so, what parts of the poem support this idea? Which parts don’t support it?
4. If not, what parts of the poem tell you this is not the case?
5. Just what is this poem about, anyway? (Note: there are multiple correct answers; like the first standard, a “right” answer under this standard has less to do with factual accuracy and more to do with how well the student supports his or her answer based on the text.)

For example, the poem may be simultaneously: 1. “about” the speaker’s emerging belief that the wall may be unnecessary because it gets torn down by natural forces each year and because there are no animals to keep from eating one another’s crops, and; 2. “about” his neighbor’s failure so far to “look behind” the idea that the wall should be there simply because it’s there, that “good fences make good neighbors”, or his failure to realize that they might be equally good neighbors without the fence - or perhaps not, if the fence-mending is the only time they speak.

Part of the “trick” of this particular activity is getting students to realize that a poem can also have a main idea and supporting details - they’re not limited to the world of non-fiction writing to find these elements. If your students are particularly recalcitrant to grasp this fact, it may help to do the second activity first.

Example 2

2. Create a list or a stack of flashcards that contains the main ideas of several pieces of writing that your students have read in class recently, or that you believe most or all of them have been exposed to, such as fairy or folk tales. Pass out the list or cards, assigning one “main idea” to two or three students who could work in groups—or not, depending on how you prefer them to work.

Give students a few minutes to read their main ideas and jot down supporting details from the story, poem, or essay they are working on. For instance, if students have a main idea that reads, “It’s shocking to find how much the world has changed when you wake up after sleeping for twenty years,” they may jot down supporting details such as: “Rip doesn’t realize the American Revolution has happened,” “Rip gets in trouble for announcing his loyalty to King George III and not knowing who George Washington is,” and so on. (The text, of course, is Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle.”) Referring to books or notes is okay.

Once students have made their notes, choose one student per main idea (or one student from each group) who will read out the main idea and his or her supporting points. Since all the texts should be ones that students have read and are (one hopes) familiar with, the entire class should be able to discuss what the text is, whether that main idea is supported by the points the student chose, and if not, what other points from the story would be stronger support for the main idea. You may wish to give the other students who wrote on the same main idea precedence when asking for comments, since they’re the ones who are most likely thinking about that particular text.

Quiz 1 Questions

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

I. Questions 1 - 10 are based on the following extract from Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea:

He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. In the first forty days a boy had been with him. But after forty days without a fish the boy’s parents had told him that the old man was now definitely and finally salao, which is the worst form of unlucky and the boy had gone at their orders in another boat which caught three good fish the first week. It made the boy sad to see the old man come in each day with his skiff empty and he always went down to help him carry either the coiled lines or the gaff and harpoon and the sail that was furled around the mast. The sail was patched with flour sacks and, furled; it looked like the flag of permanent defeat.

The old man was thin and gaunt with deep wrinkles in the back of his neck. The brown blotches of the benevolent skin cancer the sun brings from its reflection on the tropic sea were on his cheeks. The blotches ran well down the sides of his face and his hands had the deep-creased scars from handling heavy fish on the cords. But none of these scars were fresh. They were as old as erosions in a fishless desert.

Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated.

  1. Which of the following lines from the passage best express its main idea?

    Correct Answer:

    He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.

    Answer Explanation:

    (d) - The rest of the sentences in the passage describe either the man’s age, his lack of luck in fishing, or both.


  2. Which of the following facts helps develop the idea that the old man’s inability to catch any fish is due to bad luck?

    Correct Answer:

    The boy’s parents call the old man’s inability to catch even one fish in forty days bad luck.

    Answer Explanation:

    • (b) - This could also be ineptitude, rather than bad luck.
    • (c) - This is the only reference in the passage to the old man’s dry spell being caused by luck. *correct answer

  3. Based on the information in the passage, how did the boy MOST likely feel when his parents ordered him not to fish with the old man anymore?

    Correct Answer:

    Sad

    Answer Explanation:

    (e) - The boy is sad that the old man comes in each day without a fish, and the boy helps the old man with his fishing and boat equipment, indicating that he likely cares about the old man.


  4. The boy likely does which of the following actions because of how he feels about the old man?

    Correct Answer:

    He helps the old man bring in his fishing gear each night.

    Answer Explanation:

    (a) - It is implied in the passage that since the boy feels sad for the old man, he wants to help him in some small way. The sentence that indicates this is: “It made the boy sad to see the old man come in each day with his skiff empty and he always went down to help him carry either the coiled lines or the gaff and harpoon and the sail that was furled around the mast.”


  5. Like the old man, the old man’s boat is also:

    Correct Answer:

    Old.

    Answer Explanation:

    (b) - This is the detail that indicates that the boat is old: “The sail was patched with flour sacks and, furled.” A patched sail will most likely be found on an old boat.


  6. The description of the sail on the old man’s boat looking like “the flag of permanent defeat” supports the main idea of the passage because:

    Correct Answer:

    The main idea is that the man has failed because he has not caught a fish in many days.

    Answer Explanation:

    (d) - True, but (b) is more specific, making it the better answer.


  7. The detail that the scars on the man’s hands from handling fishing lines “were as old as erosions in a fishless desert” best supports which of the following ideas in the passage?

    Correct Answer:

    The man’s fish-catching days are long behind him.

    Answer Explanation:

    • (a) - True, but the fact that the scars are old also supports the idea that the old man has not caught a fish in a long time, which is the main idea of the passage; thus (e) is a better answer.
    • (d) - There’s no evidence for this in the passage, making (e) the better answer.
    • (e) - If he had caught fish recently, he would have new scars.

  8. The fact that the old man’s eyes are “cheerful and undefeated” indicates that the man will most likely:

    Correct Answer:

    Continue to go out fishing every day, even if he does not catch any fish.

    Answer Explanation:

    (d) - “Undefeated” here indicates that his long fish-less spell has not daunted him.


  9. The conclusion that the old man has been fishing for a very long time is best supported by which of the following details?

    Correct Answer:

    The old man has skin cancer from the reflection of the sun on the water.

    Answer Explanation:

    (d) - Skin cancer takes time to develop, which indicates that the man has been going out on the water for a while.


  10. The sentence that best summarizes the passage is:

    Correct Answer:

    The old man has not caught a fish for many days, but he hasn’t given up yet.

    Answer Explanation:

    (d) - The passage tells us that the old man has not a caught a fish in many days but also says that he continues to try. We are also told that his eyes are “cheerful and undefeated.”


Quiz 2 Questions

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

II. Questions 1 - 10 are based on the following passage:

Merchant of Syracuse, plead no more;
I am not partial to infringe our laws:
The enmity and discord which of late
Sprung from the rancorous outrage of your duke
To merchants, our well-dealing countrymen,
Who wanting guilders to redeem their lives
Have seal'd his rigorous statutes with their bloods,
Excludes all pity from our threatening looks.
For, since the mortal and intestine jars
'Twixt thy seditious countrymen and us,
It hath in solemn synods been decreed
Both by the Syracusians and ourselves,
To admit no traffic to our adverse towns Nay, more,
If any born at Ephesus be seen
At any Syracusian marts and fairs;
Again: if any Syracusian born
Come to the bay of Ephesus, he dies,
His goods confiscate to the duke's dispose,
Unless a thousand marks be levied,
To quit the penalty and to ransom him.
Thy substance, valued at the highest rate,
Cannot amount unto a hundred marks;
Therefore by law thou art condemned to die.

- Shakespeare, A Comedy of Errors, I.i.

  1. The detail in the passage that best supports the fact that the speaker is someone of high rank is:

    Correct Answer:

    The speaker tells the merchant not to plead anymore, because he’s not going to bend the law for the merchant’s sake.

    Answer Explanation:

    (b) - See the first two lines. The speaker would likely not be hearing a stranger’s pleas for his life unless he had the power to do something about it.


  2. Which of the following details does NOT support the conclusion that the merchant is currently in Ephesus?

    Correct Answer:

    The merchant does not have 1,000 marks.

    Answer Explanation:

    (d) - This fact doesn’t say anything about where the merchant or the speaker is.


  3. According to the speaker, the merchant is doomed to die because:

    Correct Answer:

    He doesn’t have enough money to pay the ransom and spare his own life.

    Answer Explanation:

    (c) - See the last two lines.


  4. According to the speaker, which event brought about the laws that require all merchants from Syracuse who are found in Ephesus to be put to death?

    Correct Answer:

    A long-standing grudge between the duke of Syracuse and the duke of Ephesus.

    Answer Explanation:

    (a) - Refer lines 3 – 8.


  5. The speaker plans to carry out the death sentence against the merchant in part because:

    Correct Answer:

    The duke of Syracuse showed no mercy to the speaker’s people, so he refuses to show any mercy to the duke of Syracuse’s people.

    Answer Explanation:

    (c) - See the first eight lines.


  6. Which of the following lines best summarizes the law the speaker is explaining here?

    Correct Answer:

    “if any Syracusian born/Come to the bay of Ephesus, he dies....”

    Answer Explanation:

    (a) - Everything else is either the history of this law or how it applies to this particular merchant.


  7. What event does the speaker say “excludes all pity from our threatening looks”?

    Correct Answer:

    The execution of the merchants from Ephesus by the duke of Syracuse.

    Answer Explanation:

    (d) - See lines 3 – 8.


  8. Since the merchant of Syracuse only has about 100 marks, what does the speaker say will happen to him?

    Correct Answer:

    He will be put to death and his property will be given to the duke of Ephesus.

    Answer Explanation:

    (c) - Refer to lines 18 and after. The speaker says that the merchant will be executed and the Duke of Ephesus will confiscate his property unless the merchant has 1,000 marks to pay as ransom.


  9. Which of the following lines from the passage best supports your answer in Question 8?

    Correct Answer:

    “Again: if any Syracusian born/Come to the bay of Ephesus, he dies,/His goods confiscate to the duke's dispose....”

  10. Which of the following statements best summarizes this passage?

    Correct Answer:

    The merchant from Syracuse will be put to death for being in Ephesus, because he cannot come up with 1,000 marks to pay his ransom

    Answer Explanation:

    (a) - All the other details in the passage either explain or support this point.


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