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Common Core Standards: ELA See All Teacher Resources

Grades 9-10

Reading RL.9-10.3

RL.9-10.3. Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.

Real people often have conflicting motivations, which pull a person in two directions. For instance: Sure, it’d be great to go to prom with the captain of the football team - but are you doing it because he’s an awesome person, or to get back at a former friend who has a crush on him? And is it more important to be seen on the arm of the most popular person in school, or to go to prom with the person you’re really in love with even though nobody would look twice in that geek’s direction?

Some literary characters also have multiple or conflicting motivations. The ones who do are by far the most interesting and are in the best stories. The third Common Core Standard for Literature challenges readers to figure out how characters are thinking and feeling - what they want, what they’re afraid of, and what they won’t admit even to themselves.

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Teaching Guides Using this Standard

Example 1

Sample Activities For Use in Class

1. Tense Texts: Creating Characters Who Feel Two Ways at Once

Make up three batches of index cards. Two batches should contain about ten cards, and the third should contain about twenty. On one of the two batches of ten cards, list general phrases describing a person, such as “a 16-year-old soccer player,” “a doctor and mother of two,” or “a superstitious mail carrier.” On the second batch of ten cards, list simple settings, such as “a neighbor’s garage sale,” “a home office,” or “a supermarket on Thanksgiving.” On the batch of twenty cards, list emotions or motivations, such as “scared,” “wants to be famous,” “wants to escape the current setting at all costs,” or “scared of strangers.”

Split students into groups and have each group draw one card from each of the stacks of ten cards and two cards from the stack of twenty. (That’s a total of four cards - one person, one setting, and two emotions or motivations). Give students 20-30 minutes to create a short story or skit in their groups that shows the person, in the setting, dealing with both emotions or motivations at the same time. If the students can resolve their character’s conflicting motivations in the story or skit, they may, but it’s not necessary.

Once time is up, reconvene the class and have each group share its story or skit. The rest of the class should watch/listen, then discuss who the character appears to be, what his or her motivations are, and how the audience can tell. Students in the audience should feel free to suggest dialogue or plot twists that would reveal the character’s emotions or motivations more quickly.

Students should focus on “showing” as much as possible, so you may want to prohibit them from repeating the specific phrases on the cards. For instance, instead of saying “Dr. Smith was a doctor and mother of two, who is sitting in her home office trying to figure out how to become famous while also being afraid of strangers,” students might write, “Dr. Smith gazed hopelessly at the photographs of her young son and daughter that sat on her desk. Today, she had tried, for the seventeenth time, to give a talk show interview about the importance of eating well, which was a topic she was well-known for studying, thanks to her two best-selling books. Unfortunately, television fame had escaped her grasp again when, terrified of a talk show host she had never met before, her mind went completely blank.”

Example 2

2. Character Development in Texts

Have students read the following poem by E.A. Robinson (or one similar to it):

Withal a meagre man was Aaron Stark, --
Cursed and unkempt, shrewd, shrivelled, and morose.
A miser was he, with a miser's nose,
And eyes like little dollars in the dark.
His thin, pinched mouth was nothing but a mark;
And when he spoke there came like sullen blows
Through scattered fangs a few snarled words and close,
As if a cur were chary of its bark.

Glad for the murmur of his hard renown,
Year after year he shambled through the town, --
A loveless exile moving with a staff;
And oftentimes there crept into his ears
A sound of alien pity, touched with tears, --
And then (and only then) did Aaron laugh.

- Edward Arlington Robinson, “Aaron Stark”

Then, in whatever format you choose (groups, class discussion, worksheet, essay, etc.), have students discuss questions like the following:

-What sort of person is Aaron Stark? (Possible Answers: He’s a mean old man who’s secretly proud of his callousness and possible cruelty, as well as his “miserly” ways. He’s spent many years developing this reputation.)

-What clues in the text point to these qualities about Aaron Stark? (Possible Answers: He’s described as “Cursed and unkempt, shrewd, shrivelled, and morose,” he’s described as a “miser,” he snarls at people when they ask him questions instead of answering politely, and he laughs when he hears other people crying.)

When the poem describes Aaron Stark as a “miser,” does it mean only that he’s tight with money, or does it mean he’s “miserly” in some other ways? (Possible Answers: His snarling, clipped responses and laughter when someone else is crying indicate he’s also, perhaps chiefly, “miserly” with his time and attention to other people and with his compassion for them.)

Does Aaron Stark appear to have any conflicting motivations, and if so, what are they? (Possible Answers: The poem doesn’t really say, but it’s possible to picture Aaron Stark as someone who became “shrivelled” mentally and emotionally due to some past incident when he was deeply hurt - perhaps he would not laugh at other people’s tears if he wasn’t secretly grateful they were suffering like he once had.)

Quiz 1 Questions

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

  1. Which of the following sentences indicates that Terra is both happy and sad about graduation?

    Correct Answer:

    As her friends streamed out the school’s doors for the last time, Terra followed with a big grin. But for a moment, she looked back, hardly able to believe that she would never re-enter the school as a student again.

    Answer Explanation:

    (b) - The pause indicates that she’s feeling both happy and sad about leaving.

  2. In the following sentence, what are Rachele’s conflicting motivations? “Rachele paused on the edge of the stage. Her eyes locked with her boyfriend’s, and she was happy he’d found a good job in their small town for after graduation, along with an apartment they could afford. But the director’s voice pounded in her head: “You can be a star...if you ever get out of this dead-end burg.”

    Correct Answer:

    Rachele wants to stay with her boyfriend, but she also wants to be famous.

    Answer Explanation:

    (c) - She’s happy that he’s settled in town and plans to move in with him, but she can’t stop thinking about the chance at stardom if she leaves the town and her boyfriend.

  3. You’re reading a novel about Jareth, a young man who went west to be a cowboy; but so far, he is terrified of every animal on the ranch. In Chapter 6, Jareth and Dave, another cowboy, are racing to rescue a sheep that has fallen into a ravine when Dave’s pony gets stuck in the muddy bottom of a rapidly-rising river. Which of the following events in the story would show that Jareth is finding the courage to overcome his fear?

    Correct Answer:

    Jareth plunges into the river and grabs the pony’s bridle, calming it and leading it out of the water.

    Answer Explanation:

    (a) - This action shows that he’s getting past his fear of animals.

  4. For Questions 4 and 6, assume that you’re reading a story about a young woman named Storm who wants to go to college to prove to her parents that she’s actually smart enough to succeed, but she also wants to take care of her sister Autumn, who has cerebral palsy.

    On her first day at college, which of the following conversations is Storm MOST likely to have with her new roommate?

    Correct Answer:

    Storm says she’s excited to be at college. Her roommate points out that Storm doesn’t look excited - she actually looks sad. Storm doesn’t say anything, but she begins to wonder how Autumn is doing without her.

    Answer Explanation:

    (c) - This scene shows how Storm is worried about “the path not taken” now that she’s chosen college over staying home with Autumn.

  5. In a crisis moment in the story, Storm’s parents are killed in a car accident, leaving Storm to care for Autumn alone just as Storm is getting ready to take her exams. If the author wanted to show that Storm is resourceful, he or she might have Storm do which of the following things?

    Correct Answer:

    Move back into the family home with Autumn and take her exams via mail.

    Answer Explanation:

    (d) - This demonstrates that Storm is willing to act creatively to resolve all the issues in her life, which is a resourceful act.

  6. Let’s assume that the writer decides to revise the story. Instead of being about how Storm goes to college and cares for her sister Autumn, the new story will be about how Autumn surprises Storm with her intelligence. Which of the following scenes would be MOST likely to appear in the revised story?

    Correct Answer:

    Autumn is accepted into the same college Storm is, even though Storm believed Autumn could never pass the entrance exams.

    Answer Explanation:

    Passing the exams is a sign of intelligence, which surprises Storm because she didn’t believe Autumn could demonstrate those kind of smarts.

  7. Questions 7 and 8 are based on the following situation: In the school play, the main character is a teenage boy who is secretly posing as a young woman in order to infiltrate the city’s garden club and catch a murderer.

    Which of the following events would create conflicting motivations for the main character?

    Correct Answer:

    He develops a crush on one of the garden club members even though he knows she’s probably the murderer

    Answer Explanation:

    (b) - And thus he faces two conflicts: Should he turn over the murderer or not? And should he or shouldn’t he reveal that he is in fact a boy?

  8. During the play, the main character realizes that he actually enjoys gardening. Which of the following scenarios would show that the boy is too unsure of himself to stand up for his own personal likes and dislikes?

    Correct Answer:

    The boy stops gardening or reading about gardening after his father tells him that no “real man” would ever plant a garden.

    Answer Explanation:

    (a) - He caves to parental pressure instead of doing what he loves.

  9. Which of the following sentences indicate that Ramon is both excited and scared about moving to a new house?

    Correct Answer:

    Reluctantly, Ramon climbed into the family car. He couldn’t wait to see his new house - but would he ever love it as much as their old one?

    Answer Explanation:

    (b) - This question implies that Ramon is conflicted about the move.

  10. The main character resolves his or her conflicts and changes during the story. This is part of the:

    Correct Answer:


    Answer Explanation:

    (c) - Plot refers to the events, scenes, and actions that make up a narrative.

Quiz 2 Questions

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

Questions 1-10 are based on the following excerpt:

I. "Terence, this is stupid stuff:
You eat your victuals fast enough;
There can't be much amiss, 'tis clear,
to see the rate you drink your beer.
But oh, good Lord, the verse you make,
It gives a chap the belly-ache.
The cow, the old cow, she is dead;
It sleeps well, the horned head:
We poor lads, 'tis our turn now
To hear such tunes as killed the cow.
Pretty friendship 'tis to rhyme
Your friends to death before their time
Moping melancholy mad:
Come, pipe a tune to dance to, lad."

II. "Why, if 'tis dancing you would be,
There's brisker pipes than poetry.
Say, for what were hop-yards meant,
Or why was Burton built on Trent?
Oh many a peer of England brews
Livelier liquor than the Muse,
And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God's ways to man.
Ale, man, ale's the stuff to drink
For fellows whom it hurts to think:
Look into the pewter pot
To see the world as the world's not.
And faith, 'tis pleasant till 'tis past:
The mischief is that 'twill not last.....”

- A. E. Housman, “Terence, This is Stupid Stuff”

  1. The speaker in the first stanza complains because Terence is which of the following things?

    Correct Answer:

    Reciting sad poetry

    Answer Explanation:

    (b) - “moping melancholy mad”

  2. Which of the following lines from the poem BEST supports your conclusion in Question 1?

    Correct Answer:

    “Moping melancholy mad”

  3. Why does the speaker think Terence should be able to recite happy poetry?

    Correct Answer:

    His appetite shows there’s nothing really wrong with him.

    Answer Explanation:

    (a) - “You eat your victuals fast enough/And there can’t be much amiss, ‘tis clear/ To see the way you drink your beer”

  4. The speaker in Stanza 1 develops Terence’s character. What kind of person does the speaker think Terence is?

    Correct Answer:

    Someone who could recite happy poetry if he wanted to

    Answer Explanation:

    (c) - The last line of the stanza points to this: “Come, pipe a tune to dance to, lad.” He thinks Terence is capable of reciting happy poetry since he asks him to do it.

  5. When Terence begins to speak in Stanza 1, what does the reader learn about what the speaker said in Stanza 1?

    Correct Answer:

    That the speaker accurately described Terence as reciting sad poetry, but that Terence isn’t going to give the speaker the happy poetry he wants.

    Answer Explanation:

    (b) - Terence says that poetry is not the most effective way to cure one’s melancholies, but that beer is.

  6. In Stanza 2, Terence suggests what to the speaker?

    Correct Answer:

    That beer will cure the speaker’s unhappiness faster than poetry.

    Answer Explanation:

    (b) - “There’s brisker pipes than poetry.” Also, “ale, man, ale’s the stuff to drink/ for when it hurts to think” and “look into the pewter pot/to see the world as the world’s not.”

  7. What does Terence’s advice to the speaker in Stanza 2 suggest about Terence’s character?

    Correct Answer:

    Terence would rather get drunk than try to cheer everyone up with happy poetry, music and dancing.

    Answer Explanation:

    (d) - See “there’s brisker pipes than poetry.”

  8. Which of the following lines indicates that Terence knows that getting drunk will only make someone feel better temporarily?

    Correct Answer:

    “And faith, ‘tis pleasant till ‘tis past”

    Answer Explanation:

    (a) - In other words, it’s nice to be drunk until it’s over.

  9. When Terence says that “malt does more than Milton can/ To justify God’s ways to man,” he most likely means that he believes:

    Correct Answer:

    People can make more sense out of random events by getting drunk than they can by reading poetry that supposedly explains the nature of God.

  10. Based on your answer to Question 9, where is Terence LEAST likely to visit in the rest of the poem?

    Correct Answer:

    A church service.

    Answer Explanation:

    If he thinks beer is a better answer to life’s questions than God, he’s probably not going to go to a church service.