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Common Core Standards: ELA - Literacy

Grade 11-12

Writing WHST.11-12.2

Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events,
scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes.

  • Introduce a topic and organize complex ideas, concepts, and information so that each new element builds on that which precedes it to create a unified whole; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., figures, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.
    • For 11th and 12th grade, this point asks students to move beyond just being able to structure a paper around a central idea; here students are asked to deal with complex ideas and create a structure that isn’t merely “well-organized,” but is strategically organized so that each piece builds to a unified whole.
  • Develop the topic thoroughly by selecting the most significant and relevant facts, extended definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples appropriate to the audience’s knowledge of the topic.
    • This bullet point provides a comprehensive list of the specific ingredients for a detailed, deeply developed essay. In 11th and 12th grades, students should be developing their topics thoroughly and choosing significant source material to include. Again, at this level, students must do more than just meet the basic requirements for an informative paper, reaching for a more surprising, nuanced essay.
  • Use varied transitions and sentence structures to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships among complex ideas and concepts.
    • Just like in an argument, students need to put the information into context by connecting their ideas and showing how they are related. Shmoop recommends you create a transition bank with your students and model how to use transitions effectively. See Standard 1 for a list of examples to get you started.
  • Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary and techniques such as metaphor, simile, and analogy to manage the complexity of the topic; convey a knowledgeable stance in a style that responds to the discipline and context as well as to the expertise of likely readers.
    • Once again, it’s audience and genre awareness. Students need to be aware of the genre and discipline expectations as well as the expertise of their audience in order to choose a voice, style, and structure appropriate for the context. In 11th and 12th grades, students should be thinking more about their ethos as writers and how to choose a language and style that will establish them as a knowledgeable, credible writer.
    • In 11th and 12th grades, this point also asks students to add style to their writing with techniques like metaphor, simile, and analogy. These might seem like techniques best saved for their creative writing class, but look at any academic discourse and you will find writers using figurative language to highlight important details and put examples into context for readers.
  • Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the information or explanation presented (e.g., articulating implications or the significance of the topic).
    • As teachers, we have a tendency to run out of time before we get to the conclusion, so instruction on conclusions is often short-changed. Without instruction, students will end up repeating themselves, and that’s not what conclusions are all about. What students should be doing is to give the information a broader context. The conclusion should get at why all this information matters. What are the implications? Why is this topic significant? A good conclusion should shed new light on the subject with style and nuance, leaving the reader in awe of the academic prowess on display. Or something in that ballpark.

Set the Stage

This standard requires students to be able to explain complex ideas, whether they are in history class, science class, or technology class. Their writing must follow the three C’s: comprehensive (complete), coherent (understandable), and cohesive (unified). You will be teaching students how to develop their ideas through the use of relevant information structured in an organized fashion, benefiting and enhancing the audience’s knowledge. Once again, the bottom line is that students need to write good informative essays, and the bullet points just get more detailed about how they should go about it.


Dress Rehearsal

In biology class, you have been studying the major tissue types of the human body. Yes, always captivating to you. To advance that knowledge, your teacher has assigned the task of writing a short research paper on these tissues and how they relate to cancer. You know you will need more than your textbook to complete the research for this assignment. It won’t be bad, but keep your tissues handy, just in case.

Your textbook has included information about the four types of tissues. They are categorized as epithelial, connective, muscle, and nerve tissues. Your explanation will include where each is found and its function. In addition, you’ll offer details on how tissues combine in the making of simple membranes and in the construction of more complex structures, such as organs and systems. Think big, bigger, BIGGEST.

With regard to cancer, you do some research on the Internet. After checking your vitals (e-mails, Facebook, cell phone, etc.), you find several credible websites authored by physicians and researchers in the field. You learn that most cancers arise from epithelial cells called carcinomas, categorized as squamous, glandular, and transitional. Cancers in particular organs are named after the organ in which they reside. Makes sense.

You read further to learn that cancer can also be in connective tissues. These cancers are called sarcomas, occurring in bone, muscle, and cartilage tissues. These types of cancers are rare. You also learn that bodily systems, such as the blood and lymph, can go haywire to produce leukemia and lymphomas. These occur in about seven percent of all cancer cases, mostly affecting children.

Once you’ve collected your notes and many more details about each type of cancer, you make an outline or cluster diagram in order to structure your paper. Your four types of tissues become your major ideas at the beginning of the essay where you’ll go into background information and specific details. Next, you will discuss each in terms of cancer.

You build your essay around a solid thesis statement about tissue types and their tendencies for developing cancer. You decide to devote one body paragraph for each category of tissues. Great executive decision! These will be followed by several paragraphs describing the cancers that develop from each tissue. Headings and subheadings will help your readers navigate all this complex scientific info.

You also decide to search for drawings and sketches of the tissues and perhaps what the cancer looks like. You’ll give credit to your sources for both information and visuals. You find a fascinating webisode, “Jammin’ with the Juice,” by a physician who will better explain the tissue types. You’ll embed the video in your essay since the expectation here is the use of multi-media, or a combination of a variety of formats that might include images, recordings, videos, text, and animation.

Be sure to define words and phrases that are domain-specific, or particular to your topic, keeping in mind the understanding level of your readers. This might include simple definitions, more complex or extended definitions, direct quotations, and key details. Liven your writing up with those similes, metaphors, and analogies you learned about in English class: “The tissues protected the bladder like a coat of mail.” Your readers can better understand what you’re writing about if you use language with which they are familiar.

You’ll need to use transition words, phrases, and clauses that link the ideas in your essay at the sentence, paragraph, and section levels. Words and phrases such as in addition, along with, in contrast, similarly, and on the other hand, help readers to follow your writing.

End your essay with a strong conclusion. Summarize the topic and explain why it is important to the reader. Everyone needs to know how cancer begins and how to avoid it. Your essay will help put this scientific info into real-world context.

That’s a Wrap

You’ve taught your students about the building blocks of informative writing and how to explore a complex problem or topic. Remember folks, writing is thinking, so students who can write about what they know in their own words have a more complete mastery of the material , as well as becoming masters of the informative essay.

Quiz Questions

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


Write the letter of the description next to the correct word.

  1. ____ multi-media

    Correct Answer:

    a combination of text, audio, images, video, etc.

    Answer Explanation:

    Multi = many; media = form of communication. When you create a multi-media report or project, you use many different forms of communication, such as text, video, images, etc.

  2. ____ complex

    Correct Answer:

    consisting of many different and connected parts

    Answer Explanation:

    You should be writing about complex ideas, meaning ideas that have many different sides or aspects to consider.

  3. ____ formatting

    Correct Answer:

    the arrangement of information

    Answer Explanation:

    How you format your paper is how the information is arranged on the page. Formatting includes organizational as well as visual choices, such as spacing, headings, document design, etc.

  4. ____ relevant

    Correct Answer:

    closely connected to the topic at hand

    Answer Explanation:

    Relevant means on-topic, so you only want to include details and sources that are closely connected or related to your topic. No meandering away from the point, people!

  5. ____transitions

    Correct Answer:

    words, phrases, or clauses that connect one piece

    Answer Explanation:

    Transitions are the glue that sticks your ideas together and shows how they are related. You need effective transitions to connect individual sentences as well as paragraph s or whole sections of text.

  6. ____ domain-specific vocabulary

    Correct Answer:

    words particular to a subject area

    Answer Explanation:

    For example, there are some words particular to the field of biology that you would never have occasion to use in another discipline. Experts in the discipline will be familiar with those words, but readers outside the discipline might need you to define and explain domain-specific vocab. Know your readers!

  7. ____ metaphor

    Correct Answer:

    comparison between two unlike objects in which one is described as actually being the other

    Answer Explanation:

    You learned this one in English class back in middle school. Metaphor = something is something else. The snow is a blanket over the city. Okay, that’s a really bad one, but you get the point.

  8. ____ simile

    Correct Answer:

    comparison using like or as

    Answer Explanation:

    A simile is like a metaphor, only it uses the word like. You might be surprised to find how many history, technical, and scientific documents rely on similes and metaphors in order to explain concepts or give examples. They’re not just for poetry and literature, folks.

  9. ____ analogy

    Correct Answer:

    an extended metaphor in which many similarities are described

    Answer Explanation:

    An analogy is just an extended comparison of two things that share multiple similarities. Rather than pointing out that human societies are like natural ecosystems, a writer might develop that comparison further, explaining it point by point. That would be an analogy.

  10. ____ expertise

    Correct Answer:

    highly developed skill in a particular area

    Answer Explanation:

    Expertise is the area in which you are an expert. It’s important to know your audience’s level of expertise or knowledge on your subject so you can determine what areas will need further explanation.

Aligned Resources