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Common Core Standards: ELA - Literacy

Grade 9-10

Writing WHST.9-10.2

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

  • Introduce a topic and organize ideas, concepts, and information to make important connections and distinctions; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., figures, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.
    • This point asks students to structure a paper around a central topic. Their ideas should be connected, well-organized details that support a main idea. Students should also consider document design and the use of charts, images, video clips, etc. to communicate the information most effectively. Set aside time in class to talk about using these elements strategically.
  • Develop the topic with well-chosen, relevant, and sufficient facts, extended definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples appropriate to the audience’s knowledge of the topic.
    • You know how you read student papers and then say things like, “You need to develop these ideas further,” or, “Your analysis needs more depth.” Well, we’re betting that your students have given you a puzzled look, changed a few sentences around, and turned in the same shallow paper. It’s not that they don’t want to do better; the problem is that words like depth and development are abstract enigmas to students. Many of them don’t understand what you mean on a practical, yes-but-what-do-you-want-me-to-do-differently level. This bullet point should help you out as it provides a comprehensive list of the specific ingredients for a detailed, deeply developed essay. Shmoop recommends you give students lots of examples to follow, and then make this bullet point into a checklist for revision.
  • Use varied transitions and sentence structures to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships among 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 to manage the complexity of the topic and convey a style appropriate 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 thinking about their audience, students need to ask themselves whether the terms and ideas will be familiar to readers or whether they will require definitions or explanations.
    • This point also asks students to use precise language. Precise language is concrete and specific, rather than broad, abstract, or vague. You can practice this by giving students abstract phrases and asking them to replace the vague language with a specific description or concrete example.
  • Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.
    • Back to genre and style. Once again, students need to be aware of the proper conventions for the discipline and writing task, and they need to successfully meet those expectations in order to develop a knowledgeable and professional ethos for their 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).
    • Ah, the conclusion. That elusive monster that students never quite marshal and that teachers usually run out of time to teach. While the conclusion of an argument should reiterate the writer’s central claim and make a final pitch for the reader to agree, a good informative conclusion is a bit more nuanced. Students (and some teachers—sorry folks, it’s true) often operate under the mistaken idea that a conclusion should summarize or restate your big ideas. “Tell ‘em what you already told ‘em”—sound familiar? 
    • The problem with this model is that readers aren’t dumb, and they don’t need writers to repeat themselves. It’s annoying. What students should be doing in their conclusion 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, not just repeat the same old facts.

Set the Stage

This is another standard packed with a frightening amount of information, but once again, all these bullet points are just a breakdown of the skills needed to write an informative paper. Unlike an argument where students are taking a side and proving their point, an informative paper is all about providing (you guessed it) information in a clear and appropriate manner for the specific discipline.

Example

Dress Rehearsal

Your history teacher has asked you to explain how the economies in early America became two polar opposites in the North and the South. You must follow the reasoning behind each financial system. You will use a secondary source, your textbook, as well as other resources to write an informative essay. Yes, you heard right—it’s time for some research.

You examine the evidence from your textbook to determine that the North, with little fertile land, began to acquire most of its money through industry. On the other hand, the land in the South was excellent for the growth of cotton. With agriculture as their economic base, Southerners had no need for jumping on the industrial bandwagon.

Some agriculture was also alive and well in the North, but those farms tended to be smaller, growing crops that did not demand much land or a large labor force. People, at first, grew what their families needed, sort of like what your mom or grandma do now even though there is perfectly good grocery store at the strip mall. As cities expanded, farmers grew excess that could be sold to city markets. As a result, slavery grew out of favor and practice, and by 1804, Northerners no longer participated in the system at all.

In contrast, cotton farms in the South grew extremely large. This was due to the profitability created by the invention of the cotton gin. This, in turn, created demand for a large labor force—a force that slavery could provide at low cost. The South based its economy on the backs of slaves. Slaves made large, profitable farms possible, and slave owners accumulated wealth.

Your textbook analyzes the causes of the abolition of slavery in the North and the entrenchment of slavery in the South. Key terms are identified and statistics on the numbers of slaves are included. Sidebars demonstrate how a cotton gin works and how the creation of farms moved populations. These are all great resources for drawing conclusions about the differing economies of the North and South. All of these tools will be helpful in writing your essay.

Primary sources, or first-hand accounts of experiences and events, will also enhance your work. For example, in “The Aristocratic Journey, Letters written during a stay in America, 1827-1828,” writer Margaret Hall notes that, “five years ago Mr. and Mrs. Kirke Boott took up their residence at Lowell where there was then no building except one or two little hovels, but last night we went over very extensive cotton manufacturies that have sprung up since that time, and on every side fresh ones are starting into life. This State is so very bad for agricultural purposes that they are driven to manufactures to gain a livelihood…”

Don’t you love that way of writing? This quote supports your textbook’s claim that the North became increasingly industrial rather than relying on a weak agricultural economic base.

Another primary source is a narrative account by an African American slave, Charles Ball, written in 1800. In the journal he writes, “Cotton…had not been higher for many years, and as a great many persons, especially young men, were moving off to the new purchase in Georgia, prime hands were in high demand, for the purpose of clearing the land in the new country -- that the boys and girls, under twenty, would bring almost any price at present, in Columbia for the purpose of picking the growing crop of cotton, which promised to be very heavy; and as most persons had planted more than their hands would be able to pick young niggers, who would soon learn to pick cotton, were prime articles in the market.”

Here, Ball’s experience confirms that cotton was a prime economic resource in the South, very dependent on slavery for its survival. As proof that plantations grew increasingly large, Ball adds, “I had observed that in the country through which we traveled, little attention was paid to the cultivation of anything but cotton. Now this plant was almost the sole possessor of the fields. It covered the plantations adjacent to the road, as far as I could see, both before and behind me.”

The evidence from these sources indicates that the economies of the two regions were in opposition. This will be the main idea of your paper. You make a cluster to develop the main points, or criteria, you want to note: land use, labor force, and sources of income. You will use specific details from your reading to explain how each of these played out in the North and the South.

The structure of this paper might take the form of comparing and contrasting the North and the South by criteria, or you might decide to discuss the North first, and then the South. Either way, be sure to use transitional words, phrases, and clauses to connect your sentences and paragraphs. Keep your word choice academic, and watch out for errors in spelling, punctuation, and grammar. So many rules; so little time to apply them.

To better explain your thoughts, you’ll look for images such as photographs and paintings of the time period. One picture is worth a thousand words, you know. Graphs and tables, say on numbers of slaves living in the South as opposed to the numbers living in the North, will also provide better understanding of your text. Even links to videos and music would help engage your reader. Of course, you’ll need to give credit to your sources for any ideas, statistics, and data used in your paper.

Woot! Another writing assignment for the books!

Sources:

Ball, Charles. “Fifty Years in Chains.” Africans in America. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2012. Web. 27 May 20112. .

Lowell, Margaret. “The Aristocratic Journey, Letters Written during a stay in America, 1827-1828.” Center for Lowell History University of Massachusetts. University of Massachusetts, 2012. Web. 27 May 2012. .

Danzer, Gerald, et al. The Americans. Illinois: McDougall Littell, 2005.

That’s a Wrap

Your students have demonstrated their ability to write an informative or explanatory paper using a variety of resources. Their text is accompanied by graphics that reinforce the information. Their writing is academic in nature and is cohesive and mature. In informing their readers about the economies of the North and South, they’ve come to explore how the two became so different in terms of labor and culture as well. Now we’re talking!

Quiz Questions

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

True/False

Mark (T) for statements that are true and (F) for statements that are false.

  1. A topic is the main subject one writes about in a paper.

    Correct Answer:

    True

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (T). Your topic is your main idea; though your main idea should be a more focused form of your topic.


  2. In writing a paper, you are being asked to make a list of points that are somehow connected to the topic.

    Correct Answer:

    False

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (F). Paper = list? Don’t think so. A paper is a developed set of connected ideas. A list is, well, a list.


  3. Any type of fact is permitted in an informational essay in order to meet the word count requirement.

    Correct Answer:

    False

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (F). Any type of fact? Come on; you knew that was wrong. A writer should never do anything “just to meet the word count.”


  4. Definitions not only explain what a term means, they can also provide a description of that term.

    Correct Answer:

    True

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (T). For sure. A good, detailed definition will do a lot more than provide a brief dictionary meaning. In defining terms, you might also use descriptions and examples to show your reader what you mean.


  5. Transitions in a paper act like maps, leading the reader from point to point for better understanding.

    Correct Answer:

    True

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (T). Transitions guide readers through your ideas by showing how one is connected to the other. Are you adding more detail? Giving an example? Showing a contrasting point? The transitions should let your reader know what’s up.


  6. If your essay is cohesive, it means it holds together as a unified whole.

    Correct Answer:

    True

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (T). Ideas that are cohesive stick together (think adhesive). A cohesive essay is one in which all the parts add up to one working idea.


  7. Writing style refers to word choice, sentence structure, and tone.

    Correct Answer:

    True

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (T). Style is how you dress yourself. Well, not yourself exactly, your ideas. Are your ideas dressed in conversational word choice and tone, or do they don a formal tux and gown for the evening?


  8. In an explanatory essay, the opinion of the writer is important.

    Correct Answer:

    False

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (F). Informative essays are about the information. Your main job is to provide facts.


  9. It is important that all information in an essay be related to the main topic.

    Correct Answer:

    True

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (T). No kidding.


  10. An appropriate conclusion explains the importance of the subject in a broader context.

    Correct Answer:

    True

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (T). Have you been writing conclusions that are basically just a rewording of your introductions? Well, STOP! A good conclusion is all about giving your information significance and context.


Aligned Resources