How to Unpack ELA Common Core Standards and Design Objectives and Activities to Meet Them

LITERACY AND THE COMMON CORE[This post is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Literacy and the Common Core: Recipes for Action (Jossey-Bass, 2014).  It appeared in slightly different form as a MiddleWeb Guest Article on Dec. 16, 2013.]

In order to teach the standards, along with developing an appreciation for their trajectory (which I have blogged about HERE and HERE), we must understand what they mean and what they entail.  Often seemingly “simple” standards require extensive scaffolding, and some of the complicated ones are even more complicated than they might appear.  Calkins, Ehrenworth, and Lehman refer to Writing Standard #9 as “the standard with twenty standards hidden within it,”[1] and I don’t disagree.  To unpack the standards, you need to do the following:

  1. Paraphrase the standard.  It’s important to know what the standard is saying on a literal level so that you can break it down into manageable pieces.
  2. Figure out why we do this standard.  Determining the purpose(s) of a standard will help you explain to students why it’s worth mastering.  And thinking about this rationale will help you later when you want to design objectives that are purposeful.
  3. Identify the skills that students will need in order to meet this standard.  Almost invariably, students will need more than one skill in order meet any given standard.  If you don’t break the standard down, you might skip over key skills that need to be taught.  And if you don’t teach the needed skills, students won’t master the standard (and worse: you won’t know why).
  4. Determine how you could assess this standard.  What would mastery of this standard look like?  Once you’re confident you know what mastery looks like, it’s easier to plan how to get students to that level.
  5. Brainstorm on how you might teach this standard.  For the moment, stick to general approaches; don’t worry about detailed lesson plans yet.  The purpose here is to generate some rough ideas about how to approach the standard.
  6. Design RPM (rigorous, purposeful, measurable) objectives related to these skills.  (For more information on RPM objectives, click HERE.)  These objectives will lead you logically to lesson plans that set students up to meet and exceed the standards.  Note: This step can be challenging to do in a vacuum; it works best if teachers have specific texts in mind that they plan to use to meet these objectives.

To support teachers working through this unpacking process, I’ve created a simple graphic organizer.  Here is a completed model (PS: Both the blank “Unpacking the Standards Organizer” and the completed “Unpacking the Standards: RIT 6.1 Model” can be found on the TLC “Standards” page) :

STANDARD: RIT 6.1: Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
PARAPHRASE IT: Provide properly-quoted evidence from the text to support your explanation of what the text says directly and what it implies.
WHY do we do this standard?  What purposes does it serve? We provide evidence to support arguments because no one would believe us if we didn’t; we prove our points more persuasively when we offer evidence.  We use this skill when speaking and writing in order to convince listeners/readers about our views/ideas.  It is important to cite the source to give the writer credit for his/her work and avoid plagiarism, and so that the audience can find that evidence as needed.
WHAT SKILLS will students need?
  • Paraphrase text.
  • Draw inferences from text.
  • Distinguish between argument and evidence.
  • Identify evidence relevant to particular arguments.
  • Build arguments with relevant evidence and explanation.
  • Cite sources properly (using MLA format).
How might you ASSESS this standard?  What would mastery of this standard LOOK LIKE?
  • Give students open-ended response questions requiring multiple-sentence responses with properly-cited quotes from the text.
  • Require students to generate a paragraph making an argument with evidence from the given text, citing evidence properly.
HOW might you teach this standard?
  • Show students a model of a paragraph that includes properly-cited quotations, explaining its key features (topic sentence=argument, evidence and explanation, with evidence from text properly cited).
  • Give them either a topic sentence to support OR an inference question to answer based on an informational text they are reading, and use the gradual release approach (I Do, We Do, You Do) to train students in how to write paragraphs that cite evidence from the text.
What are some RPM OBJECTIVES related to these skills? SWBAT…

  • Paraphrase text in order to convey literal comprehension of a passage.
  • Draw inferences from text in order to explain key ideas in the passage.
  • Identify arguments and examples of evidence in order to create accurate definitions of “argument” and “evidence.”
  • Distinguish between evidence that is “relevant” and “irrelevant” to a given argument in order to create accurate definitions of “relevant” and “irrelevant.”
  • Identify evidence that supports a given argument in order to build a convincing argument.
  • Cite sources in proper MLA format in order to avoid plagiarism.

[1] Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth, and Christopher Lehman, Pathways to the Common Core (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2012), 134.


About theliteracycookbook

In addition to this blog, I am the creator of THE LITERACY COOKBOOK Website ( and ONLY GOOD BOOKS Blog (, and the author of THE LITERACY COOKBOOK: A Practical Guide to Effective Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening Instruction (Jossey-Bass, 2012) and LITERACY AND THE COMMON CORE: Recipes for Action (Jossey-Bass, 2014). Check out my Website for more information about my consulting work.
This entry was posted in Analyzing the Common Core Standards, ELA Common Core Standards, Literacy and the Common Core BOOK, Professional Development, Reading, Reading Informational Text, Resources, TLC Website Resources and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to How to Unpack ELA Common Core Standards and Design Objectives and Activities to Meet Them

  1. Pingback: NJ ASK Test Specs UPDATE, 1-15-14 | The Literacy Cookbook blog

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