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Common Core Basics

The Common Core: English Language Arts

The Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts (ELA) have been adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia. (Learn more about Common Core implementation in your state.) The Standards are not a curriculum. Instead, they establish a shared set of expectations to raise achievement for all students and prepare them for college and careers. 

The ELA Standards are divided into three main areas:

  • reading (informational and literary texts)
  • writing (narrative, informative/explanatory, and argument/opinion)
  • speaking and listening. 

Students will be expected to display increasing proficiency in their reading, writing, speaking and listening skills as they progress from grade to grade. Here are ways you can support your child’s learning at home.

Cultivate a love of reading

The Standards call for students to read increasingly complex texts. Reading for pleasure is the best way to help your child see the value of exploring new worlds and new words, and to progress to more challenging books. Here are ways to foster a love of reading at home:

  • Provide access to lots of reading material, including books, newspapers and magazines. 
  • Make frequent visits to the library. Let your child choose books that are of interest to her. Books that reinforce the content she is learning in school will be particularly beneficial, allowing her to build knowledge and vocabulary systematically.
  • Read aloud together each evening, in whatever language you feel comfortable. Ask questions about what you read, calling attention to new vocabulary. If your child doesn't know an answer, have her delve into the text again for clues.
  • Encourage your child to imagine what might happen to the characters in the stories you read together. (For more ideas, see 10 Tips for Parents.)

Focus on informational texts

The ELA Standards emphasize the reading of informational texts in a variety of subject areas. This includes magazine articles, diaries, speeches, essays, scientific articles and legal documents. The shift doesn’t make literature less important, but it does mean that students will read a variety of texts arranged according to topics so as to accelerate knowledge and vocabulary acquisition. 

Text complexity and the power of reading aloud

The Common Core calls for students to read texts of increasing complexity as they progress from grade to grade. Some of the texts may feel daunting at first. One way to help your child handle challenging books is to read aloud, since listening skills develop more quickly than reading comprehension skills. Reading aloud can also help reluctant readers enjoy books and gain confidence. Remember that although complexity is important, your child should still have time to read for fun.  

Talk about books 

Speaking and writing about texts of all kinds—books, articles and documents—is a focal point of the Common Core. You can help your child by asking questions about the books he is reading in school. Tell him about interesting books and articles that you may be reading. And try to incorporate literacy into everyday activities by calling attention to traffic signs, following recipes together and asking questions about what you see at the supermarket or the store.

Three types of writing 

The Standards call for students to develop skills in three main types of writing: narrative, informational/explanatory, and argument. The more kids read and write, the stronger their writing will become. Present writing to your child as something creative and fun. Write stories, plays or songs together. You can even create how-to guides for something you both enjoy doing. 

New standardized tests

Two groups, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced, are creating computer-adaptive assessments that will be administered for the first time in the 2014-15 school year. The assessments will focus on a student's ability to read and analyze a variety of grade-appropriate texts.

For information about your state's assessments and to view sample items, visit the PARCC or Smarter Balanced website.