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Now for some concrete examples of standards being used in the classroom. In this section we show you some actual lessons and activities that use standards, as well as an example of how to improve a standards-based lesson.
Standards in action
In classrooms
In book groups
What do standards-based lesson plans look like?
How to improve a lesson to help students meet standards
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Standards in action

In classrooms

In these video clips, teachers are using strategies and assessments to help students reach standards.

One standard that is common to most science standards across the country is for students to gain an understanding of the earth's structure, dynamics, and geophysical systems, including its weather. Another is for students to be able to come up with logical theories regarding the concepts they are studying, and to support them with reasoned arguments.

In this video clip, elementary-school teacher Kathryn Mitchell Pierce encourages her students to discuss, investigate, and explain a weather-related science topic, thus addressing both the content standard and the performance standard.



In a 4th-grade math class at Burrville Elementary School in Washington, D.C., math specialist Jacqueline Goodloe raises the bar for the students, pushing them to understand the concepts behind the math problems she presents. In the video clip at the left, Goodloe builds on a math problem to try to help her students develop specific mathematical reasoning skills that she has in mind.

In the video clip at the right, Goodloe talks about how trying for high standards can represent a risk for teachers, yet one that can be richly rewarding.



Teachers are constantly assessing what skills students have mastered as they relate to the standards that are set for the students to achieve by the end of a particular school year. As kindergarten teacher Michael Beason suggests in this clip, teachers can use different tools such as checklists and work samples to make sure their students are meeting the standards.

They can then use these tools to verify that standards are being met to the satisfaction of all stakeholders in the process, i.e., parents, administrators, and other community members.

However, sometimes students need extra time or more help in reaching those benchmarks. Beason also suggests ways to assist students to reach standards.

In book groups
To help them meet the New York City standards in English/Language Arts (based on the New Standards in that area), Anna Chan Rekate's middle-school students at the Manhattan School for Children participate in a book group that meets three times a week.

In the book groups, students learn to look for subtleties, patterns, and varying styles. In accordance with the standards, they learn to interpret and criticize, as well as discuss themes, plot, and characterization. This is done via small-group discussions and shared writing activities. (The idea of book groups is used throughout the school for students of all ages.) The overriding goal of this activity is to engage students in dialogue about books. According to Rekate, only when a reader actively participates can literature come to life. It is not only important that students read and understand the text, but they also need to learn to question what they have read and be engaged by it.

Students are divided according to reading ability. This is intended to allow more advanced students the opportunity to read, discuss, and analyze more challenging books, which they can then discuss at a sophisticated level. The more basic-level groups concentrate on the fundamental skills of reading comprehension, plot recall, and identifying the basic ideas of themes and characters. (Some proponents of standards-based teaching would disagree with this approach, arguing that the use of tracking does not really serve the ideal of high standards for all.)

While the number and selection of the books are based on the level of the reading group, another selection criterion is their relevance to the history curriculum. In this way students are helped to meet standards in two areas with one activity.

Below is a list of literary terms, concepts, and skills that are covered as part of the book group discussion:
  • Foreshadowing
  • Alliteration
  • Allusion
  • Metaphors
  • Similes
  • Setting
  • Plot
  • Conflict
  • Theme
  • Climax
  • Character development
  • Cause and effect
  • General ideas
  • Words in context
  • Cliffhangers
  • Symbolism
  • Sequencing
  • Retelling
  • Predicting
  • Summarizing
  • Vocabulary development
  • Building suspense
  • Onomatopoeia
  • Personification
  • Hyperbole
  • Epilogue
  • Prologue
  • Citing sources/quoting/using text as evidence
  • Point of view
  • Perspective

Meeting the standards
How do the book groups actually help students meet the standards? The following examples are activities that can be used in middle and high school, and the standards that they allow students to achieve (the standards listed are from the New Standards performance standards in English/Language Arts in New York City, published in 1997):

SECTION: Reading

STANDARD: Read 25 books of quality and complexity.

HOW IT WORKS: In the course of the academic year, book groups read 10 to 12 books together.

STANDARD:Read and comprehend at least four books on the same subject, or by the same author, or in the same genre.


  • Book groups can read, for example, four of the Ann Rinaldi books. Additionally, the book group can discuss the genre of historical fiction since many of her novels deal with the American Revolution.

  • Book groups may choose to do a study of historical fiction about slavery and the Underground Railroad. Four possible novels include: THE HOUSE OF DIES DREAR, NIGHTJOHN, HANG A THOUSAND TREES WITH RIBBONS: THE PHILLIS WHEATLEY STORY, and FREEDOM CROSSING.

  • Another possibility is to read four books about events during the same time period, such as the years of World War II. JOURNEY TO TOPAZ, NUMBER THE STARS, SUMMER OF MY GERMAN SOLDIER, and LETTERS FROM RIFKA offer numerous discussion topics and a study of perspective.

SECTION: Writing

STANDARD:Produce a response to literature.


  • Write a literary analysis.
  • Write a book or movie review.
  • Write a comparison of the book and the movie version of the same story.
  • Write a literary response paper.

STANDARD:Produce a narrative account (fictional or autobiographical).


  • Write a new ending for a book read in book group.
  • Write a biographical account.
  • Write a fiction or nonfiction story based on or inspired by a book.
  • Write a personal narrative.
  • Create a detailed travel diary.
  • Write a news account of an event from a book.

STANDARD: Produce a persuasive essay.


  • Write a letter to convince a fellow student he/she must read the book because it is so compelling.
  • Write an editorial about a political or moral issue raised in the book.

SECTION: Speaking

STANDARD: Participate in one-to-one interactions.


  • Schedule talks with teacher or parent.
  • Discuss drafts of essays with a teacher.

STANDARD: Participate in group meetings.


  • Meet as a member of the book group.
  • Lead the discussion about a chapter in the book.
  • Role-play a scene in the book.

SECTION: Conventions, Grammar, and Usage of the English Language

STANDARD: Understand rules of the English language in written and oral form.


  • Self-edit written work.
  • Peer-edit written work.
  • Revise work and writing drafts.

STANDARD: Revise work to clarify it or to make it more effective in communicating the intended message.


  • Incorporate comments and suggestions from teachers and peers.
  • Produce a series of drafts and then the final essay.
  • Peer edit.
  • Peer critique of oral presentations.

SECTION: Literature

STANDARD: Produce work in at least one literary genre.


  • Write a personal essay.
  • Write a short story.
  • Write a short play.
  • Write a poem.

STANDARD: Respond to nonfiction, fiction, poetry, and drama using interpretive, critical, and evaluative processes.


  • Examine the themes of one author (e.g., S.E. Hinton and the struggles of growing up; Virginia Hamilton and issues of slavery; Lawrence Yep and the stories of the Asian-American experience).
  • Write or perform a skit.
  • Write a parody.
  • Evaluate literary devices.

Getting Started

If you wish to try to set up book groups at your own school, Rekate advises, in order to get started you first need to round up enough adults to meet with students three times a week. These adults can include teachers of other subjects, "cluster" teachers, reading specialists -- even parents. Ideally, there will be eight to ten people in a group. Twelve students per group should be the maximum.

Fiscally, you need the commitment of your school, since the school will have to make the financial commitment to buy multiple copies of the books that will be used.

Bear in mind, Rekate advises, that all of your book-group teachers need to understand the focus, aim, and overall goals of the course. Additionally, there needs to be ongoing discussion and sharing of ideas about how to run the classes and the types of homework that will be involved.


Workshop: Teaching to Academic Standards
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