Getting to the Core of English Language Arts, Grades 6–12: How to Meet the Common Core State Standards with Lessons from the Classroom


Vicky Giouroukakis & Maureen Connolly

  • Citations
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  • Chapters
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Part I: Reading

    Part II: Writing

    Part III: Speaking and Listening

    Part IV: Language

  • Dedication

    This book is dedicated to my perfect husband, John, and three children, Emanuel, Anna, and Paul—for their love of knowledge and learning and for teaching me something new every day.


    This book is dedicated to my grandfather, a book salesman, and my grandmother, an English teacher. They fostered in me a love of literature and the desire to teach.



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    Every few years, teachers are given a new set of standards that will supposedly revolutionize how we deliver curriculum and improve students’ development of the knowledge and skills needed to thrive in whatever the next era's challenges are. New standards typically point out what their promulgators describe as the failings of teachers and students, and they promise once and for all to set things right. Seasoned educators have seen this before. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are the latest iteration.

    Although the CCSS are similar to previous standards in many ways, there is something that makes them different: Because they and the promised assessments have been adopted by nearly every state in the union, the CCSS bring us closer than ever to a standardized, national curriculum. The inertia behind the new standards is powerful. The financial and political backing the CCSS has received is significant. There is also considerable debate among educators regarding the overall value of these new standards, and there is a palpable sense of dissatisfaction regarding the manner in which the standards were developed, particularly the limited input educators were allowed.

    Chances are your state has already adopted the CCSS and has embraced its promise to prompt curricula that will make students “college and career ready,” a phrase that has become the CCSS mantra. Many veteran English teachers may be wearied from the promises of previous educational reforms, and they may need inspiration to embrace new standards now. Many new teachers look with trepidation upon the intricate dictates of the CCSS and wonder what in the world these standards might look like in real classrooms with real students. Like it or not, teachers will be expected to become well versed in the CCSS document. Unfortunately, the minutely detailed list of standards is every bit as engaging as your favorite phone book. But there is hope.

    Enter Vicky Giouroukakis and Maureen Connolly.

    I did not know Vicky and Maureen before I read Getting to the Core of English Language Arts, Grades 6–12: How to Meet the Common Core State Standards with Lessons from the Classroom. In reading their helpful, in-depth guide to CCSS, however, I feel as though I've made friends with two very knowledgeable, positive, and wise colleagues. Part guidebook, part pep talk, and part advice column, Getting to the Core takes the most important findings of the CCSS and shows teachers—veteran and new—how they can use the findings to help their students become “college and career ready.”

    Especially helpful is the introductory section, in which the authors overview the Common Core State Standards and tease out for busy teachers some of their most significant areas of focus; they also point out what they find to be the benefits of the new standards for students’ literacy skills. Vicky and Maureen want teachers to learn to appreciate—as they clearly have—what the CCSS have to offer, to use the new standards to hone the excellent teaching they already do, and to enhance their teaching with new ideas inspired by the CCSS. I especially appreciate that the authors point out right away that teachers aren't necessarily required to create new lessons to comply with Common Core State Standards; much of the work good teachers already do will meet CCSS.

    Following the introduction, the book is broken into four sections, each dealing with a major strand from the CCSS Anchor Standards—Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language—and it concludes with a special focus on collaboration, something the book's coauthors know about. Teachers will find engaging, creative, CCSS-aligned lessons that make use of a variety of new and classic texts. One of the features of the book that makes it such an enjoyable read is a section before each lesson titled “Vicky and Maureen Speak” (or sometimes just Vicky or Maureen “speaks”). In these sections, the authors explain how they came up with the idea for the lesson and how it went with their own students. They describe how they may have adapted the lesson to fit CCSS and what tweaks they made after they tried it out with their students. Teachers will appreciate Vicky's and Maureen's substantial teaching experience, and these sections highlight nicely the kind of reflective practice they obviously employ in their own teaching.

    Another helpful feature is the marginal sidebars. Throughout the book, readers will find “Tech Connection,” “Theory Link,” or “Differentiation Tip” sidebars that aim to highlight special elements or possible adaptations of the lessons. In this way, the book, as the authors put it, functions as an already-highlighted text. How could an Internet tool work with this writing assignment? Does this lesson fit with the philosophy of John Dewey, Benjamin Bloom, or Howard Gardner? Could this task be adapted for gifted or struggling students? The authors have wondered about these things, too, and they've included their thoughts about them.

    The Common Core State Standards are here, and teachers and administrators will be expected to align curriculum to them and to the forthcoming standardized assessments. Although many of us would take issue with some of the standards, how they were produced, and what's left out of them, that doesn't mean we won't be expected to work with them. We're lucky to have two colleagues who've thought long and hard about the standards, found benefits for our students in them, and given us a useful, authoritative, and refreshingly readable guide to help us all get up to speed.

    KennethLindblom, Stony Brook University

    Kenneth Lindblom is Associate Professor of English and Director of English Teacher Education at Stony Brook University. He began his career as an English teacher atColumbia High School (East Greenbush, New York), and has taught writing and English at Syracuse University and Illinois State University. He is also editor of English Journal, the 100-year-old, peer-reviewed journal for secondary and middle school English teachers published by the National Council of Teachers of English.


    We wish to acknowledge Corwin, and in particular Carol Chambers Collins, for their belief in our vision for this book and for their continued support of this product from start to finish. We would also like to thank our colleagues at our respective institutions of education—Molloy College and Mineola High School—for their sustained encouragement of our work, especially the English Language Arts professionals with whom we have worked over the years who have inspired us. In addition, we wish to express our gratitude to the students (both high school students and prospective teachers) we have taught in the past and will teach in the future for motivating us to become better teachers. Finally, we would like to sincerely thank those who work tirelessly to ensure quality education for all students.

    A very special acknowledgment goes to our core families:

    Vicky's core family: husband, John—my saint, for your uncommon and unwavering love, patience, and encouragement; Emanuel, Anna, and Paul—for showing me the true meaning of life and for your unconditional love and understanding; dad Polychronis and mom Constantina—for all the sacrifices you have made and still make for me and for fostering in me the values of family, education, and hard work; mom-in-law, Anna—for all your help and support; Steve, Elaine, Tina, Stephanie, Paul, and Peter; George, Margie, Tina, and Catherine—for your constant love.

    Maureen's core family: mom, Elizabeth “Rose”—for always being eager to help; dad, John—for always being supportive of my education; Katie—for always being willing to listen; James—for always making me laugh; Rob—for always keeping me safe; Megan and Melissa—for always being eager to share a love of Pinkalicious reading and silly storytelling.

    Publisher's Acknowledgments

    Corwin gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the following reviewers:

    • Sandy Berka, English Teacher
    • Fond du Lac High School
    • Fond du Lac, WI
    • Lynn Frick, English Teacher
    • Sauk Prairie High School
    • Sauk City, WI
    • Jessica Gallo, Teacher, Ph.D. Student in Literacy Studies
    • Department of Curriculum and Instruction
    • University of Wisconsin–Madison
    • Madison, WI
    • Jan Mickler
    • National Literacy Project
    • Decatur, UT
    • Joanne E. Nelson, Instructional Resource Specialist, Social Studies and ELA
    • Brockton High School
    • Brockton, MA
    • Susan Stewart, Curriculum Consultant
    • Ashland University
    • Ashland, OH
    • Judith Sullivan, Supervisor, Office of Secondary English/LA
    • Baltimore County Public Schools
    • Baltimore, MD
    • Tracy N. Wilson
    • Reading Language Arts Coordinator
    • San Mateo County Office of Education
    • Redwood City, CA
    • Diana Yohe, Secondary ELA Program Planner
    • West Palm Beach, FL

    About the Authors

    Vicky Giouroukakis, PhD (née Vasiliki Menexas), is an Associate Professor in the Division of Education at Molloy College, Rockville Centre, New York. She teaches graduate courses to prospective and practicing secondary English teachers and English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers. Prior to her tenure at Molloy, Vicky taught English at a public high school in Queens, New York, and ESL to adolescents and adults. She also taught at Manhattanville College and Queens College, CUNY. Her research interests include adolescent literacy, standards and assessment, teacher education, and cultural and linguistic diversity. Her work has been featured in books and scholarly journals, and she frequently presents at regional, national, and international conferences. In 2010, Vicky was the recipient of the Educator of Excellence Award by the New York State English Council and has been serving on the Council's Executive Board since then. She has been interested in standards and assessment and how they affect teaching and learning ever since she began teaching. Moreover, her dissertation work was on the impact of state assessments in English on instructional practice. Vicky received a Master's degree in English Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. She also received a master's degree in TESOL and a doctorate in Reading/Writing/Literacy from the University of Pennsylvania. Vicky resides in New York with her supportive husband and three loving children. She can be reached by e-mail at

    Maureen Connolly, EdD, has been an English teacher at Mineola High School on Long Island, New York, for 12 years. She has also worked as a professor of Education at Molloy College, Adelphi University, and Queens College. She has overseen service-learning grants for the New York Metropolitan Area and collaborated in the writing of several publications related to service-learning. While Maureen credits her passion for service to her mother, a music teacher who often coordinated trips for her pupils to perform at a local nursing home, she credits her love of literature and teaching to her grandmother, a professor of English at Hunter College, and her grandfather, a salesman for Macmillan. Maureen has developed many standards-based, service-learning projects that link community outreach, character education, and reading. In addition, she has been a part of the Learn to Serve with Character Research Project headed by New York State. Maureen earned her master's degree in Reading and her doctorate in Educational Leadership at St. John's University. She has been awarded the title of Honoree for the ASCD Outstanding Young Educator of the Year and granted the St. John's University LEAD Award. Also, she has presented workshops at regional, national, and international conferences, and volunteered to teach in India, Ghana, Peru, and Spain. Maureen is part of the Teachers for Global Classrooms Program which promotes global education. She believes that at the core of her profession is the need to develop purposeful learning that opens students’ eyes to the potential for positive change in themselves and in their local, national, and global communities. Maureen resides in New York City and can be reached at

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    Appendix: Lesson Plan Template

    CORWIN: A SAGE Company

    The Corwin logo—a raven striding across an open book—represents the union of courage and learning. Corwin is committed to improving education for all learners by publishing books and other professional development resources for those serving the field of PreK–12 education. By providing practical, hands-on materials, Corwin continues to carry out the promise of its motto: “Helping Educators Do Their Work Better.”

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