Common Core: 6th Grade English Language Arts : Determine Theme or Main Idea with Supporting Details and Objectively Summarize a Text: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.6.2

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Example Question #1 : Determine Theme Or Main Idea With Supporting Details And Objectively Summarize A Text: Ccss.Ela Literacy.Rl.6.2

Adapted from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) (1876)

Saturday morning was come, and all the summer world was bright and fresh, and brimming with life. Tom appeared on the sidewalk with a bucket of whitewash and a long-handled brush. He surveyed the fence, and all gladness left him and a deep melancholy settled down upon his spirit. Thirty yards of board fence nine feet high. Life to him seemed hollow, and existence but a burden. Sighing, he dipped his brush and passed it along the topmost plank; repeated the operation; did it again; compared the insignificant whitewashed streak with the far-reaching continent of unwhitewashed fence, and sat down on a tree-box discouraged.

He began to think of the fun he had planned for this day, and his sorrows multiplied. Soon the boys would come tripping along on all sorts of delicious expeditions, and they would make a world of fun of him for having to work—the very thought of it burnt him like fire. At this dark and hopeless moment an inspiration burst upon him! Nothing less than a great, magnificent inspiration.

He took up his brush and went tranquilly to work. Ben Rogers hove in sight presently—the very boy, of all boys, whose ridicule he had been dreading. Ben’s gait was the hop-skip-and-jump—proof enough that his heart was light and his anticipations high. He was eating an apple, and giving a long, melodious whoop, at intervals, followed by a deep-toned ding-dong-dong, ding-dong-dong, for he was personating a steamboat. As he drew near, he slackened speed, took the middle of the street, leaned far over to star-board and rounded to ponderously and with laborious pomp and circumstance—for he was personating the Big Missouri, and considered himself to be drawing nine feet of water. He was boat and captain and engine-bells combined, so he had to imagine himself standing on his own hurricane-deck giving the orders and executing them:

“Stop her, sir! Ting-a-ling-ling!” The headway ran almost out, and he drew up slowly toward the sidewalk.

Tom went on whitewashing—paid no attention to the steamboat. Ben stared a moment and then said: “Hi-yiYou’re up a stump, ain’t you!”

No answer. Tom surveyed his last touch with the eye of an artist, then he gave his brush another gentle sweep and surveyed the result, as before. Ben ranged up alongside of him. Tom’s mouth watered for the apple, but he stuck to his work. Ben said:

“Hello, old chap, you got to work, hey?”

Tom wheeled suddenly and said:

“Why, it’s you, Ben! I warn’t noticing.”

“Say—I’m going in a-swimming, I am. Don’t you wish you could? But of course you’d druther work—wouldn’t you? Course you would!”

Tom contemplated the boy a bit, and said:

“What do you call work?”

“Why, ain’t that work?”

Tom resumed his whitewashing, and answered carelessly:

“Well, maybe it is, and maybe it ain’t. All I know, is, it suits Tom Sawyer.”

“Oh come, now, you don’t mean to let on that you like it?”

The brush continued to move.

“Like it? Well, I don’t see why I oughtn’t to like it. Does a boy get a chance to whitewash a fence every day?”

That put the thing in a new light. Ben stopped nibbling his apple. Tom swept his brush daintily back and forth—stepped back to note the effect—added a touch here and there—criticized the effect again—Ben watching every move and getting more and more interested, more and more absorbed. Presently he said:

“Say, Tom, let me whitewash a little.”

Tom considered, was about to consent; but he altered his mind:

“No—no—I reckon it wouldn’t hardly do, Ben. You see, Aunt Polly’s awful particular about this fence—right here on the street, you know—but if it was the back fence I wouldn’t mind and she wouldn’t. Yes, she’s awful particular about this fence; it’s got to be done very careful; I reckon there ain’t one boy in a thousand, maybe two thousand, that can do it the way it’s got to be done.”

“No—is that so? Oh come, now—lemme, just try. Only just a little—I’d let you, if you was me, Tom.”

“Ben, I’d like to; but Aunt Polly—well, Jim wanted to do it, but she wouldn’t let him; Sid wanted to do it, and she wouldn’t let Sid. Now don’t you see how I’m fixed? If you was to tackle this fence and anything was to happen to it—”

“Oh, shucks, I’ll be just as careful. Now lemme try. Say—I’ll give you the core of my apple.”

“Well, here—No, Ben, now don’t. I’m afeard—”

“I’ll give you all of it!”

Tom gave up the brush with reluctance in his face, but alacrity in his heart. And while the late steamer Big Missouri worked and sweated in the sun, the retired artist sat on a barrel in the shade close by, dangled his legs, munched his apple, and planned the slaughter of more innocents. There was no lack of material; boys happened along every little while; they came to jeer, but remained to whitewash. By the time Ben was tired, Tom had traded the next chance to Billy Fisher for a kite, in good repair; and when he played out, Johnny Miller bought in for a dead rat and a string to swing it with—and so on, and so on, hour after hour. And when the middle of the afternoon came, from being a poor poverty-stricken boy in the morning, Tom was literally rolling in wealth. And when the middle of the afternoon came, from being a poor poverty-stricken boy in the morning, Tom was literally rolling in wealth. He had besides the things before mentioned, twelve marbles, a piece of blue bottle-glass to look through, a spool cannon, a key that wouldn't unlock anything, a fragment of chalk, a glass stopper of a decanter, a tin soldier, a couple of tadpoles, six fire-crackers, a kitten with only one eye, a brass door-knob, a dog-collar—but no dog—the handle of a knife, four pieces of orange-peel, and a dilapidated old window sash.

He had had a nice, good, idle time all the while—plenty of company—and the fence had three coats of whitewash on it! If he hadn’t run out of whitewash he would have bankrupted every boy in the village.

What personality traits of Tom’s does this scene showcase?

Possible Answers:

His curiosity and desire to learn

His attention to detail and his stubbornness

His laziness and his cleverness

His sense of humor and his friendliness

His shyness and his intelligence

Correct answer:

His laziness and his cleverness


Let's consider exactly what happens in this scene before we try to figure out what its events tell us about the main character, Tom Sawyer. Tom shows up to paint a fence on a Saturday. He has to work and he'd rather not. As he's contemplating having to work all day, he gets some sort of great idea. Then, Ben walks by, pretending to be a steamboat. Ben makes fun of Tom for having to work, but Tom ignores him. When Tom does notice Ben, he pretends that he's really interested in painting the fence. Tom suggests that it's not work and he enjoys it. This gets Ben interested in painting the fence. Tom refuses to let Ben paint the fence, saying that it has to be done in a very particular way. Ben offers Tom his apple to let him paint the fence, and Tom accepts, eventually getting many other people to paint the fence for him and accumulating a great deal of items from them for allowing them to do so.

What does this tell us about Tom? He doesn't want to work, and he gets the other kids to do his work for him by convincing them that it's fun to paint the fence. The passage in this way shows Tom to be both lazy (he doesn't want to work) and clever (since he convinces other people to do his work for him).

Example Question #2 : Determine Theme Or Main Idea With Supporting Details And Objectively Summarize A Text: Ccss.Ela Literacy.Rl.6.2

Adapted from “The Thief and the Innkeeper” in Aesop’s Fables (1867, trans. Townsend)

A thief hired a room in a tavern and stayed a while in the hope of stealing something which should enable him to pay his reckoning. When he had waited some days in vain, he saw the Innkeeper dressed in a new and handsome coat and sitting before his door. The Thief sat down beside him and talked with him. As the conversation began to flag, the Thief yawned terribly and at the same time howled like a wolf. The Innkeeper said, "Why do you howl so fearfully?" "I will tell you," said the Thief, "but first let me ask you to hold my clothes, or I shall tear them to pieces. I know not, sir, when I got this habit of yawning, nor whether these attacks of howling were inflicted on me as a judgment for my crimes, or for any other cause; but this I do know, that when I yawn for the third time, I actually turn into a wolf and attack men." With this speech he commenced a second fit of yawning and again howled like a wolf, as he had at first. The Innkeeper, hearing his tale and believing what he said, became greatly alarmed and, rising from his seat, attempted to run away. The Thief laid hold of his coat and entreated him to stop, saying, "Pray wait, sir, and hold my clothes, or I shall tear them to pieces in my fury, when I turn into a wolf." At the same moment he yawned the third time and set up a terrible howl. The Innkeeper, frightened lest he should be attacked, left his new coat in the Thief's hand and ran as fast as he could into the inn for safety. The Thief made off with the coat and did not return again to the inn.

This fable has a moral that is included at the end of it. Which of the following morals from Aesop fables can you infer is the one associated with this fable?

Possible Answers:

“Every tale is not to be believed.”

“Everyone is more or less master of his own fate.”

“Better poverty without care, than riches with.”

“Avoid a remedy that is worse than the disease.”

“Self-help is the best help.” 

Correct answer:

“Every tale is not to be believed.”


We can immediately ignore a few answer choices because they don't have anything to do with what happens in the story at all. "Self-help is the best help" doesn't work as the moral of this fable because while the thief helps himself, it's not contrasted against anyone who's not helping him- or herself or who is having someone else do all the work for him or her. "Better poverty without care, than riches with" doesn't work with the events of the fable because the thief sets out to steal a valuable thing, the Innkeeper's fancy coat, and does, and that's where the fable ends. We're not shown anything that helps us come to this particular conclusion. "Avoid a remedy that is worse than the disease" doesn't work either for the story. This moral suggests that just because you don't want to go with one that is slightly bad doesn't mean you should go with one that will turn out to be way worse. "Everyone is master of his own fate" doesn't relate to the story events either.

The best answer choice (and the actual moral of the fable) is “Every tale is not to be believed.” This fits with the events of the fable because the Innkeeper loses his coat because he believes the thief's made-up story.

The incorrect answer choices are morals from other Aesop fables:

“Self-help is the best help.” - "Hercules and the Wagoner"

“Better poverty without care, than riches with.” - "The Fir-Tree and the Bramble"

“Avoid a remedy that is worse than the disease.” - "The Hawk, the Kite, and the Pigeons"

“Everyone is more or less master of his own fate.” - “The Traveler and Fortune"

All fable morals adapted from Aesop’s Fables (1867, trans. Townsend)

All Common Core: 6th Grade English Language Arts Resources

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