Common Core: 8th Grade English Language Arts : Determine a Main Idea, Analyze Its Development and How it Relates to Supporting Ideas, and Objectively Summarize a Text: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.8.2

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for Common Core: 8th Grade English Language Arts

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All Common Core: 8th Grade English Language Arts Resources

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Example Questions

Example Question #4 : Reading: Informational Text

Adapted from “Introduced Species That Have Become Pests” in Our Vanishing Wild Life, Its Extermination and Protection by William Temple Hornaday (1913)

The man who successfully introduces into a new habitat any species of living thing assumes a very grave responsibility. Every introduced species is doubtful gravel until panned out. The enormous losses that have been inflicted upon the world through the perpetuation of follies with wild animals and plants would, if added together, be enough to purchase a principality. The most aggravating feature of these follies in transplantation is that never yet have they been made severely punishable. We are just as careless and easygoing on this point as we were about the government of Yellowstone Park in the days when Howell and other poachers destroyed our first national bison herd. Even though Howell was caught red-handed, skinning seven Park bison cows, he could not be punished for it, because there was no penalty prescribed by any law. Today, there is a way in which any revengeful person could inflict enormous damage on the entire South, at no cost to himself, involve those states in enormous losses and the expenditure of vast sums of money, yet go absolutely unpunished!

The gypsy moth is a case in point. This winged calamity was imported near Boston by a French entomologist, Mr. Leopold Trouvelot, in 1868 or 69. The scientist did not purposely set the pest free. He was endeavoring with live specimens to find a moth that would produce a cocoon of commercial value to America, and a sudden gust of wind blew his living and breeding specimens of the gypsy moth out of his study through an open window. The moth itself is not bad to look at, but its larvae is a great, overgrown brute with an appetite like a hog. Immediately Mr. Trouvelot sought to recover his specimens. When he failed to find them all, he notified the State authorities of the accident. Every effort was made to recover all the specimens, but enough escaped to produce progeny that soon became a scourge to the trees of Massachusetts. The method of the big, nasty-looking mottled-brown caterpillar was very simple. It devoured the entire foliage of every tree that grew in its sphere of influence.

The gypsy moth spread with alarming rapidity and persistence. In time, the state of Massachusetts was forced to begin a relentless war upon it, by poisonous sprays and by fire. It was awful! Up to this date (1912) the New England states and the United States Government service have expended in fighting this pest about $7,680,000!

The spread of this pest has been slowed, but the gypsy moth never will be wholly stamped out. Today it exists in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire, and it is due to reach New York at an early date. It is steadily spreading in three directions from Boston, its original point of departure, and when it strikes the State of New York, we, too, will begin to pay dearly for the Trouvelot experiment.

The underlined sentence in the second paragraph (“The moth itself is not bad to look at, but its larvae is a great, overgrown brute with an appetite like a hog.”) introduces a supporting idea concerning the moth’s destructive potential. In which of the following sentences is that idea developed further?

Possible Answers:

"When he failed to find them all, he notified the State authorities of the accident." (Paragraph 2)

"It devoured the entire foliage of every tree that grew in its sphere of influence." (Paragraph 2)

"The spread of this pest has been slowed, but the gypsy moth never will be wholly stamped out." (Paragraph 4)

"Every effort was made to recover all the specimens, but enough escaped to produce progeny . . ." (Paragraph 2)

"The method of the big, nasty-looking mottled-brown caterpillar was very simple." (Paragraph 2)

Correct answer:

"It devoured the entire foliage of every tree that grew in its sphere of influence." (Paragraph 2)

Explanation:

What do we learn about the gypsy moth in this particular sentence? We learn that the moth is somewhat nice to look at, according to the author: "The moth itself is not bad to look at." That doesn't seem relevant at all to its destructive potential. What else do we learn? The author adds that "its larvae is a great, overgrown brute," so it sounds like it is rather large for a caterpillar. That's doesn't seem that relevant either. The sentence concludes with the phrase, ". . . with an appetite like a hog." Aha! That's significant. In comparing the caterpillar's appetite to a hog's (pig's), the author is saying that gypsy moth caterpillars have large appetites and each eat a lot. Caterpillars often eat plants, so this tells us that the gypsy moth caterpillars can consume a lot of leaves.

We now need to identify the sentence in the passage in which this supporting idea—the large appetites of gypsy moth caterpillars—is developed. The only answer choice that has to do with the appetites of gypsy moth caterpillars is "It devoured the entire foliage of every tree that grew in its sphere of influence." This is the correct answer. The idea of the caterpillars eating a lot introduced earlier in the paragraph in the underlined sentence supports the claim that they "devoured the entire foliage of every tree" that they could get to.

Example Question #5 : Reading: Informational Text

Adapted from "Save the Redwoods" by John Muir in Sierra Club Bulletin Volume XI Number 1 (January 1920)

Forty-seven years ago one of these Calaveras Sequoias was laboriously cut down, that the stump might be had for a dancing-floor. Another, one of the finest in the grove, was skinned alive to a height of one hundred and sixteen feet and the bark sent to London to show how fine and big that Calaveras tree was—as sensible a scheme as skinning our great men would be to prove their greatness. Now some millmen want to cut all the Calaveras trees into lumber and money. No doubt these trees would make good lumber after passing through a sawmill, as George Washington after passing through the hands of a French cook would have made good food. But both for Washington and the tree that bears his name higher uses have been found.

Could one of these Sequoia Kings come to town in all its godlike majesty so as to be strikingly seen and allowed to plead its own cause, there would never again be any lack of defenders. And the same may be said of all the other Sequoia groves and forests of the Sierra with their companions and the noble Sequoia sempervirens, or redwood, of the coast mountains.

In these noble groves and forests to the southward of the Calaveras Grove the axe and saw have long been busy, and thousands of the finest Sequoias have been felled, blasted into manageable dimensions, and sawed into lumber by methods destructive almost beyond belief, while fires have spread still wider and more lamentable ruin. In the course of my explorations twenty-five years ago, I found five sawmills located on or near the lower margin of the Sequoia belt, all of which were cutting more or less [Sequoia gigantea] lumber, which looks like the redwood of the coast, and was sold as redwood. One of the smallest of these mills in the season of 1874 sawed two million feet of Sequoia lumber. Since that time other mills have been built among the Sequoias, notably the large ones on Kings River and the head of the Fresno. The destruction of these grand trees is still going on. These kings of the forest, the noblest of a noble species, rightly belong to the world, but as they are in California we cannot escape responsibility as their guardians.

Any fool can destroy trees. They cannot defend themselves or run away. And few destroyers of trees ever plant any; nor can planting avail much toward restoring our grand aboriginal giants. It took more than three thousand years to make some of the oldest of the Sequoias, trees that are still standing in perfect strength and beauty, waving and singing in the mighty forests of the Sierra.

Throughout the passage, the author often personifies Sequoia trees in order to elicit the reader's empathy for them. Personification is the act of describing a non-human thing as being or acting human in some way. In which of the underlined excerpts does the author NOT personify Sequoia trees?

Possible Answers:

"Another, one of the finest in the grove, was skinned alive to a height of one hundred and sixteen feet . . ."

"Could one of these Sequoia Kings come to town in all its godlike majesty so as to be strikingly seen and allowed to plead its own cause, there would never again be any lack of defenders."

"These kings of the forest, the noblest of a noble species, rightly belong to the world, but as they are in California we cannot escape responsibility as their guardians."

" . . . trees that are still standing in perfect strength and beauty, waving and singing in the mighty forests of the Sierra."

"Forty-seven years ago one of these Calaveras Sequoias was laboriously cut down, that the stump might be had for a dancing-floor."

Correct answer:

"Forty-seven years ago one of these Calaveras Sequoias was laboriously cut down, that the stump might be had for a dancing-floor."

Explanation:

Personification is the act of making a non-human thing seem human by giving it human traits, making it appear sentient, and/or portray it as performing human actions. Let's see which of the answer choices does NOT do this.

"These kings of the forest, the noblest of a noble species, rightly belong to the world, but as they are in California we cannot escape responsibility as their guardians." - The author refers to the trees as "kings of the forest," and kings are human, so this is a type of personification.

" . . . trees that are still standing in perfect strength and beauty, waving and singing in the mighty forests of the Sierra." - The author uses some subtle personification in this sentence in claiming that the trees are "singing." Trees can't "sing"—only people can.

"Could one of these Sequoia Kings come to town in all its godlike majesty so as to be strikingly seen and allowed to plead its own cause, there would never again be any lack of defenders." - Here, the author directly imagines a Sequoia tree actively journeying into town "to plead its own cause," which is overt personification.

"Another, one of the finest in the grove, was skinned alive to a height of one hundred and sixteen feet . . ." - In describing the removal of the tree's bark as it being "skinned alive," the author describes it in a human way. Trees have bark, not skin, and the author uses this statement to lead into a direct comparison between great trees and great people.

"Forty-seven years ago one of these Calaveras Sequoias was laboriously cut down, that the stump might be had for a dancing-floor." - This is the correct answer. Nowhere in the underlined excerpt does the author portray the tree as having any human traits or performing any actions that it could not actually perform.

Example Question #6 : Reading: Informational Text

Adapted from “Feathers of Sea Birds and Wild Fowl for Bedding” from The Utility of Birds by Edward Forbush (ed. 1922)

In the colder countries of the world, the feathers and down of waterfowl have been in great demand for centuries. These materials have been used as filling for beds and pillows. Such feathers are perfect insulators of heat, and beds, pillows, or coverlets filled with them represent the acme of comfort and durability. 

The early settlers of New England saved for such purposes the feathers and down from the thousands of wild-fowl which they killed, but as the population of people increased, the quantity of feathers furnished in this manner became insufficient, and the people sought a larger supply in the vast colonies of ducks and geese along the Labrador coast. 

The manner in which the feathers and down were obtained, unlike the method practiced in Iceland, did not tend to conserve and protect the source of supply. In Iceland, the people have continued to receive for many years a considerable income by collecting eider down (the small, fluffy feathers of eider ducks), but there they do not “kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.” Ducks line their nests with down plucked from their own breasts and that of the eider is particularly valuable for bedding. In Iceland, these birds are so carefully protected that they have become as tame and unsuspicious as domestic fowls In North America. Where they are constantly hunted they often conceal their nests in the midst of weeds or bushes, but in Iceland, they make their nests and deposit their eggs in holes dug for them in the sod. A supply of the ducks is maintained so that the people derive from them an annual income.

In North America, quite a different policy was pursued. The demand for feathers became so great in the New England colonies during the middle of the eighteenth century that vessels were sent to Labrador for the express purpose of securing the feathers and down of wild fowl. Eider down having become valuable and these ducks being in the habit of congregating by thousands on barren islands of the Labrador coast, the birds became the victims of the ships’ crews. As the ducks molt all their primary feathers at once in July or August and are then quite incapable of flight and the young birds are unable to fly until well grown, the hunters were able to surround the helpless birds, drive them together, and kill them with clubs. Otis says that millions of wildfowl were thus destroyed and that in a few years their haunts were so broken up by this wholesale slaughter and their numbers were so diminished that feather voyages became unprofitable and were given up. 

This practice, followed by the almost continual egging, clubbing, shooting, etc. by Labrador fishermen, may have been a chief factor in the extinction of the Labrador duck. No doubt had the eider duck been restricted in its breeding range to the islands of Labrador, it also would have been exterminated long ago.

Which of the following best states the main idea of this passage?

Possible Answers:

Duck feathers and down are valuable resources, and the North American and Icelandic methods of collecting them have had vastly different consequences.

Natural resources are precious.

The Icelandic people collect eider down in an efficient and reasonable way.

The feathers and down of ducks are valuable as a source of bedding, leading to the killing of ducks to obtain it.

The extinction of the Labrador duck can be traced to a definite cause.

Correct answer:

Duck feathers and down are valuable resources, and the North American and Icelandic methods of collecting them have had vastly different consequences.

Explanation:

Questions that ask about a passage’s main idea need to encompass each of the topics it discusses while not describing them in a way that is too broad. We can ignore any answer choices that only describe parts of the passage—here, “The feathers and down of ducks is valuable as a source of bedding, leading to its collection from ducks,” “The extinction of the Labrador duck can be traced to a definite cause,” and “The Icelandic people collect eider down in an efficient and reasonable way.” This leaves us with “Natural resources are precious,” which is far too broad to accurately describe the passage’s main idea, and the correct answer, “The feathers and down of ducks is a valuable resource, and the North American and Icelandic methods of collecting it have had vastly different consequences."

All Common Core: 8th Grade English Language Arts Resources

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