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

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for Common Core: 6th Grade English Language Arts

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Example Questions

Example Question #21 : Common Core: 6th Grade English Language Arts

"The Ruby-throated Hummingbird"

Geographical Range and Migration

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the sole representative of the hummingbird family in eastern North America. It is only a summer visitor in Canada and throughout the greater part of its range in the United States, excepting the southern portions of the Florida peninsula, where it winters to some extent. The majority of these birds migrate south, though, spending the winter in some of the Caribbean islands, while others pass through eastern Mexico into Central America. It usually arrives along our southern border in the latter part of March, rarely reaching the more northern States before the middle of May. It usually goes south again about the latter part of September, the males preceding the females, I believe, in both migrations. 


Appearance and Behavior

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have iridescent green feathers on their backs and white feathers on their bellies. The male birds have a patch of red feathers on their throats, from which the species derives its name. Both male and female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have relatively short tails and beaks and lack any crest of feathers on their heads.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds’ flight is extremely swift, and the rapid motions of its wings in passing back and forth from one cluster of flowers to another causes a humming or buzzing sound, from which the numerous members of this family derive their name of hummingbirds. Notwithstanding the very small size of most of our hummers, they are all extremely pugnacious, especially the males, and are constantly quarreling and chasing each other, as well as other birds, some of which are many times larger than themselves. Mr. Manly Hardy writes me that he once saw a male Ruby-throat chase a Robin out of his garden. They are rarely seen entirely at rest for any length of time, and, when not busy preening its feathers, they dart about from one place to another. Although such a small, tiny creature, it is full of energy, and never seems to tire.

They seem to be especially partial to anything red. Mr. Manly Hardy writes: "I was once camping on one of the many islands along the coast of Maine during a dense fog, which had held us prisoners for several days, as it was so thick that we could not find our way. We had been living on lobsters, and lots of their red shells lay near the fire in front of our tent, when suddenly a Hummer came out of the fog and darted down at the shells, moving from one to another, seemingly loath to leave them.”


What Do They Eat?

There appears to be considerable difference of opinion among various observers regarding the nature of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird’s food. Some contend that it consists principally of nectar sipped from flowers, as well as the sweet sap of certain trees. Others, myself included, believe that they subsist mainly on minute insects and small spiders, the latter forming quite an important article of food with them. Mr. Edwin H. Eames, of Bridgeport, Connecticut, mentions finding sixteen young spiders of uniform size in the throat of a young Hummingbird which was about two days old.

Mr. W. N. Clute, of Binghamton, New York, writes: "The swamp thistle, which blooms in August, seems to have great attractions for the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. I have seen more than a hundred birds about these plants in the course of an hour. Since it has been stated that the bee gets pollen but not honey from the thistle, it would appear that these birds visit these flowers for insects. There is scarcely a flower that contains so many minute insects as a thistle head. Examine one with a lens and it will be found to contain many insects that can hardly be seen with the unaided eye, and if the Ruby-throat eats insects at all, these are the ones it would take; and because the larger ones remained the observer might conclude that none were eaten.” I could quote considerable more testimony showing that the Hummingbirds live to a great extent on minute spiders and insects, but consider it unnecessary.

That our Hummingbirds live to some extent on the sap of certain trees is undoubtedly true, but that they could exist for any length of time on such food alone is very questionable. They are particularly fond of the sap of the sugar maple, and only slightly less so of that of a few other species of trees. They are also fond of the nectar secreted in many flowers. While stationed at the former cavalry depot at St. Louis, Missouri, in 1873-74, I occupied a set of quarters that were completely overrun with large trumpet vines. When these were in bloom, the place fairly swarmed with Ruby-throats. They were exceedingly inquisitive, and often poised themselves before an open window and looked in my rooms full of curiosity, their bright little eyes sparkling like black beads. I have caught several, while busily engaged sipping nectar in these large, showy flowers, by simply placing my hand over them, and while so imprisoned they never moved, and feigned death, but as soon as I opened my hand they were off like a flash. 




Passage adapted from "Ruby-throated Hummingbird" from Issue 3 of Life Histories of North American Birds, From the Parrots to the Grackles, with Special Reference to Their Breeding Habits and Eggs by Charles Bendire (1895)

Image adapted from Giltsch, Adolf, Lithographer, and Ernst Haeckel. Trochilidae. - Kolibris. [Leipzig und Wien: Verlag des Bibliographischen Instituts, 1904] Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>.


Which of the following best describes the passage?

Possible Answers:

A general description of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

A comparison of several different types of Hummingbirds

An argumentative essay about why the Ruby-throated Hummingbird is endangered and should be conserved

A description of the author’s firsthand experience of interacting with Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

Instructions on how to attract Hummingbirds to a garden

Correct answer:

A general description of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds


The passage is titled "The Ruby-Throated Hummingbird," and it consists of three labeled sections: "Geographical Range and Migration," "Appearance and Behavior," and "What Do They Eat?" The passage only mentions one type of hummingbird, the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, so the correct answer cannot be that its purpose is to compare different types of hummingbirds. While the author relates evidence that involves observing Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in a garden and describes seeing them feed from flowers, the point of the passage is not to provide "instructions on how to attract Hummingbirds to a garden." While the author does provide some firsthand evidence (in the last paragraph), the majority of the passage does not consist of this, so the correct answer is not "a description of the author’s firsthand experience of interacting with Ruby-throated Hummingbirds." Finally, there is no mention about whether the Ruby-throated Hummingbird is endangered, and the author does not argue that it should be conserved. The passage is best described as "a general description of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds." You can arrive at this answer either by considering the title of the passage and the titles of its major sections, or by eliminating the incorrect answer choices.

Example Question #1 : Reading: Informational Text

Adapted from “In Cowboy Land” in An Autobiography by Theodore Roosevelt (1913)

Though I had previously made a trip into the then Territory of Dakota, beyond the Red River, it was not until 1883 that I went to the Little Missouri, and there took hold of two cattle ranches, the Chimney Butte and the Elkhorn.

It was still the Wild West in those days, the Far West, the West of Owen Wister's stories and Frederic Remington's drawings. That land of the West has gone now, "gone, gone with lost Atlantis," gone to the isle of ghosts and of strange dead memories. It was a land of vast silent spaces, of lonely rivers, and of plains where the wild game stared at the passing horseman. It was a land of scattered ranches, of herds of long-horned cattle, and of reckless riders who unmoved looked in the eyes of life or of death. In that land we led a free and hardy life, with horse and with rifle. We knew toil and hardship and hunger and thirst; and we saw men die violent deaths as they worked among the horses and cattle, or fought in evil feuds with one another; but we felt the beat of hardy life in our veins, and ours was the glory of work and the joy of living.

I first reached the Little Missouri on a Northern Pacific train about three in the morning of a cool September day in 1883. Next day I walked over to the abandoned army post, and, after some hours among the gray log shacks, a ranchman who had driven into the station agreed to take me out to his ranch, the Chimney Butte ranch, where he was living with his brother and their partner.

The ranch was a log structure with a dirt roof, a corral for the horses near by, and a chicken-house jabbed against the rear of the ranch house. Inside there was only one room, with a table, three or four chairs, a cooking-stove, and three bunks. The owners were Sylvane and Joe Ferris and William J. Merrifield. There was a fourth man, George Meyer, who also worked for me later. That evening we all played old sledge round the table, and at one period the game was interrupted by a frightful squawking outside which told us that a bobcat had made a raid on the chicken-house.

After a buffalo hunt with my original friend, Joe Ferris, I entered into partnership with Merrifield and Sylvane Ferris, and we started a cow ranch, with the maltese cross brand—always known as "maltee cross," by the way, as the general impression along the Little Missouri was that "maltese" must be a plural. Twenty-nine years later my four friends of that night were delegates to the First Progressive National Convention at Chicago. They were among my most constant companions for the few years next succeeding the evening when the bobcat interrupted the game of old sledge. I lived and worked with them on the ranch, and with them and many others like them on the round-up.

I do not believe there ever was any life more attractive to a vigorous young fellow than life on a cattle ranch in those days. It was a fine, healthy life, too; it taught a man self-reliance, hardihood, and the value of instant decision—in short, the virtues that ought to come from life in the open country. I enjoyed the life to the full.

In this passage, Roosevelt __________.

Possible Answers:

discusses how he came to be the President of the United States

describes the western U.S. and his time spent living there

argues that the reader should move to the western U.S.

explains why his political opponents are wrong about a certain issue

lists ways in which he helped preserve the environment as President

Correct answer:

describes the western U.S. and his time spent living there


What does this passage discuss? In the first paragraph, Roosevelt talks about his travels in the West. In the second paragraph, he describes the West of that era as the "Wild West" in poetic terms. Then, he switches to narrating his first few days in the area, describing the ranch at which he stayed and worked, and talking about what he eventually did in the West (investing in a cattle ranch). He concludes by talking about how he really enjoyed the western lifestyle.

Roosevelt never mentions his political opponents, so "explains why his political opponents are wrong about a certain issue" cannot be correct. He never talks about his time as President and he doesn't talk about ways in which he helped preserve the environment, so neither "lists ways in which he helped preserve the environment as President" nor "discusses how he came to be the President of the United States" are correct, either. While he does talk about the West, this is a descriptive passage, not an argumentative one, so "argues that the reader should move to the western U.S." is not correct. The correct answer is that Roosevelt "describes the western U.S. and his time spent living there." This reflects the descriptive nature of the passage and the focus of its content.

All Common Core: 6th Grade English Language Arts Resources

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