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Common Core ELA: Anchor Standards and Indicators Explained

Common Core ELA: Anchor Standards and Indicators Explained

Author: Jody Waltman

In this lesson, students analyze the parts of the the CCSS ELA standards. In addition, students will evaluate the CCSS ELA anchor standards and analyze the difference between the K-5 ELA CCSS standards and 6-12 ELA CCSS standards.

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In this tutorial, we'll examine the various components that make up the Common Core English and Language Arts standards including anchor standards, grade level standards, and strands. We'll also explore the differences between the specifications for grades K through five and those for grades six through 12. Finally, we'll look at some specific examples that will help you to better understand and navigate the Common Core English Language Arts standards. Let's get started.

In the Common Core ELA standards, anchor standards are college and career readiness standards. They outline what students should know and be able to do in order to optimize their college and career readiness. These standards apply to all grade levels and are very similar to outcomes. The reading anchor standards are related to complexity of text and growth of comprehension. The writing anchor standards focus on text types, responding to reading, and research. The speaking and listening anchor standards are related to the ideas of flexible communication and collaboration. And finally the language anchor standards have to do with conventions, effective use of language, and vocabulary.

Though all four strands are covered at all grade levels, the areas of coverage and focus are different in grades K through five than they are in grade six through 12. In kindergarten through fifth grade in the reading strand, both literature and informational reading are studied. Coverage areas for both literature and informational reading include key ideas and details, craft and structure, integration of knowledge and ideas, and range and complexity. Coverage areas in foundational reading include print knowledge, phonological knowledge, phonics and word recognition, and fluency.

In the writing strand, coverage areas include text types and purposes including argument, informational, or explanatory text, narrative writing including creative writing, production and distribution of writing, and research to build and present knowledge. In the language strand, the focus is on conventions of standard English, vocabulary acquisition, and use of vocabulary and language. And finally, in the speaking and listening strand in grades K through five, coverage areas include comprehension and collaboration and presentation of knowledge and ideas.

The foundational reading standards that I outlined a moment ago disappear after grade five. With the notable exception of the foundational reading standards, all of the strands and coverage areas from grades K through five are continued in grades six through 12. In addition, there are literacy strands that include science, history, and technical subjects. For kindergarten through grade eight, standards are listed by individual grade level. Starting with grade nine the standards are written as grade span standards. So grades nine and 10 are grouped together and grades 11 and 12 are grouped together.

In the reading strand in grade six through 12, the focus is on literature and informational reading and on range and complexity. The writing, language, and speaking and listening strands continue through these grades as well. In addition, there are literacy standards in grade six through 12 for history, sciences, and technical subjects. These standards include the same strands as the other standards. They are not history or science content standards. Rather these standards focus on reading history and science, on writing about history, and writing about science. They help teachers understand how to approach the teaching of critical reading and writing skills in the histories and in the sciences.

Let's take an even closer look at a few of the Common Core ELA standards. Each standard is labeled with an alphanumeric label. This label includes the strand abbreviation and the grade level. Here the RI stands for reading informational. And the grade level is 4. This particular standard ask students to refer to details and examples in a text. And we can definitely see how that would relate to an informational reading situation.

Here's another example, a literature reading standard for grade eight. This standard asks students to evaluate the choices made by directors or actors in a dramatic production based on a work of literature. We can clearly see that this is aimed at a higher grade level than the previous example. And we can see how this links to the literature portion of the reading strand.

Here's one more example, a writing standard from the grade 11 and grade 12 grouping. This standard is identifiable as one belonging to the writing strand as it is asking students at an advanced grade level to craft a persuasive argument.

Let's take a look at the Common Core State Standards website in order to point out a few more important pieces of information. First of all, recall that some standards have sub standards or indicators that are related to them. For example, this fifth grade speaking and listening standard has four related sub standards or indicators. Each of these sub standards pinpoints a specific skill that supports the overarching standard. In order to locate the anchor standard that corresponds to a specific grade level standard, first identify the strand in the label of the standard. Here the SL stands for speaking and listening.

Under anchor standards, click on the link for the appropriate strand. The anchor standards are listed within each strand by grade level. So I will scroll down to the fifth grade speaking and listening anchor standard. We can see how this anchor standard, which asks students to use digital media and visual displays of data, could support students' efforts in engaging in collaborative discussions and expressing their own ideas clearly.

In this tutorial, we explored the various parts of the Common Core English and Language Arts standards including the anchor standards, the grade level standards, and the strands. We then identified some of the different specifications for grades K through five and for grades six through 12. Finally, we looked at some specific examples. And you learned how to decode the alphanumeric labels for the standards and how to locate and interpret anchor standards. So here's a chance for you to stop and reflect.

Do you understand the organization of the Common Core ELA standards? Are you able to use the alphanumeric label for a standard to identify its grade level and strand? For more information on how to apply what you learned in this video, please view the additional resources section that accompanies this video presentation. The additional resources section includes hyperlinks useful for applications of the course material, including a brief description of each resource. Thanks for watching. Have a great day.

Notes on "Common Core ELA: Anchor Standards and Indicators Explained"

(00:00 - 00:29) Introduction

(00:30 - 01:18) Anchor Standards

(01:19 - 02:47) K-5 Specifications

(02:48 - 04:02) 6-12 Specifications

(04:03 - 06:22) Examples

(06:23 - 06:49) Review

(06:50 - 07:22) Stop and Reflect

Additional Resources


This is a great portal of online lessons aligned to the ELA and Math CCSS by grade level. Teachers can create playlists and track data within this free resource. Also included are handouts and communication components for parents. In addition, teachers can use the tool to play video instruction for their whole class as a mini lesson, or include these videos as a component of a flipped lesson.

Common Core State Standards 

This is the official website for the Common Core ELA and Math Standards. This website is an easy to navigate portal that includes the ELA Anchor Standards, Standards by Grade, Literacy Standards for History and Social Studies, and Literacy Standards for Science and the Technical Areas. In addition to the complete set of standards, this site provides the appendices to the standards, which include student work samples, suggested texts, implementation guidance, and instructional strategies.

Common Core State Standards: English Language Arts

This is a terrific resource from the North Carolina State Department that provides a visual of the Common Core ELA Standards in progression format. This allows teachers to determine what students should enter their classes knowing and being able to do, what they need to learn during the year, and what they will be working on in the next year. Teachers can use this tool to plan differentiated lessons and to determine where students fall on the continuum of the standards.