Chapter 14: Common-Sense Common Core

(Click for the Complete Online Parent Reading Guide)

Common what?

If you have school-aged children, then you have probably heard the term “Common Core.” Those two words refer to the Common Core State Standards that have been adopted by many of our country’s schools as a guideline for curriculum development. If you’re confused about what these standards are and what they mean for your child, you are not alone.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative

The Common Core State Standards are a set of curriculum guidelines created by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Their goal was to make a list of all the most important things that children should learn at each different grade level. They believed that the guidelines would help those students who wanted to go on to college and also those who wanted to get a good job after high school.

In plain English

The Common Core standards are not always clear. Many people – even teachers – struggle to understand what some of the guidelines mean. And even when teachers and parents understand the wording, it can still be hard to figure out a clear-cut way to help a child reach some of the goals that the guidelines describe.

If your child’s school has adopted the Common Core standards, you, as a parent, can do your part to help your child reach these goals. Below you will find an explanation of some of the Common Core standards for reading and literature and some common-sense ways to help your child achieve them.

Anchor standards

Anchor standards are the broad skills that children need to have to support their success in reading and writing as they move from grade to grade. For the early grades, these standards include:

  • Using key ideas and details while reading – This standard means that children should be able to read a story and understand what happened in the story and why it happened. A great way to help your child practice this skill is to ask him to tell you about a story he is reading. Ask him, “What’s happened so far in the story? Why do you think that happened? What do you think will happen next?” By asking these questions, you are encouraging your child to think about the details in the story and what those details tell him about the story and the characters in it. Ask these questions more than once as your child reads more and more of the story. If his answers change as he gets further into the story, that’s great! It shows that he is using the new information he reads to make different guesses about where the story is headed.
  • Mastering craft and structure – For the early school years, this skill centers around word choices. Words often mean different things depending on how they are used in a sentence. If a character in a story says his feet are “on fire,” for instance, it doesn’t mean he sees flames shooting out of his tennis shoes. It means his feet are hot. Watch for these kinds of words and phrases while you are reading with your child. Ask him what he thinks the words mean as they are presented in the story. Another great way to work on these skills is to read the books of Fred Gwynne. His tongue-in-cheek children’s stories, such as “The King Who Rained,” poke fun at some of the silly phrases we use. It’s a great way to talk with your child about word meaning and word choices.

Reading informational text

“Informational text” refers to reading material that gives information or facts. These texts are not made-up stories – or fiction – but give real-life facts and are called nonfiction. This type of reading can include chapters from history or science books, information from the Internet and from encyclopedias, and factual books about real-life topics such as the Civil War or penguins. Children should be able to:

  • Ask and answer questions about what they are reading – When you’re reading a nonfiction book with your child, stop from time to time and ask him a question about what he has just read. If he can’t answer, go back a bit and reread the section that had this information. You can even turn this into a game. Once you’ve asked your child a question, he gets to ask you one. Trying to come up with a question that will stump you will really focus your child’s attention as he reads. This is also a good time to look at words your child doesn’t know. He might be able to guess what they mean by looking at the rest of the sentence.
  • Identify the main idea – This simply means answering the question, “What is the story about?” A story about penguins, for instance, might mention Antarctica, but it’s not about Antarctica. It’s still mainly about penguins.
  • Name the title, author, illustrator and front and back cover of a book – This one is easy. Whenever you and your child sit down to read a book together, quickly cover these points. You could ask, “What’s the title of this book?” or say,  “Hmm, I wonder who drew these pictures.” By taking just a moment or two to go over these simple ideas, you will have helped your child master an important concept!


CCSSI: “Read the Standards,”

CCSSI: “English Language Arts,”

CCSSI: “English Language Arts Anchor Standards,”

CCSSI: “Reading: Informational Text,”