Mr. Smith, the principal, walks into teacher Ann Lassen’s fifth- grade classroom to observe the class. He sees Mrs. Lassen presenting information to the class. Sometimes she uses PowerPoint, sometimes a document camera, and sometimes she just talks. He sees the students actively engaged in discussing the lesson and practicing what they are learning. Afterwards, he congratulates Mrs. Lassen on a great Common Core lesson.

This classroom scene looks like what happens in many classrooms around the country. Common Core doesn’t look different to the casual observer, but to this astute principal, it was dramatically different. So what was different that made it Common Core? The big difference is emphasis.

Teaching a Common Core lesson means you, as a teacher, guide students through more advanced ways of understanding and using knowledge. Common Core advocates this higher-level approach with the goal of helping students become career and college-ready critical thinkers — not just repositories of facts that have no bearing on the real world.

This change in emphasis requires teachers to re-think how they structure their lessons. It’s definitely not business as usual! Certainly, this kind of change is harder than changing something tangible, like adopting a new book or a new technology. Yet this shift in emphasis is very real, and teachers all over the country, with different levels of understanding of Common Core, are plunging in and creating new lessons. To help that process and provide a checklist for how to proceed, I offer you 10 ways that our research shows Common Core lessons are different. The first five are described in this post. Note that the examples below are not the only ones of each type; they are representative of a range of new directions in the Common Core standards.

**1. Focus on concepts.** In both Math and ELA, the Common Core wants teachers to develop deep conceptual understanding in the students. No longer is it good enough to just tell students the tens and the ones in a number, but now students need to understand the concept of place value. This idea then extends to decimals and multi-digit numbers. No longer do we just teach simile and metaphor, but now we help students understand the purpose of figurative language. This concept extends to imagery, hyperbole, personification, and other ways of using figurative language.

**Examples from the standards:**

**2.NBT.9** Explain why addition and subtraction strategies work, using place value and the properties of operations. Analysis: For this standard, students are not asked to use place value but asked to explain why certain strategies work. They have to think at a higher level.

**4.L.5** Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings. Analysis: For this standard, students have to show they understand the purpose of figurative language, not just interpret it.

** 2.Build skill fluency.** In years past, many teachers used to spend time drilling on times tables and reading aloud. But in recent times, there hasn’t been time in the day to really work on this. Memorizing wasn’t valued; oral speech wasn’t valued as much. But Common Core now advocates building fluency with these basic skills in order to give students the capability to deal with more complex concepts later. By having the nuts and bolts down, they can work at higher levels without stumbling on the basics. Students need to develop speed and accuracy with the fundamentals. Teachers have always known this, but now it’s part of the standards.

**Examples from the standards:**

**1.OA.6** Add and subtract within 20, demonstrating fluency for addition and subtraction within 10. Analysis: For this standard, students are not asked the answers to problems, but are asked to demonstrate fluency. This takes memorization and practice.

**1.RF.4** Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.(Also 2.RF.4 and 3.RF.4) Analysis: For these standards, students are asked to read fluently, not just understand what a text says.

**3.Increase informational text.** When students go to college, they have to read dense college textbooks, and when they get out in the world, they have to read brochures, advertisements, reports, and news. This is all informational text. Thus, the Common Core advocates a greater focus on this type of text, and less on literary text. Now, don’t get me wrong. Literature is not out; it’s just balanced with informational text – at least 50% in K-5. In the upper grades, in fact, the kinds of informational text chosen — literary nonfiction, such as biographies, essays, reviews, etc. — can easily be used to add background and depth to the study of literature.

**Examples from the standards:**

**4.RI.3** Explain events, procedures, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text, including what happened and why, based on specific information in the text. Analysis: For this RI standard, students will be focused on informational text – historical, scientific, or technical.

**9-10.RI.9** Analyze seminal U.S. documents of historical and literary significance (e.g., Washington’s Farewell Address, the Gettysburg Address, Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech, King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”), including how they address related themes and concepts.

*Analysis: For this standard, ELA students will look at famous documents that are informational and not specifically literature. *

**4.Encourage text-based answers. ** The name of the game is now evidence! All discussions about literature or informational text should require students to refer to evidence in the text. This builds the habit of giving evidence for opinions in both conversations and writing. It moves students away from emotional outbursts and prejudiced statements. This is the hallmark of an educated person.

**Examples from the standards: **

**7.RI.1** Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text. Analysis: Students are asked to directly cite evidence from the text.

**7.RP.3d** Explain what a point (x,y) on the graph of a proportional relationship means in terms of the situation, with special attention to the points (0,0) and (1,r) where r is the unit rate. Analysis: Students are asked to reference key points on a graph to back up their explanation of proportions.

**5.Use real-world applications.** Too often, in the past, lessons may have focused on just being able to complete math problems or answer questions about a text. Now, Common Core is encouraging the use of real-world applications. Practically, this means more “word problems” or scenarios in which a student has to apply what he or she has learned. Even in ELA, students will use grammar, figurative language, and evidence in real-world situations like email, presentations, or letters to the editor.

*Examples from the standards:*

**7.EE.4a** Solve word problems leading to equations of the form px + q=r and p(x+q)=r, where p,q, and r are specific rational numbers. Solve equations of these forms fluently. Analysis: Students are asked to solve equations that they set up from data in a word problem.

**7.SL.4** Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with pertinent descriptions, facts, details, and examples; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation. Analysis: Students are asked to use claims, facts, examples, etc. in a real-world presentation.

These are the first five of 10 ways that Common Core lessons are different. The next five will be described in a following post. As we can see, the Common Core is advocating subtle but real changes in the content of lessons so that we can better prepare students for college and career.

For examples of great Common Core lessons, visit www.educeri.com. Educeri is our new lesson service with over 1,100 lessons and resources for K-12 educators.