Identifying Topics

Directions: Read each paragraph. Then select the most appropriate topic.

1. Although Benedict Arnold, an American Major General during the Revolutionary War, served his country heroically in several early battles, he is now known as a villain whose name is a synonym for "traitor." Why did an outstanding officer who fought bravely for independence turn his back on America in 1780 and plot to sell the fort at West Point to the British? Several factors led Arnold to commit treason. First of all, the ambitious Arnold became bitter about several setbacks to his career. He was passed over for important promotions, and he alienated several of his superiors with his jealous rivalry. He had a huge ego and craved recognition and public admiration, and he believed the Continental Congress had betrayed him by denying him the official honors he had earned. Arnold was also devoted to his own financial self-interest. He tried to increase his income through legal and illegal means, including inappropriate use of his position to engage in trade. Therefore, when the British promised him $20,000 along with rewards of rank and honor in exchange for West Point, which was under his command, he managed to convince himself that America would be better off under English rule and switched his loyalty in exchange for his own personal gain.


a. Benedict Arnold’s service in the Revolutionary Army
b. Benedict Arnold’s greed
c. Reasons behind Benedict Arnold’s treason

2. Increasingly prevalent food allergies in children are beginning to create tension in schools. The number of allergies to foods such as peanuts, dairy products, soy, wheat, corn, fish, and shellfish have been increasing over the last decade. Up to about 3 percent of children are now experiencing life-threatening reactions to such foods; some must be rushed to the hospital if they so much as touch an allergen. As a result, their parents are doing everything they can to prevent exposure of these children to the problem foods. They carefully check labels on food packages, they pack special lunches for their kids to take to school, and they try to keep them away from places that serve foods that cause allergic reactions. But some parents want to go even further: they want their children’s classmates to be prohibited from exposing their allergic child to problem foods. They have consequently persuaded some schools to impose limitations on what kids can bring in their lunchboxes. Any food or snack that is not acceptable is confiscated. Many parents of non-allergic children, however, are objecting to what they believe are ridiculously unfair precautions.


a. Controversy over the handling of children’s food allergies
b. The increase in food allergies among elementary school children
c. Life-threatening reactions to food allergies

3. Although funeral customs in England and America are similar in many respects, they also differ significantly in other ways. In both countries, preparation of the body occurs at a funeral home, a funeral service is usually held in a church or chapel, and burial occurs in a cemetery. However, the custom of embalming is not the same. In the United States, treating a corpse with preservatives is routine. In England, though, that procedure is rare. Other pre-funeral customs differ, too. In America, it is customary for mourners to go to the funeral home a day or two before the actual burial for a "wake," a ritual during which people pay their respects to the deceased and to his or her family members. At the wake, the body is laid out in a coffin, and mourners go look at it. In England, however, there is no pre-funeral wake. The funeral director places the body in a chapel, and people can go see it if they like. But they usually don’t. Finally, the actual funeral service differs slightly. The services in both countries typically involve hymns and prayers, but those in England last only about fifteen minutes. American funeral services are usually much longer.


a. Funeral customs in England
b. Funeral customs in America
c. Differences between English and American funeral customs

4. For thirty years, scientists have been researching the four mysterious moons in orbit around the planet Jupiter. The data they’ve collected suggests some fascinating possibilities about these bodies. Of the four moons, Io is the hottest, containing about eight active volcanoes that erupt constantly. Because its conditions resemble those on Earth before the continents formed, scientists hope that it can offer insights into the origin of our own planet. In comparison to Io, Europa, which is a little smaller than Earth’s Moon, is icy and drab. However, there is evidence that Europa may contain wet, watery slush, a condition that may support life. Ganymede, the third moon, seems to contain water, too, and it may even have a thin atmosphere of oxygen due to the breakdown of water vapor by sunlight. Therefore, it, too, may be capable of supporting life. One final moon, Callisto, is the least active of the four. It has been geologically dead since its birth, but, unlike other bodies where volcanoes, erosion and shifting land masses constantly change the surface, Callisto has not erased the craters caused by the impacts of space "junk." Because it has preserved an ancient record of bombardment by meteors, scientists believe it may reveal secrets of the solar system’s 4 billion-year history.


a. The possibility of life on Jupiter
b. The characteristics of Jupiter’s moons
c. The discovery of Jupiter’s moons

5. What makes a person’s personality unique? According to Steven Reiss, author of Who Am I?: The 16 Basic Desires That Motivate Our Action and Define Our Personality, each individual’s desires determine who he is and what he does. Specifically, Reiss claims that humans experience sixteen distinct desires. They are power, independence, curiosity, acceptance, order, saving, honor, idealism, social contact, family, status, vengeance, romance, eating, physical exercise, and tranquility. The amounts of each desire in an individual determine what kind of person he or she will be. A workaholic, for example, is often a person whose desires for power and status outrank most of the other desires. Conversely, a bright child who performs poorly in school may possess little curiosity, the desire to learn new things.


a. Becoming a workaholic
b. The origins of personality
c. Personality and the lust for power

6. Polygamy, a marital state involving one man with several, simultaneous wives, has a long history in America. In the early 1840s, Mormon founder Joseph Smith encouraged the practice of polygamy because he believed that conceiving as many children as possible allowed one to achieve the highest levels of heaven. Many of his Mormon followers settled in the remote territory of Utah during the 1800s. Utah formally banned polygamy in order to gain entry into the United States in 1896. However, outlawing the practice did not end it; polygamy continued underground. Although Utah jailed polygamists until the 1950s, tolerance for the practice grew, and polygamists were left alone during the second half of the 20th century. Today, an estimated 20,000 to 100,000 people live in polygamous families, and conversions and a high birth rate continue to increase those numbers. Polygamy’s defenders argue not only that the practice is part of Utah’s history, but also that it represents just another lifestyle choice no different from other non-traditional households like same-sex marriages or single-parent homes.


a. Polygamy, past and present
b. Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism
c. The presence of polygamy in Utah

7. Large numbers of Americans believe that some people possess psychic ability. As a result, they call the Psychic Friends Network. They have their palms and Tarot cards read for information about the future. They visit mediums who profess the ability to talk to deceased loved ones. And they usually believe what the psychics tell them because they want the information to be true. However, they may not be aware of the techniques psychics use to get their "insights." Most psychics have perfected the ability to read subtle signals, or clues, that people give them. They typically start a session by stating a few facts while carefully observing the client’s reactions, such as eye movements or changes in facial expression. Then, they probe for information by asking the client questions, and they veer quickly from any errors they make. For instance, if a psychic incorrectly guesses that the client is married, he or she would immediately shift focus to someone the client knows who is married. Psychics gather every bit of information they can from the client’s responses and tend to speak in a rambling style, throwing out impressions and watching the client for signs that they’ve hit the mark. They also count on people’s tendencies to forget the inaccuracies of a session and to focus on whatever the psychic got right.


a. The Psychic Friends Network
b. Tricks used by psychics
c. The increase in psychic phenomena

8. America is in the middle of an epidemic of anger. In all areas of life, people are venting their hostility and aggression in public, often directing their rage toward complete strangers. Between 1990 and 1996, for example, violent traffic incidents increased by more than 50 percent and caused 13,000 deaths and injuries. More and more enraged, vengeful drivers are trying to run each other off the road or even shoot at each other. Anger is causing problems in airports and on airplanes, too. From 1995 to 2000, the number of assaults on airline employees rose from 146 to 266, although the actual number could be even higher due to unreported incidents. People who are angry and frustrated about delays and long waits are lashing out more and more at flight personnel and at their fellow passengers. Rage is also on the rise in the workplace. According to one survey, 10 percent of American employees say that physical violence has occurred at their place of employment. And we’ve all seen the news reports of many disgruntled employees who take weapons to their workplace to shoot and kill their co-workers.


a. Anger in the workplace
b. The anger epidemic in America
c. Road rage

9. About 90 percent of those who try to climb Mount Everest fail to reach the summit, and at least 165 people have never come back at all. But Erik Weihenmayer was determined to be among the 10 percent who have stood atop the world’s tallest mountain. To do that, he had to overcome all of the standard obstacles faced by every Everest climber. He had to avoid being buried in an avalanche or falling into unexpected crevasses. He had to meet the intense physical demands of climbing with the huge amount of equipment required for an ascent. He had to avoid freezing in icy winds and driving snowstorms. He had to conquer the inevitable fever and nausea that overtake climbers who are breathing thin air and ingesting dirty food and water. In addition, Erik had to overcome one other obstacle his fellow climbers don’t face: his own blindness. Erik lost his sight at age 13 due to a rare disease of the retina. In May 2001, though, he triumphed over all of these adversities. With a combination of mental toughness and physical strength, he became the first sightless person to climb to the top of the highest mountain on the earth.


a. Erik Weihmayer’s successful ascent of Mount Everest
b. The obstacles to climbing Mount Everest
c. The dangers of avalanches on Mount Everest

10. L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz has been praised as the best children’s storybook of the 20th century. However, many have argued that Baum’s book, along with the 1939 MGM film it inspired, is much more than just a fairy tale for kids. Author Jerome Charyn observed that the story symbolizes the change humans undergo as they grow inwardly and attain self-understanding. Dorothy, for example, matures from a little girl to a capable woman who comes to know and accept the joys of home, which she used to take for granted. Her friends, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion learn to recognize characteristics they already possess, and at the end, they are the better for their new self-knowledge. Similarly, author Michael Patrick Hearn asserts that The Wizard of Oz is one of the three great classic quests in American literature, ranking equally with Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Others have noted that Baum’s tale reflects the beliefs of American theosophy, a blending of religion and philosophy. Munchkinland, Kansas, and Oz reflect theosophy’s belief in many universes. Female witches—both good and bad—are the rulers, just as theosophy tends to be feminist. Everything is alive, including the trees, which reflect theosophy’s beliefs that God is Nature and that spirit inhabits all things. Other authors have offered still different interpretations. Salman Rushdie thinks that Baum’s book reflects the plight of migrant workers, and Gore Vidal believes the book protests the violence of the "American empire."


a. The three classics of American literature
b. L. Frank Baum’s Oz series
c. Interpreting The Wizard of Oz

Last change made to this page: Feb. 28, 2014

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