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Curriculum Q & A Blog, Question 1

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Do you have questions about teaching the EL Education K–5 Language Arts Curriculum? We've got answers!

Come back every week for the latest from the Curriculum Q & A Blog.

Question: Can you help me understand how all the parts of the K–2 language arts curriculum fit together? I’m going to start teaching it next fall and I need a big-picture overview before I dive into the details.

Like any comprehensive curriculum, it will take some time to wrap your arms around the entire thing. We’re really glad that you’re going to take some time this summer to start your planning and preparation! You’ll see a lot of this blog space this summer devoted to making sure that you hit the ground running in the fall.

Here are the basics.

The K–2 curriculum offers three hours of ELA instruction per day:

  • Two hours of content-based literacy:
    • One hour of Module Lessons
    • One hour of Labs
  • A third hour of structured phonics:
    • One hour of the Reading Foundations Skills Block
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Content-based literacy: Students build literacy through compelling content related to science, social studies, or literature; addresses all Common Core standards except those addressed in the Reading Foundations Skills Block
Reading Foundations Skills Block: Structured phonics; addresses the Common Core Reading:Foundational Skills standards as well as Language standards 1 and 2


K–2 Content-Based Literacy: Module Lessons and Labs

Module Lessons:
Across Grades K–5, students experience four modules per year. In Grades K–2, Module 1 is a bit shorter (six weeks rather than eight), so you have time to do the other important work of getting classroom routines and culture in place, which often takes more time and deliberate attention for primary age students. Each module has a consistent structure of three units, each of which includes one formal assessment.

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The curriculum was built using the principles of backward design, meaning that we started by identifying what we wanted students to know and be able to do at the end of each module, and then we built each unit to intentionally get them there. The last unit of each module, Unit 3, culminates with a performance task, usually a writing task. What students learn in Units 1 and 2 helps them prepare for this performance task. (This is the principle of backward design in action.)

In UNIT 1, students read, sing, discuss, dramatize, draw, and write to acquire strong content knowledge as well as the literacy skills that they need to do so. They learn how to ask and answer questions about the many texts they work with. They learn to collaborate and converse with one another, capturing their thinking in pictures and words.

In UNIT 2, they begin work with “close reading” of a complex text. In primary grades, this close reading happens through hearing the text read aloud (i.e., a close read-aloud) that invites them to analyze and discuss a rich literary text.

Each unit has a standards-based assessment built in. Here, students read, write, or speak with increasing independence about the texts they have been working with. These assessments help teachers in two ways: They allow you to have a clear sense of what your students can do and cannot yet do, and they give you valuable information about how best to use the time in the Labs (see the next section) for students’ benefit.

This unfolding of the three units means that by UNIT 3, when the performance task is introduced, students are fully equipped to synthesize their understanding of what they accomplished through supported, standards-based writing.

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The curriculum is rich and academically challenging, and it is built with the needs of primary learners at its core, full of activity, exploration, creation, singing, talk, and play. 

Photo courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action


K–2 Labs:

Labs are an important feature of the K–2 curriculum because they complement and extend student learning from the Module Lessons. They are designed to help teachers ensure that all of their students get the time to play and explore, become immersed in oral language and content knowledge, and practice skills and habits of character that they need—both to live joyfully and to be fully successful and proficient.

Labs are one hour long and complement Module Lessons. These two hours of content-based literacy instruction are complementary, working together to accelerate the achievement of all students. Labs are designed for six weeks of instruction within an eight- to nine-week module. This design allows you to use your discretion to flexibly schedule the Labs to best meet the needs of your classroom. You may choose to spend that hour during those additional two to three weeks on such things as solidifying structures and routines, providing additional “spill-over” time to support Module Lessons, providing additional instructional time for ELLs, or for additional explicit language instruction.

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Structured Phonics: The K–2 Reading Foundations Skills Block

Our curriculum is comprehensive. The Module Lessons and Labs immerse primary students in content-based literacy. These two components of the curriculum complement each other to give students strong, active literacy instruction grounded in compelling topics. And then the Skills Block gives K–2 students another hour per day of essential structured phonics instruction to help them crack the alphabetic code.

The Skills Block is organized by cycles, most of which include five lessons. Each day:

  • Students spend 15 to 20 minutes in whole group instruction.
  • Students spend 40 to 45 minutes in differentiated small groups, based on their strengths and needs.

Students develop foundational skills in “phases” of reading and spelling development. Our curriculum is designed to help teachers identify what phase each student is in and then to give students specific instruction in mastering each phase. (This framework is based on the work of Dr. Linnea Ehri, an educational psychologist who has researched how learners crack the alphabetic code.)

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Keep in mind, this is a very brief overview of a lot of material! If you’re looking for more information, check out our website or our book Your Curriculum Companion: The Essential Guide to Teaching the EL Education K–5 Language Arts Curriculum. If you have questions related to this blog, please email us at: ELcurriculumblog@eleducation.org.