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Curriculum Q & A Blog, Question 2

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    EL Education

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: What’s the big picture overview of the 3-5 language arts curriculum? I’m excited to dig in but I want to get oriented to whole thing first.

We’re really glad you’re excited to dig in! It’s a good idea to get a feel for how all the parts fit together before you 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 3–5 curriculum comprises two hours of rich, content-based literacy instruction per day:

  • One hour of Module Lessons
  • One hour of the Additional Language and Literacy (ALL) Block

These two hours of curriculum are considered comprehensive, explicitly teaching and formally assessing all strands and standards of the Common Core ELA standards for each grade level.

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In Grades 3–5, the initial exposure to and formal assessment of standards happens in the Module Lessons; the ALL Block is for additional practice.
There is also an optional companion Life Science module that accompanies Module 2 and comprises eight weeks of instruction.


3–5 Content-Based Literacy: Module Lessons and Additional Language and Literacy Block

Module Lessons:

In many ways, the 3–5 curriculum is similar to the K–2 curriculum. The modules are based on compelling topics and use rich, authentic text throughout. Divided into three units each, the modules are designed to build important content knowledge and understanding, as they fully teach and assess all of the ELA standards at each grade level. As in Grades K–2, each module has a consistent structure of three units. But unlike Grades K–2, in Grades 3–5 there are two assessments per unit, which reflects the readiness of students this age to do more independent work and to practice with high-stakes testing formats.

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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 built each unit to intentionally get them there. The last unit of each module, Unit 3, includes the performance task: an extended, supported writing task or presentation in which students need to successfully bring together what they know about the topic. If this is what students need to be prepared to do in Unit 3 of the module, what they learn in Units 1 and 2 must help them get there. (This is the principle of backward design in action.)

In UNIT 1, students read, discuss, dramatize, draw, and write so that they acquire strong and specific content and background knowledge, as well as the literacy skills that they need to do so. In the process, students learn to read closely, reread carefully for meaning, gather evidence, and develop a paragraph.

In UNIT 2, they take this basic understanding to a deeper level. They do more research and engage in discussions with one another about the content. With close support, they respond to a prompting question to write a full multi-paragraph essay about the compelling content of the module.

Throughout, for homework, students are reading independently at their own level. They are using research texts to gather deeper and deeper knowledge about the content. As the lessons in each unit progress, teachers have the opportunity to carefully check in on students’ progress. Each unit has two built-in assessments: a mid-unit assessment (usually reading) and an end of unit assessment (usually writing). 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 ALL Block for students’ benefit.

This structure and sequence means that, by UNIT 3, students are fully equipped to complete the performance task—an extended, supported writing task or presentation.

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Our 3–5 curriculum honors students’ growing capacity to read complex text, write at length and with depth, and explore pressing issues in the world around them. Their hunger for independence and mastery as learners makes them ready to put their hard-earned reading and writing skills to work.


Additional Language and Literacy (ALL) Block:

The ALL Block and the Module Lessons are complementary, working together to accelerate the achievement of all students. The ALL Block has three units, parallel to the three units of the module. Each module unit is accompanied by two weeks of ALL Block instruction (with one flex day built in every week). And when a particular unit of the Module Lessons runs longer than two weeks, the ALL Block hour during those days that extend beyond two weeks is flex time, used to meet the specific needs of students. For example, you might want to provide additional time for work started in Module Lessons, practicing literacy skills introduced there that students are finding particularly challenging, informally assessing reading foundational skills, or offering additional time for English language learners.

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The ALL Block has five components:

  • Independent reading
  • Additional work with complex text
  • Reading and speaking fluency/GUM (grammar, usage, mechanics)
  • Writing practice
  • Word study and vocabulary

Each component is built into the Module Lessons in various ways, and then is reinforced and practiced in the ALL Block. Over the course of two weeks, students work with all five components.


The Grades 3–5 Life Science Modules

Our 3–5 curriculum includes one optional Life Science module per grade level. If you choose to teach this optional module, it will represent three additional hours per week of instruction, but only during Module 2, which is approximately eight to nine weeks. Each addresses and assesses at least one Next Generation Science Standard, explicitly teaches several others, and incorporates the unique features of the NGSS principles of science instruction. Although the Life Science modules can stand alone, each one connects with and complements Module 2 of the grade-level ELA modules.

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Science is about asking questions, observing carefully, investigating, reflecting, and then drawing conclusions based on evidence. Our Life Science modules for Grades 3–5 are designed to provide teachers and students with an inquiry-based approach to rigorous and authentic science instruction.

The Life Science modules have been designed for the elementary school generalist. Each module gives the regular classroom teacher the plans, the background content, and the resources she needs to provide strong, rigorous, literacy-integrated science instruction. For the classroom teacher, the goal of our science curriculum is the recognition that science can be fun—both to learn and to teach!

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.