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K-5 Language Arts Curriculum: K-2 Skills Block

How do students benefit from a structured phonics program?

All structured phonics programs are based on the Alphabetic Principle, which means, in a nutshell, that there are systematic and predictable relationships between letters and sounds. Reading and spelling (or decoding and encoding) are taught together because of the strong reciprocal relationship between written letters and the sounds they make when spoken.

EL Education's Skills Block explicitly addresses the CCSS Reading Standards for Foundational Skills (RF) as well as some Language standards associated with spelling and letter formation (L2 and L1a). While this focus is consistent across many structured phonics programs, two things make ours unique:

  • It is based on the research of Dr. Linnea Ehri, one of the nation’s foremost experts on how the brain maps sounds and letters.
  • It deeply honors and addresses the needs of primary learners.
"These foundational skills are not an end in and of themselves; rather, they are necessary and important components of an effective, comprehensive reading program." -from the CCSS Foundation Skills Introduction

Learning Targets:

  • I can synthesize what the research says about how young children learn to read and write words and the implications for instruction.
  • I can describe the purpose and structure of the Skills Block.
  • I can describe the Phases of Reading and Spelling which underlies the design of the Skills Block.  

Read: Why a Structured Phonics Program is Effective?

Structured phonics programs have long been shown to be highly effective in teaching the foundational skills necessary (though not sufficient) for reading comprehension.  Read David Liben’s research which lays the foundation for why this for EL Education’s Reading Foundation Skills Block. 

Review: Implementing the K-2 Reading Foundations Skills Block

This guidance document will help you understand the why, as well as the concrete what and how, of the K-2 Reading Foundations Skills Block.  Some questions that will be answered:  

  • What is the overall structure of the hour block?
  • What do students do during Whole Group instruction, during differentiated Small Group instruction and Independent work?
  • How does the design of the Skills block reflects grade level reading and language standards?
  • What are the assessments used to inform instruction?

As you read, consider the following questions:

  1. How does the Skills Block align with your current practice?  
  2. How does it push your current practice?  What about guided reading?  
  3. How will I prepare for instruction?  

Be sure to check out the FAQ!  

Watch: Implementing the K-2 Reading Foundations Skills Block 

These two videos show the K-2 Skills block in action and the thinking behind implementation.  Sarah Mitchell (Instructional Coach), Katie Benton (2nd Grade Teacher) and Brenna Schneider (Kindergarten Teacher) from Lead Academy in Greenville, South Carolina share the importance of the Skills Block, challenges and successes of implementation.  As you watch, think about how teachers prepare and plan for the Skills Block and how this aligns with or pushes your current practice.  

Now watch the “Behind the Practice” video on Planning the K-2 Skills Block.

Read: Resource Manual

The Skills Block Resource Manual includes many of the documents needed to understand the design and to effectively implement the K-2 Reading Foundations Skills Block, including assessment overview, assessment conversion chart, Benchmark Assessments (teacher and student materials), Activity Bank, information on independent and small group work, syllabification guidance, handwriting guidance, and a glossary.

One of the first steps you will need to take is administering the Benchmark Assessments.  Read the Assessment Overview starting on page 37 to support you before you prepare to assess students.  

Try It: Planning for Differentiated Small Groups

Once you have assessed and grouped students using the Benchmark Assessments, you will need to plan for differentiated small group instruction.  Use the Differentiation Packs and Activity Bank to create an Instructional Plan for one small group.  Share your plan with a colleague and get feedback.  

Dig Deeper

  • From Engagement Text to Decodables: This instructional practice engages students in a read-aloud of an engaging complex text before they work with a decodable text on the same topic. 
  • Phonemic Blending and Segmentation: This instructional practice helps students understand letter-sound combinations and how that helps them read and spell words.
  • Chaining: This instructional practice gives students targeted instruction for analyzing and decoding words with particular spelling patterns.
  • Spelling to Complement Reading: This instructional practice helps students understand the reciprocal relationship between spelling and reading words. 
  • End of Cycle Assessments: This shows the spelling portion of an End of Cycle assessment.  Watch how the teacher administers the assessment in a small group, evaluates their answers and confers with students.

Suggested Use

Skills Block Instructional Plan