Teachers often have questions about what a literacy block should actually look like. How do you structure your time? When do you pull reading groups? How and when do you teach grammar? The list of questions is lengthy, and with good reason. No one really ever told us what to do! Probably because there is no one correct way to do it. In my opinion, it’s a lot of trial and error and, quite frankly, your literacy block shouldn’t look like everyone else’s. Your class isn’t like every other class and the needs of other students should guide instructional decisions.
I am going to share with you my 90 minute ELA schedule. I will cover the what, why, and how I have chosen to structure my English Language Arts class. I do have to preface all of this by saying that I change it up EVERY year depending on the group of kids I have. I am not a “do the same thing each year” kind of teacher, or person for that matter!
This year, I am departmentalized and teach ELA and Social Studies. I have 56 students in total between 2 groups. I teach two, 90 minute ELA blocks daily and the structure of these blocks is what I want to share with you.
First, let’s talk about the WHAT. Reading is the single most important part of a strong literacy block. Kids need time to read. Lots of time to do lots of reading. So, that being said, I start with 45 minutes of reading, followed by 30 minutes of writing, and finally 15 minutes of independent reading time.
Next, let’s explore the WHY. Well, I already touched upon this when I said kids need time to read. If you want to become a stronger swimmer, you need to swim. If you want to become a stronger reader, you need to read. The challenge as teachers is making sure our students are reading with purpose. More on this later. So, I start and end my ELA block with reading because it really is the secret to reading success. The 30 minutes of writing is crucial as well because kids need time to write. It takes practice and experience, just as with reading. I try to spend very little time talking and let my fifth graders work. They need the practice, not me!
Finally, and here’s the good stuff, let’s discuss HOW. The first month of school, I do whole class lessons during the first 45 minutes. I use differentiated reading passages on the the same topic to teach whole class lessons on a variety of strategies, such as determining theme or finding the main idea. I use our testing data from the previous June to determine skills or strategies that need to be taught. After the first month, when I feel like I have a good sense of where my students are and what they need, I split them into 3 groups, again based on testing data and my own two cents;) Two groups are working on novels and reading at their own pace. They have an accompanying packet of questions and activities for their book. The third group is working with intervention materials from our reading program or passages from ReadWorks.org. I spend 10-15 minutes with each group, each day. I check in to assess comprehension, teach mini lessons, guide discussions, and encourage thoroughness in answering questions. I emphasize using RACE to answer short responses and going back into the text to find (freebie alert) evidence. Annotating the text is crucial and it’s easy to do with sticky notes or just jotting notes down in the packet. So while this is reading time, it is writing as well because they go hand in hand.
Once the 45 minutes is up, we move on to our 30 minutes of writing. This is direct instruction. I model. We write together. We write in small groups. We write independently. In that order. The lessons carry over from one day to the next. We do what we can in 30 minutes and then save the rest for tomorrow. I use the Writing Handbook from our reading program which is sufficient and I supplement with my own materials. Find my writing resources here.
I teach in New York State, so I refer to the next generation learning standards to make sure I’m on point with what I’m covering during the block. I use these rubrics and posters to stay on track.
Note: During writing I do grammar mini lessons. I also do a spiral grammar review every morning for morning work.
If I feel I need to refocus after the groups finish their novels, I will go back to using the first 45 minutes to do targeted whole class lessons. If not, we will move on to another novel. Our goal is to have all groups working on a novel. Yay! In addition, we want each subsequent novel to be a little bit more challenging. Understandably, this can be difficult when you do not have many books at your finger tips. Many of my class sets were purchased by me and I need to use what I have. The good news is, with 3 groups I only need 10 or so copies of a book to run a group. Not too bad! I pay attention to the Scholastic dollar deals and snag those whenever I can.
The final 15 minutes of our block is precious time in my mind. The students all have independent reading books and this is their time to dig in. It’s important that they have choice in what they read. I can’t always give them choice in the novels we read in groups because I’m limited by the books I have to offer, as mentioned above. However, I have many books in my classroom library and there’s plenty of choice for independent reading. I want them to choose a book they will devour. Reading a good book should feel like watching a good movie. You don’t want it to end!
You made it to the end! That’s my 90 minute block! I love the days when all goes smoothly and our block actually looks like this, but of course there are many days when we have to improvise and make changes on the fly! Teachers, you know why I mean! I hope you were able to pull an idea or two from this and maybe find a resource that would work with your group of kiddos. I’d love to hear your ideas, as well! Connect with me on Instagram to see my book recommendations and teacher inspiration. Follow my TpT store and never miss a new product release!
Thanks for stopping by!
Shannon Kochie says
Do you have a spelling program? I am also teaching ELA and Social studies in a 90 minute block, and after 4 years of doing so, I still debate, every year, the best way to fit reading, writing, grammar, vocab, and spelling into 90 minutes! My students have a separate time of day they can do independent reading, which helps. I didn’t see a date you posted this, but are you still using this schedule or have you modified it much (other than small, year-to-year modifications). Thank you!!
Hi Shannon! This is year is SO different because I am hybrid and I only have 2 or 3 students in person. I can’t wait to get back to this schedule next year, fingers crossed! I usually fit spelling, grammar, etc. into the writing portion of the block. Small mini lessons based on need. I use the students’ writing to decide what is needed and go from there. There is such disparity in what kids need, I find it easier to individualize these lessons rather than doing whole group lessons in grammar, etc. The struggle to “fit it all in” is real!
When do you fit in social studies? Do you have a separate block? I am having the hardest stuff time fitting in everything.
Time is such a struggle! I completely understand. I try to integrate social studies into ELA as much as possible. So, the skills and strategies are ELA, but the content is social studies. This year I have a 90 minute ELA block and 30 minutes daily for SS. The “extra” 30 minutes will help with being able to implement some fun projects, etc. It is always a challenge to fit it all in, but I think it’s better to concentrate on quality instruction over quantity. We can’t do it all, but what we do, can be focused and meaningful for the students. I hope you have a good year with your students!
Hi! Do you do skill practice when you meet with each of the reading groups, or do you read in their novel with them/complete their novel study? I was confused about whether they work on their novel JUST in their groups or do they work on it with you?
Hi Brandy! When I meet with the students who are reading novels, I’m checking for comprehension. If they are an intervention group, then I would work on skills. The novel groups are mostly reading/working independently. I hope that answers your question!