Here’s the true story of what happens during my literacy block. I have a detailed post on this exact topic which I wrote pre-pandemic (2019) and you can read it HERE. Since then, I’ve changed a few things, so I decided it was time for a new post.
Let’s start at the beginning… I’ve noticed my students need a lot of support in writing. This includes basic sentence formation, spelling, and grammar. In an attempt to provide this support, I start each class with a 15-minute writing prompt. I have 21 students in each class (I teach 2 classes), so I can reach each student in 15 minutes. I’m basically coaching as I walk around. I say things like “Hmmm, where is a good place to end that thought?” or “What should that word look like?” etc. It’s a great way to create better writing habits and get to know them as writers. I create the prompts myself, but if you have difficulty thinking of prompts you can check these out HERE. I like to make them up as I go so I can personalize them and make them relevant. I put the prompts in a PowerPoint and display the prompt as the students enter the room. It makes for a great transition because they know exactly what they need to do once they enter the room. We just finished two weeks of compare/ contrast prompts with an emphasis on using key words and phrases such as “on the other hand” to signal a contrasting idea. Currently, we are working on figurative language prompts. I have a specific focus for our prompts and change out that focus about every two weeks depending on the curriculum. We’ve done opinion writing, narrative writing, using dialogue, photo prompts, sentence starters… you get the point! Eventually, we move toward essay writing and spend more than 15 minutes on writing per 90 minute block.
After our writing prompt, we move on to reading. This looks different depending on the lesson’s focus, but generally, it starts with a mini-lesson, guided practice, and then independent work. I do, we do, you do. I use passages from ReadWorks.org (online or print), our Benchmark Advance texts for close reading, or a novel. We focus on a skill such as annotating and/or a strategy. For example, The focus strategy might be identifying characters’ moods by analyzing thoughts, words, and actions (F); or identifying the main idea and key details (NF). This is easily 45 minutes. Differentiation is addressed by grouping students and modifying tasks or providing leveled passages. As the year progresses, I can see small groups of students and hone in on skills and/or strategies based on my observation and data. It takes time to work up to the point where my class can function smoothly while I see smaller groups. I start the year mainly doing whole group with differentiated tasks or passages and work toward small groups as the students become more independent learners. It is a gradual release.
In the beginning of the year we have about 30 minutes to use exclusively for Social Studies at the end of our class. For example in September and October we focused on Geography. While engaged in our Geography unit, we are still very focused on ELA standards. We work on vocabulary, informative writing, reading nonfiction, and discussing topics using accountable talk. ELA and social studies blend so well together!
The Strategies I Use for Writing
During essay writing, there are a few strategies I employ regularly. First of all, I believe in the writing process and I teach it explicitly. Writing is a process we are engaged in, not an activity to rush through. We use the prewriting time to learn more about content, look at model writing samples, go over vocabulary, or brainstorm ideas. We revise and edit using checklists. There are many different checklists out there, but if you can’t find one you like, CLICK HERE or HERE. Finally, we publish!
For summary writing I use the strategy SWBST. This stands for Somebody, Wanted, But, So, Then. It is a great way to model for students how to summarize fiction. SOMEBODY Who is the main character? WANTED What does the character want to achieve? BUT What is the problem or obstacle in the story? SO How does the character address the problem? THEN How does the story end?
To teach students how to write a short response to a text based question, I use the strategy RACE. This stands for Restate, Answer, Cite, Explain. This strategy is easy for students to remember and it prompts them to support their answers with text evidence. RESTATE Echo the questions. ANSWER Provide an answer to the question. CITE Give specific text evidence. EXPLAIN Explain why your evidence is important or relevant.
The Strategies I Use for Classroom Management
Classroom management is essential to a successful literacy block. Expectations should be clear, explicitly stated, and practiced often. I have a few strategies I use often.
- ENGAGEMENT Thumbs up if you heard me, Hands up for questions. I wait for 100% participation on thumbs up so I know I was heard, then give wait time for questions to be sure everyone understands. I ask “What questions do you have?” instead of “Are there any questions?” and this works so well for me!
- TIMER Timers keep the lesson moving and keep all parties accountable. Students become accustomed to how much time they have to complete tasks. They know what 15 minutes feels like and this means there’s no “extra” time to be off task. When the timer beeps, the students find me, quiet down, and make eye contact.
- Learning Groups By mid-year I am able to have my students working on differentiated assignments in 3 different groups. I create a PowerPoint with assignments for each group and display that for the students daily so everyone knows what they’re working on. I call small groups to check in on progress or help struggling students. Every two weeks or so we have a “catch up” or “ketchup” day where we get tie up all the loose ends.
Teaching is Hard
Every year is a new set of challenges, a new group of personalities, and new possibilities. I change things up every year, hence this updated post. My class won’t look like yours, and that’s okay! We all do what’s right for our students in the best way we know how. It’s hard to know what a 5th grade ELA class should look like because there’s more than one way to do it well. Be confident in your knowledge of your students, the content, and pedagogy.
You’re doing great! If you’ve made it to the end of this post it’s because you’re looking to be the best teacher you can be for your students and that is EVERYTHING!