Literacy, Uncategorized

How to Schedule your Language Arts

Every day I am given 100 minutes of uninterrupted language arts time in my schedule.  In that time I must plan out how to get everything done.  My goal is to plan all of my lessons so that they flow together and fit, not so that they are a disjointed mess of “LETS CRAM IT ALL IN”  I do this by focusing on Themes, Mentor Texts, and Student Choice.

One of the things that I am asked most by new and old teachers is how do I structure my language block so that it makes sense and is not a planning nightmare.  This is especially important in a split grade because in reality you are dealing with twice the curriculum.  (this doesn’t affect my planning as much as it does my assessment of language skills)

If you haven’t already read how I set up my physical classroom space for literacy instruction check out my previous post here

What does my Literacy Block Include

  • Read Alouds
  • Shared Reading
  • Student Conferences
  • Independent Reading Responses
  • Creative Writing/Writers Workshop
  • Grammar and Work Work
  • Reading Mini Lessons
  • Writing Mini Lessons
  • Guided Instruction

Yes all of these things are included in my language arts time.  However not everything happens in one day.  I take a whole week to make sure that I do these things.

Here is a sample of my schedule

So a brief overview of this schedule. (perhaps some future posts may be needed about these elements in more detail.

1) Independent Reading – I strongly believe that students need to read for enjoyment everyday.  I don’t monitor it, I don’t track it, I don’t value one type or reading over another.  Students read what they want to read during this time for fun.  This also serves as a quiet activity after recess to help them regain focus and prepare for their language arts time.  As a student I loved reading but hated that teachers ruined my reading time by making me write down what I was reading or picked what I should be reading.  So I don’t do it.  I monitor the students, especially my struggling readers, and make sure that they are reading.  I have a larger classroom library that I am slowly weeding out old books (I am a bit of a book hoarder) as students are using more digital books and materials to read. Some of my students favourites last year were TinTin, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Video Game review sites and forums, and Wonder.

2) Read Aloud –  I LOVE PICTURE BOOKS!!! honestly I think this is my favourite teaching material in my classroom.  I use picture books as my read aloud/Mentor Text every week.  I choose books that fit my theme for the month (see my long range plans) and I focus on specific reading strategies such as determining importance, finding the main idea, making connections, making inferences, point of view, synthesizing (putting it all together).  My read aloud is the basis of my entire language program.  I usually take about three days to read a picture book because I only read what I need to that day to help the students focus on the mini lesson that I am using.  I know in my schedule above it has read aloud and mini lesson but really these two components work together.  My time between these two components is flexible.  (see my post on my language unit on questioning and predicting)
Reading independent practice is a time for students to apply previous lesson independently.  I like to think of this as a two week cycle.  I teach them through modelled shared and guided instruction how to do something in week one then they practice this in guided or independent time the following week.  Their independent activity each week is always based on something I taught them prior to the beginning of the week.

3) Word Work – Mentor Text Centers – If you haven’t heard of mentor sentences they are based on a concept by Jeff Anderson. After reading his book I was inspired to integrate some of his ideas in to my word work centers.  It essentially helps students learn about grammar in context of well constructed sentences.  I am sure that you, like me, have been told that teaching spelling and grammar out of context is pointless as students do not internalize these lessons and apply it to their writing.  ME TOO!! My dilemma was that my use of mentor sentences needed to rely less on photocopy handouts and more on interactive centres.  Think Daily 5 meets Mentor Sentences.  Here’s how it works:

  • Look at your students writing samples, or formal writing assessments and determine a grammar or spelling rule that they are struggling with. 
  • Go to your read aloud and choose a simple sentence that has a spelling pattern or grammar concept that want to cover. 
  • Print out that sentence on chart paper (and with younger students make a copy that they can glue in their book) 
  • Read the sentence with students and have them “Examine” the sentence (and when your principal walks in you can even tell them you are doing inquiry learning in language too) Have them look for parts of speech, suffixes, rhyme, or whatever else is appropriate for your grade level.  Use this sentence to form the jump off for your word work centres or activities.  Use word sorts, practice cursive or printing with the sentence, build a word wall, etc. etc. 
  • Then students develop their own look alike sentence based on the mentor sentence and using the key learning from the week in their look alike sentence.  So if you focused on adjectives then their look alike sentence would have lots of adjectives.  Or if you focused on suffixes then they would try to integrate words with suffixes into their sentences
  • For example “Whisker’s claws caught on the string, scattering buttons like sunflower seeds” – Memory String by Eve Bunting.  Students would notice the parts and elements in the sentence you might focus on similes or irregular past tense verbs or suffixes, and then finally their look alike sentence could be “Joe’s long jagged toenail tore through the sock, ripping a hole as big as the Grand Canyon ” 
Writers Workshop – I have really come to enjoy this time with students.  This part of my writing time is also focused on student choice.  (Which I firmly believe increases student engagement)  I have a wheel of writing (found for free in my store) I show students the various options and then they vote and choose the three that they are most interested in. These are what we focus on.  I may do guided writing activities when they are writing or whole class lessons based on the student interest.  I post this wheel in my classroom and students can write any form that is on the wheel but they always have a choice.  When students are ready they move on to another form of writing.  Students also write a different draft of writing each week for me.  This can be intense and sometimes it is almost two weeks for a draft but they are drafting constantly.  This means that not everything goes through the writing process.  Once per term (we have two terms in a school year) students will choose a piece of writing and take it through the writing process.  This way students learn to love writing and not worry so much about the tedious parts of editing and revision.  It also allows them to choose a writing sample that they are very passionate about.  
My writing Mini Lessons are a combination of what I need to teach and what the students need to learn.  Much of what I teach during this time is generated by the information that I gather from reading student work.  For example last year my students struggled initially with organizing their ideas, gathering data, and asking questions.  This was a main focus.  
Shared Reading – This so far has been the most frustrating part of my language program.  I have many shared reading posters and workbooks but they all seem a little disjointed.  Shared reading for me is reading that the students do with me that is much more focused on a particular reading strategy. My frustration is that these seem very disjointed from the rest of my reading program.  This is a goal of my to remedy this year.  I will let you know how this goes as I am developing as I go 🙂 (who knows perhaps there might be a product in there that I can share with you too) 
Well I can already tell that this is something I need to revisit again…if you would like more details on any of the above please leave a comment below and I will address it in future posts.  


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2 Comment

  1. Reply
    Anonymous
    July 29, 2016 at 3:06 pm

    This looks great and I envy you the 100 minutes you get! I am switching to teaching math and English to French immersion students this year and I will only have 40 minutes a day for language. Of course I still have to teach and assess the full curriculum in that time. I will have to do different things on different days as there just isn't time to fit it all in daily.

  2. Reply
    Rachel Krueger
    October 3, 2016 at 12:08 am

    This was really helpful for me to read. It gives me lots to think about! I am curious if you have any more posts about your writing program. I am trying to revamp mine and am gathering ideas/info. When you say that "Students also write a different draft of writing each week for me" is that a writing form draft of their choice (from the wheel) or is that something specific you assign and then the choice wheel writing is sperate. Hopefully my question makes sense! Thank-you so much for sharing 🙂

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