Have you answered the three questions from the first blog post in this series? If so, you are READY to start Step 2 of planning your perfect ELA block! Today, we are going to focus on five structure options for your ELA block. You will likely have heard of these structures and may already be using one (or a combination) of them in your classroom. But, it is still essential to think about structure when planning your perfect ELA block!
Don’t forget, if you want to use a workbook study guide to help follow along with these notes, download it here!
Option 1: Basal Readers
Basals have been a part of district curriculums for many years! Some of the standard programs used in elementary schools are Reading Street, Journeys, and Wonders.
Some school districts have begun to move away from standard reading programs, but Basals are still used in many schools. Basals typically have high-quality texts and resources, but also come with a very guided structure. You may or may not be required to follow this structure. It will depend on your school district. *Consider the requirements when planning your ELA block.*
If you are not required to follow the Basal structure, you may still want to consider incorporating the texts and resources within your ELA block. For example, one of the Basals used at a school in my previous district was filled with high-quality children’s texts, like “The Stranger” by Chris Van Allsburg.
It is a fantastic text that I would use during a mini-lesson to teach inferring. After using this text, probably several times throughout your mini-lessons, the students now automatically all have a copy to read on their own, with a partner, or to refer to during small groups or writing, etc. The basal programs also may have vocabulary or spelling words, writing lessons and prompts, and more. So, even if you choose a different structure when planning your ELA block, you can still consider the materials that you have available.
Structures Option 2: Literacy Work Stations
Literacy Work Stations is another structure commonly found in elementary ELA blocks. This will look like groups of students working on structured literacy centers or stations while the teacher works with a small group. They may be working independently, in partners or as a group. This is a great way to incorporate student or group-specific skills and tasks. For example, while you are teaching a small group that needs to work on long vowels, one group may be working on a vocabulary activity. Another group may be using whisper phones to practice fluency with leveled-readers, and yet another group may be on iPads or computers working on an intervention program (like Lexia), etc.
Now, accountability and time management will be significant components of this and the next three ELA block structures. I have included a section for each at the bottom of this post!
A great book to read that tells you more about this ELA structure is Debbie Diller’s Literacy Work Stations. If you’re interested in this structure for your classroom and want to study more about it, check out my affiliate link for the book!
(Link: Literacy Work Stations)
Structure Option for your ELA Block 3: Daily 5 & CAFE
Daily 5 is a structure similar to Literacy Work Stations, but it incorporates specific practices for independence and authentic reading and writing opportunities for students. I am SURE you know someone who is using Daily 5 (it could be you!)
Daily 5 is a student-centered instructional approach, so, students will be CHOOSING (gasp!) what they want to work on and how. Following a *very mini* lesson, students are provided opportunities to Read to Self, Read to Someone, Listen to Reading, Work on Writing or Work on Words. During these “centers” or “rounds,” students are able to choose their materials, as well as: what book they are reading, what they are writing about, how they are working with words, etc.
When using the Daily 5 structure, the ideal scenario is for students to practice literacy all 5 ways each day. However, we know that it just isn’t possible all of the time. So, many teachers have adapted “Daily 5” to fit their classroom needs.
While Daily 5 is HOW students will be using their reading skills, CAFÉ is WHAT literacy skills you will be teaching. If you imagine a menu at a café, you know that different food items fall under different categories, like soups and salads are in a separate section from sandwiches or desserts. In thinking about literacy, you also find that certain skills fall into different categories. CAFÉ stands for Comprehension, Accuracy, Fluency, and Expanding Vocabulary. So, throughout your lessons, you will be teaching different skills that fall under each of those categories. As you learn new skills, you add them to your CAFÉ menu.
This structure requires quite a lot of pre-teaching and practice before being able to implement it in your classroom fully. As well as how to use CAFÉ in planning groups, small group lessons, and more! If you’re interested in this structure for your classroom, I highly recommend reading the books that will teach you more about them to get you started. Check out my affiliate links for the books!
Structure Option 4: Reading & Writing Workshop
Reading and Writing Workshop models have been in classrooms for many years. These structures usually involve a mini-lesson, independent practice time, and a lesson closing or reflection. So, teachers will start by teaching a specific literacy skill, explicitly modeling how to use the skill. Then, students will practice using the skill in their reading or writing. Now, this portion of your workshop can incorporate centers and rotations to allow for small-group teaching time if that is what works best for your classroom! Then, after students have had the opportunity to work with the skill (either in groups or independently), your class will come back together to reflect on the lesson and readdress the skill.
One of the (many) benefits of the workshop model is that it will work across your subject areas! You can have Reading Workshop, Writing Workshop, Math Workshop, etc. Once the students have learned the expectations for the structure, incorporate it throughout your day!
There are two great books that can teach you more about these structures. If you’re interested in this structure for your classroom and want to study more about it, check out my affiliate links for the books!
Structures for your ELA block 5: Balanced Literacy with a Spin!
Make it your own!
Now, a balanced literacy block doesn’t have to look like any single structure from the five structure options for your ELA block. For me, we needed components of a few different structures in order to best serve my students. So, when planning my ELA block, I took pieces of Daily 5 and pieces of Literacy Work Stations. Still calling it “Daily 5,” I chose the following 5 activities for my students to experience each day:
- Skill Drill: Skill specific activities that focus on reading foundational skills, phonics, phonemic awareness, grammar, and language. These activities are usually hands-on or structured activity sheets. Students are practicing skills that we were working on.
- Teacher Time: Small group, differentiated direct instruction on group-specific skill deficits. These groups are fluid, depending on class assessments and skill needs.
- Technology: Guided instruction or programs that address Reading, Writing, or Language skills. These activities change from day to day so that students aren’t always working on the same program.
- Read to Self: Independent reading time for students to practice their reading skills in a self-chosen book. I found this component from Daily 5 extremely important because students need to practice reading in authentic settings, like while reading a book of their choice.
- Work on Writing: Writing practice that varies from skill-specific prompts and activities to free-choice.
Accountability is crucial for each of these five structure options for your ELA block. Each model will require explicit lessons on expectations and behavior. There are lessons to prepare your class in the books linked. For example, Daily 5 and Reading Workshop have a “First 30 Days” where all of the lessons are on behaviors and expectations! It may seem like a long time, but I have found that if you put in the work at the beginning, you won’t be putting fires out the rest of the year.
Depending on your class needs and the amount of time you have, you can decide how many rounds of centers, Daily 5, or workshop activities you will get to each day. Some teachers like to meet with every group every day. So, their rounds may be shorter. Some teachers like longer rounds, so they may be on an every other day rotation! The thing to remember is: it is YOUR classroom! So you can adjust any of the five structure options for your ELA block to fit your needs best!
There are three sample schedules here. One has a 90-minute block, one has a 120-minute block. And one has a limited block where the teacher has had to split groups up over a two-day time frame. Check these out and see if any work for your classroom!