Successful Language Arts instruction with minimal worksheets is not just possible, it really works! However, I'm not going to lie to you and tell you it's easy. In order to help students be successful, we need to be directed, knowledgeable and able to embed learning into every moment. It's not easy to get started, but it's quite simple to maintain once we get the hang of it. Like anything worth doing, it takes practice and reflection (rinse and repeat).
There are 5 essential steps to setting up successful Language Arts instruction.
You could use a 4 Blocks format as well. I've seen lots of variations of these. What each classroom looks like depends on the teacher. Know this, there's more than one way to success. Whatever you choose, give your program structure and flexibility.
I keep my phonemic awareness separate from my Language Arts block. I start my day with Phonemic Awareness at the end of our morning meeting. We use individual white boards and my big white board. It can be done at any time of the day, but first thing works best for me.
There are lots of phonemic awareness programs out there. My favorites are all Orton-Gillingham based programs because they are multi-sensory.
Letters/sounds, understanding word vs. letter, separation of sounds in words and hearing sounds (beginning, middle and end of words), simple words, blending sounds, patterns and chunks (blends and digraphs, basic endings - ing, s, ed), strong focus on short vowel sounds.
Harder phonemes. Spelling patterns and alternate spellings, sound separation and blending, vowel patterns, reinforce sounds and basic patterns and prefixes and suffixes.
Greek and Latin roots; more vowel patterns, prefixes and suffixes.
So what kind of time do you have? Ideally, your Language Arts time is in a block, not broken up. I know that doesn't always happen, but try for that if you can.
Essential Resources: The Reading Teacher’s Book of Lists; Orton-Gillingham based phonemic awareness program.
15 minute stations (students get to 3 stations each day) + one 15 minute mini lesson OR do two 20 minutes stations (students get to 2 stations each day) + one 20 minute mini lesson. This means I see each group 2 times each week. I do not do a teacher station on Fridays.
15-18 minutes and 4 stations/day + two 15 minute mini lessons OR three 20 minute stations each day + two 15 minute mini lessons. This means I see each group 3 times each week. I do not do a teacher station on Fridays. This is my day for conferring with students, spot checking writing and following up on individual reading issues.
How lucky are you?! I'd do 18 -20 minute stations for students with the teacher small groups being only 15. Then, that allows for 5 minutes in each rotation to catch up, check on, listen to and/or confer students. Small group students get to practice what they learned with the teacher in partners or alone for those 5 minutes. Do two 18 - 20 minute mini lessons, one for reading and one for writing, with practice time.
Fridays: No teacher station unless Monday was a holiday. Book talks, conferring, finish up days for writing, extra reading time, individual reading/writing time, spelling tests...
3-Day Weeks: Either do no teacher station or only 1 time with each group that week.
I teach all of my reading and writing skills whole group with picture books and some chapter books (depending on the age of students) in mini lessons for all grades K-6. This is super efficient, engaging and effective. It just take a bit of prep and some post-it notes. Either a Big Book, a document camera, projector or several copies of each book helps a ton. But, you can copy passages of the book onto chart paper or a whiteboard if you don't have access to any of these things. Just do a passage or two, if you are using this method. Read the rest aloud and think through the text verbally. No worries. You just want students to see at least some of the text you are reading to help catch your "mistakes" and understand concepts. I make carefully crafted "mistakes" and think my way through the text out loud. I ask for their input and correction. All the time, I am modeling and teaching students skills and strategies for becoming a fabulous reader or writer.
Here’s where I use the post it notes, I mark the text with post-it notes in advance. Each note has a thought or strategy I am going to teach with for a particular part of the text. This way, everything is prepared, noted and easy to follow even with distractions. Additionally, it’s easy for a sub to take the text and improvise as well.
Theses strategies work both for reading instruction and writing instruction. Student need to experience and talk about things readers and writers do. they need examples and modeling. While I add in writing on chart paper or a white board to model writer's craft, I mark text, make mistakes and use fix-up strategies as I read. I am constantly thinking aloud so students can get "inside my head" as I work.
Independent Stations (review expectations + practice steps)
Writing - includes Rehearsal (presentation, ideas for writing, peer editing
So what kinds of things do I do in my small group time? This is my time to teach students how to read and write better. This is true guided reading or writing depending on the day. No "close reading" in my classroom. I believe that is a recipe for hating reading.
My goals are:
1. Helping students learn to read better
2. Teaching students that reading is amazing and fun! Everything else is icing on the cake. Once students love reading, they're unstoppable!
3. Helping students see themselves as writers and improve their writing.
So here's my plan.
4-5 minutes: Sight Words
1x week per group: Fix-up Strategies with me reading as an example.
Daily: Reminder of the skill or skills we are working on.
Reading Days: Read with students and practice strategies. (Leveled books, chapter books, articles, poetry....)
Reading Days: Quick discussion about the text using the comprehension skill we are working on.
Word Work, as needed
A few helpful supplies: seating storage (chair pockets or crates w/storage), wall pops at each student's place, pencil boxes with supplies for LA, teacher supplies.
Max 6 students per small group
I NEVER send home reading logs or ask parents/students to time their reading. Reading at home is expected but runs on an honor system. I don't need parents or student lying about reading or hating reading because of these things.
I believe students who have been well-matched with books and have a teacher who instills a joy of reading will read. That's MY job. They're going to get plenty of reading time at school, so home reading is an exciting bonus for me.
Encourage reading at home with book talks and talk about what you're reading at home during morning meeting. Talk about where you read and when. Mention how you sneak in a few pages when you're cooking dinner and ask about how they deal with inconveniently having to stop at an exciting part. We want reading to just seem like a normal thing people do at home (as it should be), not a punishment.
Do you have a different structure that works really well? I'd love to hear about it! Please share in the comment below.