Elementary English Language Arts

  • Balanced Literacy Framework

    The Balanced Literacy Framework serves as a comprehensive learning resource for organizing content, instruction and assessment in Ann Arbor’s K-5 English Language Arts. The K-5 English Language Arts program provides standards-aligned literacy instruction and assessment using a three-block structure: (1) Language and Word Study, (2) Reader’s Workshop, and (3) Writer’s Workshop. The three-block organization supports thoughtful, personalized, standards-aligned units of study and lessons. The Balanced Literacy Framework provides for the organized application of the Michigan State Standards. Michigan State Standards may be found at the following links.

    The standards require a new emphasis on informational text. In K-5, the standards balance the reading of literature with the reading of informational texts, including texts in social studies and science. This new emphasis is reflected in the Balanced Literacy Framework. 

    young girl reading The Balanced Literacy classroom is composed of a community of readers and writers who engage in inquiry of text and the reading and writing processes. The teacher is the first among equals as the community constructs understanding and develops proficiency with texts in order to communicate and celebrate meaning. The teacher makes his or her personal literacy transparent to students by modeling reading, writing, listening, thinking aloud, and the careful use of egalitarian language.

    For this reason, Balanced Literacy instruction often begins with the teacher and class seated in a circle. After a time in small group instruction and independent practice, the community reconvenes and shares their learning and discovery.

    Teacher reading to students

    In the Balanced Literacy approach, teachers acknowledge students as they demonstrate to one another growing skillfulness and developing understandings. Delivery of products by students to teacher is less important in this approach. 

    The orchestration of this process requires skill and maturity on the part of the teacher, as well as a developed understanding of constructivist learning that is applied in the workshop model.

    K-5 Reading Program

    Learning to read engages students in three simultaneous processes: (1) integrating visual information on the page with, (2) understanding of how the English language sounds, and with (3) prior experiences with the particular topic. Children learn to use these three processes for constructing meaning as they engage with text. Balanced Literacy addresses K-5 Michigan English Language Arts Standards through Reader's Workshop. Reader's Workshop includes five key literacy practices: (1) Interactive Read-Aloud, (2) Mini-Lessons, (3) Guided Reading, (4) Literature Study, and (5) Independent Reading.

    Teacher reading to class

    Interactive Read-Aloud The teacher carefully selects a text, and makes a plan to explicitly teach a reading skill or strategy. The teacher reads the text aloud while modeling his thinking out loud as he reads. Students participate by listening to the text and the teacher's thinking strategies. Students then try some of the strategies by talking to partners. Interaction between the teacher and students extends understanding of the text.


    Mini Lesson The teacher delivers short and focused instruction at the beginning of an instructional block. The teacher introduces skills and strategies with clear, concrete examples. Students apply their learning during guided and independent reading.

    Guided Reading Children are placed in flexible small groups. The teacher teaches and  models specific strategies for interacting with print. The teacher uses a text at the child's instructional level; that is, the text challenges each child to develop new skills. The make-up of the guided reading groups changes frequently as children grow and learn.

    Literature Study The teacher and students set up assigned reading and writing tasks and agree on meeting times.  Students engage in in-depth discussion about a text they have read or heard.  Students take turns facilitating the group's discussion in which the teacher often joins.

    Young girl reading Independent Reading Children need many experiences with authentic text in order to build reading proficiency. In learning to read, quantity matters. Children need daily experiences with authentic texts to build fluency, to learn high frequency words, and to gain control of making meaning "on the run", while decoding words.

    Writing Program for K-5

    Teacher writing in front of class Children learn to write by writing. From the first day of kindergarten, children learn that writers write about what they know. They learn that the purpose of writing is to convey meaning to an audience.  The K-5 writing program is based on the Writer's Workshop model.  It includes whole group mini-lessons, time for children to write individually, and a time for writers to share their writing with each other. The core writing resources of the Ann Arbor Public Schools are Units of Study by Lucy Calkins and the Ann Arbor-created Genre Studies.

    Children in grades K-2 spend approximately thirty to sixty minutes a day in the writer's workshop. Children participate in three key writing practices: (1) Modeled Writing, (2) Interactive Writing, and (3) Independent Writing.

    Modeled Writing Modeled Writing, used most often in kindergarten, is a strategy for teaching young students how writers think and plan.  The teacher controls the pen and the writing process, and provides explicit demonstration of both her thinking and her writing.  Children see and learn how writers write for different purposes and are exposed to different genres of writing.

    Interactive Writing Interactive writing differs from modeled writing in that the teacher and students share control of both the content of the writing, and the mechanics.  Interactive writing is used with both large or small groups.  Children begin to take control as the teacher provides support in both creating content and in actual writing.  Children learn, for example, how writers spell words, and how editing is done during the writing process.

    Independent Writing  Children must write in quantity in order to develop proficiency in the writing process.  The Writer's Workshop model provides large blocks of time for children to actively engage in the writing process with increasing independence.

    Two young boys at desk Students in Grades 3-5 participate in a daily, hour-long Writing Workshop.  The instructional block begins with a brief period of whole-class instruction known as a mini-lesson.  An extended period of writing follows during which the teacher confers with individuals or small groups to deliver specific instruction.  Writing Workshop concludes with a period in which students share and reflect on their writing and articulate their learning. Whole group, small group, and individual formats are used.

    In a yearlong sequence of instruction students are taught general strategies for effective writing as well as specific features of the genres they are learning. Instruction is divided into units of study in which clear examples of effective writing are modeled. Students are led through phases of pre-writing, drafting, revising, publishing, and assessment. Students in grades 3-5 complete writing units that include a distribution of writing genres. Ann Arbor’s elementary writing curriculum cultivates the three mutually reinforcing writing capacities of writing to: (1) persuade, (2) explain, and (3) convey real or imagined experience. Michigan State Standards may be found at the following links:   

    Word Study for K-2

    Young boy writing Visual analysis of words is a critical aspect of the emergent reading process. Readers must learn the code by which letters represent sounds, and how these sounds combine to make words.  The instructional resource for Word Study in K-2 is Phonics Lessons written by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell.  The program includes 100 lessons from nine categories of learning for each grade.

    • Early Literacy Concepts            • High Frequency Words 
    • Phonological Awareness            • Word Meaning
    • Letter Knowledge                       • Word Structure
    • Letter/Sound Relationships       • Word-Solving Actions
    • Spelling Patterns

    Children spend about 15 minutes each day actively engaged with letters and words.  Games and other interactive activities promote use of language and social interactions to enhance proficiency.

    3-5 Word Study

    Word study in grades 3-5 includes spelling and vocabulary instruction as well as choral reading, responsive reading and reader's theater.  Formal spelling instruction includes brief lessons regarding patterns and anomalies, game-like and hands-on practice, self-assessment, and a clear and consistent connection between words learned in spelling instruction and those which are applied in writing activities across the curriculum.  Spelling activities expose students to broad principles with differentiated application to each student's learning needs. This method largely replaces whole group memorization of specific words.

    Vocabulary instruction includes development of an aesthetic appreciation of language through exposure to and explicit instruction in poetry, content specific vocabulary instruction, instruction in word solving strategies and morphological awareness. Michigan State Standards may be found at the following link.

    Erica Hatt
    K-5 English Language Arts and
    Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator
    The Ann Arbor Curriculum and Instruction Department is in the process of mapping the K-5 English language arts curriculum using Atlas Rubicon. We expect to post our progress in January 2017.