Structuring Your ELA Block

This post includes framework ideas for structuring your ELA block and  includes ideas for fitting in all of the key components.
It's the first day of the work week, and you receive your class schedule and class list. First, you glance down the list of new family members you'll be meeting and teaching hoping that the magic number stays below 20. (in a perfect teaching world, right?). Then comes the schedule. Eek! You have a two hour literacy block and you have to fit in...whole group, small group, word study, grammar, and writing. Say what? Can it be done? Well, let's look at  making the most of a very tight schedule.

The Routine Options

My preference for structure is to go with a workshop approach. Last year, it worked best for me to begin with writing. I always base our writing on a mentor text that models the trait I want my students to practice. I model for them through a shared writing example, anchor papers, and through their writing (with sharing time). The majority of the time should be spent writing (and revising). It's important that we stress:

Revisions are the icing on top of the cake. Without revising, you just get a plain cake. Revising allows you to add rich words, improve your sentences, and add detail. This is what gives your paper it's unique flavor like a yummy piece of cake. 

This diagram shows a writer's workshop schedule. It includes a 10 minute mini lesson followed by work time and ends with a sharing session.

Once I have completed my writing block, I move into the reading block. If you find that you need additional writing time, you can also include writing as a station when you are working with small groups IF you follow a rotation schedule. Note- I also encourage writing throughout my lessons in all other areas. Writing deepens comprehension of concepts and allows practice with composing sentences, using vocabulary, and grammar.

My reading block has been structured similar to the writing block, but there are a few options you could try depending on your confidence with management and time allotment. In the past, I've run my small groups with a small group-center-seatwork rotation similar to this plan:
In this model, teachers work with small groups while other groups work on seatwork and stations. The small group time is directly supervised and run by the teacher.

Whole Group-15 minutes

Small Group Rotations-20 minutes x 3

Sharing Session-15 minutes

Total-90 minutes

I love the Daily Five approach and recently saw this model where the small groups run simultaneously with the teacher floating among them. Students have specific responsibilities and groups are differentiated. With this schedule, the teacher can cut down on off task time since there is less movement within the room for transitions IF materials are organized well. The key is teaching expectations, organization, and group norms. The time schedule would be as follows:

In this structure, the classroom teacher floats between small groups who are practicing the skills taught in the day's mini lesson. Groups are differentiated based on level/need.

Whole Group Mini Lesson 

(Comprehension)-15 minutes

Guided Reading Groups-20 minutes

Sharing Session-5 minutes

Word Study-15 minutes

Sharing Session-5 minutes

Fluency Stations-15 minutes 

Sharing Session- 5 minutes before the end of the block

Total Time Reading Block- 80 minute
 Plus-50 minutes of Writing (ideally)

Decision Time

This post includes framework ideas for structuring your ELA block and  includes ideas for fitting in all of the key components.At the end of the day, no schedule is perfect. There are so many factors that can make or break a schedule, but as in life, you have to just work to find the best working situation. Keep the focus on meaningful instruction, and the time slots will not be as big of an issue as we think. If you have small chunks of time, make the most of them by using them to practice fluency, review concepts previously taught, and by all means, reading to your students. Reading aloud to your students models fluency rates, phrasing, and expression. It grows vocabulary, and allows you the opportunity to THINK ALOUD comprehension of the text. 

Scheduling is not easy, so if you have questions, I am glad to help you. In the meantime, remember to keep the main thing the main thing and keep your kids moving along the reading continuum.