Reading Literary Texts: Overcoming Learning Challenges—School and Education | EL Education Curriculum

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ELA G3:M1:U1

Reading Literary Texts: Overcoming Learning Challenges—School and Education

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In Unit 1, students read literary texts about children who face challenges with access to education. Throughout the course of the unit, students read three literary texts: Waiting for the Biblioburro by Monica Brown, Rain School by James Rumford, and Nasreen's Secret School by Jeanette Winter. They read each text for gist, recount the text, determine its central message or lesson, and then closely read and answer text-dependent questions designed to help them explain how that central message or lesson is conveyed through details in the text. Students also identify the challenges faced by the characters and how they are able to overcome them.

Throughout the unit, students are introduced to routines and anchor charts that will be used throughout the rest of the module, as well as the rest of the year. In the first half of the unit, students learn about independent reading and discussion norms and receive their independent reading journals and vocabulary logs. For the mid-unit assessment, students discuss what they like about their independent reading books and the things that they have found challenging. In the second half of the unit, after learning how to write short constructed responses, students read a new literary text, answer selected response questions, and write short constructed responses about questions having to do with the text.

Big Ideas & Guiding Questions

  • Why are education, books, and reading important?
  • Education, books, and reading are important because they help us learn about and make sense of the world, and escape into the lives of other people and other worlds.

The Four Ts

  • Topic: Overcoming Learning Challenges--School and Education
  • Task: For the mid-unit assessment, students meet in small groups to engage in a collaborative discussion, building on one another's ideas and expressing their own clearly. Students read a new literary text, answer selected response questions, and write short constructed responses about it for the end of unit assessment.
  • Targets (standards explicitly taught and assessed): RL.3.1, RL.3.2, RL.3.3, RL.3.4, SL.3.1a, SL.3.1b, SL.3.1c, SL.3.3, SL.3.6, L.3.4
  • Texts: Waiting for the Biblioburro, Rain School, Nasreen's Secret School, Elephant Library


 Each unit in the 3-5 Language Arts Curriculum has two standards-based assessments built in, one mid-unit assessment and one end of unit assessment. The module concludes with a performance task at the end of Unit 3 to synthesize their understanding of what they accomplished through supported, standards-based writing.

Content Connections

This module is designed to address English Language Arts standards and to be taught during the literacy block. But the module intentionally incorporates Social Studies content that may align to additional teaching during other parts of the day. These intentional connections are described below.

College, Career, and Civic Life C3 Framework for Social Studies State Standards:

  • D2.Civ.7.3-5: Apply civic virtues and democratic principles in school settings.
  • D2.Geo.2.3-5: Use maps, satellite images, photographs, and other representations to explain relationships between the locations of places and regions and their environmental characteristics.
  • D2.Geo.4.3-5: Explain how culture influences the way people modify and adapt to their environments.
  • D2.Geo.7.3-5: Explain how cultural and environmental characteristics affect the distribution and movement of people, goods, and ideas.
  • D2.His.2.3-5: Compare life in specific historical time periods to life today.
  • D3.4.3-5: Use evidence to develop claims in response to compelling questions.
  • D4.6.3-5: Draw on disciplinary concepts to explain the challenges people have faced and opportunities they have created, in addressing local, regional, and global problems at various times and places.

Habits of Character/Social-Emotional Learning Focus

Central to EL Education's curriculum is a focus on "habits of character" and social-emotional learning. Students work to become effective learners, developing mindsets and skills for success in college, career, and life (e.g., initiative, responsibility, perseverance, collaboration); work to become ethical people, treating others well and standing up for what is right (e.g., empathy, integrity, respect, compassion); and work to contribute to a better world, putting their learning to use to improve communities (e.g., citizenship, service).

In this unit, students work to become ethical people, treating others well and standing up for what is right (e.g., empathy, integrity, respect, compassion). They practice respect, compassion, and empathy in response to the potentially diverse views of different students after reading the texts, and integrity when completing research reading for homework each night.

The following student learning targets are a focus for this unit. Please refer to Teaching Notes in the lessons:

  • I work to become an ethical person:
    • I show empathy.
    • I behave with integrity.
    • I show respect.
    • I show compassion.

This unit is approximately 2.5 weeks or 11 sessions of instruction.


Each unit is made up of a sequence of between 5-20 lessons. The “unit at a glance” chart in the curriculum map breaks down each unit into its lessons, to show how the curriculum is organized in terms of standards address, supporting targets, ongoing assessment, and protocols. It also indicates which lessons include the mid-unit and end-of-unit assessments.

Accountable Independent Reading

The ability to read and comprehend texts is the heart of literacy instruction. Comprehension is taught, reinforced, and assessed across both components of this curriculum: module lessons and the Additional Language and Literacy block. Refer to the 3M1 Module Overview for additional information.

Independent reading is launched in this module. The Independent Reading: Sample Plans contain suggestions for lessons to launch independent reading and lessons to review and share knowledge and vocabulary gained from independent reading (see the Tools page). Consider using this document as a guideline if you do not have your own independent reading launch and review routine.

Supporting English Language Learners

The Meeting Students' Needs column in each lesson contains support for both ELLs and Universal Design for Learning (UDL), and some supports can serve a wide range of student needs. However, ELLs have unique needs that cannot always be met with UDL support. According to federal guidelines, ELLs must be given access to the curriculum with appropriate supports, such as those that are specifically identified as "For ELLs" in the Meeting Students' Needs column.

  • Prioritizing lessons for classrooms with many ELLs: Consider prioritizing and expanding instruction in Lessons 1, 6, 8, 9, and 10 to introduce students to classroom norms and protocols in Lesson 1; introduce them to short constructed response in Lesson 6; and support comprehension of Nasreen's Secret School (including using Language Dives) and writing short constructed responses in Lessons 8, 9, and 10. If necessary, place less focus and condense instruction on peer review and spelling, capitalization, and punctuation in Lesson 10. Peer review is very important; however, students must have sufficient understanding of and practice with constructing cohesive written responses before peer review can be optimally productive. Likewise, spelling, capitalization, and punctuation help convey meaning but are often less critical than text structure, sentence structure, and word choice. Consider spending less time on Waiting for the Biblioburro in Lesson 3, which contains a slightly different instructional pattern, reserving more time for Rain School and Nasreen's Secret School later in the unit, which share a similar pattern.
  • Language Dives: All third graders participate in their first full Language Dive in Unit 3. To gradually immerse ELLs in the Language Dive routine, ELLs are introduced to their first Language Dive in Lesson 8 in this unit. They follow up with a connected Language Dive in Lesson 9. These Language Dives are designed to help students continue to notice and apply the English subject-predicate structure introduced in preceding lessons. Most lessons also offer optional Mini Language Dives for ELLs. Language Dives are guided conversations about the meaning of a sentence from the central texts, models, or learning targets. The conversation invites students to unpack complex syntax, or "academic phrases," as a necessary component of building both literacy and habits of mind. Students then apply their understanding of language structure as they work toward the assessments and performance task. All Language Dives follow a Deconstruct-Reconstruct-Practice routine, in which students discuss and play with the meaning and purpose of the sentence and each chunk of the sentence; put the chunks back together into the original order and any possible variations; and practice using the chunks in their own speaking and writing. To maximize language practice and accommodate time, consider dividing or reviewing each Language Dive over multiple lessons. A consistent Language Dive routine is critical in helping all students learn how to decipher complex sentences and write their own. In addition, Language Dive conversations can hasten overall English language development for ELLs. Avoid using the Language Dive Guide to lecture about grammar; the Guide is designed to prompt students as they grapple with the meaning and purpose of the chunks and the sentence. Consider providing students with a Language Dive log inside a folder to track Language Dive sentences and structures and collate Language Dive note-catchers. Assure students that this log will not be graded; however, consider inviting students to use their log and note-catchers to gauge the progress of their speaking and writing skills. For more information on Language Dives, refer to the Supporting English Language Learners Guidance on the Tools page.
  • Goal 1 Conversation Cues: Encourage productive and equitable conversation with Conversation Cues, which are questions teachers can ask students to help achieve four goals: (Goal 1) encourage all students to talk and be understood; (Goal 2) listen carefully to one another and seek to understand; (Goal 3) deepen thinking; and (Goal 4) think with others to expand the conversation (adapted from Michaels, Sarah and O'Connor, Cathy. Talk Science Primer. Cambridge, MA: TERC, 2012. Based on Chapin, S., O'Connor, C., and Anderson, N. [2009]. Classroom Discussions: Using Math Talk to Help Students Learn, Grades K-6. Second Edition. Sausalito, CA: Math Solutions Publications). Refer to the Tools page for the complete set of cues. Goal 1 Conversation Cues are introduced in Lesson 3. Heightened language processing and development is a primary potential benefit for ELLs.
  • Diversity and inclusion: Investigate the routines, practices, rituals, beliefs, norms, and experiences that are important to ELLs and their families. Integrate this background into the classroom as students explore literary texts that take place across different cultures and countries. Because this unit explores issues related to access and privilege, it is important to be particularly sensitive to students' experiences. Some may have experienced interrupted formal education due to poverty, violence, or migration. Some may currently experience a lack of access to texts and educational resources in their home languages or cultures. Foster inclusive action by creating space for students to express their feelings about sensitive issues, while being aware that these discussions may unearth trauma or social stigma. Consult with a guidance counselor, school social worker, or ESL teacher for further investigation of diversity and inclusion.
  • Strategic grouping: Students work in pairs or triads across multiple lessons in this unit. Strategically pair students in advance to create productive and supportive work time. Consider matching ELLs with partners who have greater language proficiency. The conversations that happen as a result of such strategic pairing will greatly serve the language development of both partners. Be aware that partnering with, looking at, talking with, or touching the opposite gender may be uncomfortable and inappropriate for some students. In addition, some students may believe it is inappropriate to speak with other students at all during class. Let them know that, in the United States, speaking with a peer of either gender when the teacher gives the signal is appropriate, and it is one way that students can become independent learners and develop their content knowledge and language ability. At the same time, tell them you respect their needs, and if necessary, seek alternative arrangements for students according to their cultural traditions.
  • Language processing time: Give ELLs sufficient time to think and jot notes about what they want to say before they share with their partners or the whole class and before they write formally.
  • Writing and short constructed response structure: Students will receive explicit, scaffolded instruction in how to craft a short constructed response. Some students who may need additional support with the language itself may also need additional support with the structure of these responses. Use color-coding and manipulatives, such as sentence strips, to support this skill. Also, this response structure may be different from the structure students are familiar with in their home language. Compare and contrast home language text structure whenever possible.
  • Subject-predicate structure: In Lesson 6, students participate in a mini lesson about the basic structure of an English sentence. This structure is reinforced in the Language Dive in Lesson 8 and in Lesson 9. Once ELLs pick up the concept that most complete English sentences must have a subject (noun or noun phrase, who or what the sentence is about, or the agent in the sentence) paired with a predicate (verb or verb phrase, the action or state of being in the sentence), they will have a leg up on what it means to write a complete sentence.
  • Celebration: Celebrate the courage, enthusiasm, diversity, and bilingual assets that ELLs bring to the classroom.

Texts to Buy

Texts that need to be procured. Please download the Trade Book List for procurement guidance.

Text or Resource Quantity ISBNs
Nasreen's Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan
by Jeanette Winter
one per student
ISBN: 9781416994374
Rain School
by James Rumford
one per student
ISBN: 9780547243078
Waiting for the Biblioburro
by Monica Brown
one per classroom
ISBN: 9781582463537

Preparation and Materials

  • Prepare Performance Task anchor chart (see Performance Task Overview) and Guiding Questions anchor chart (see Module Overview).
  • Select students or invite in adults for the model discussion in Lesson 2. Prepare participants in advance (see Teaching Notes in Lesson 2).
  • Ensure that families are aware of the sensitive content of Nasreen's Secret School and prepare students who may be affected by this context in advance.
  • Prepare vocabulary logs (Lesson 5) and independent reading journals (Lesson 6).
  • The following materials are introduced in this unit and referenced both throughout the module and the school year:

-Academic Word Wall (Lesson 1)

-Working to Become Ethical People anchor chart (Lesson 2)

-Discussion Norms anchor chart (Lesson 2)

-World Map and compass points (Lesson 3)

-Close Readers Do These Things anchor chart (Lesson 3)

-Strategies to Answer Selected Response Questions anchor chart (Lesson 3)

-Vocabulary logs (Lesson 5)

-Independent reading journals (Lesson 6)

-Affix list (Lesson 6)

-Writing Short Constructed Responses anchor chart (Lesson 6)

-Spelling, Capitalization, and Punctuation handout (Lesson 10)

-Peer Critique anchor chart (Lesson 10)

Technology and Multimedia

  • Google Docs - To create writing projects: Students complete their note-catchers and produce writing in Google Docs. 
  • Google Forms - Exit Tickets: Exit tickets are created and completed online in a Google Form.
  • Speech to Text (many newer devices already have this capability.) - To create writing by speaking: Students create written work by speaking rather than writing or typing.
  • National Geographic Maps - Explore maps: Students explore the places described in their texts.
  • Enslaved African-Americans - Additional reading and research: Students read and research to learn more about enslaved African-Americans (independent reading time, pair/small group work, whole class). 'Enslaved African-Americans'. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Web. Accessed on 24 May, 2016.

Additional Language and Literacy Block

The Additional Language and Literacy (ALL) Block is 1 hour of instruction per day. It is designed to work in concert with and in addition to the 1-hour Grades 3-5 ELA "module lessons." Taken together, these 2 hours of instruction comprehensively address all the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts.

The ALL Block has five components: Additional Work with Complex Text; Reading and Speaking Fluency/GUM (Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics); Writing Practice; Word Study and Vocabulary; and Independent Reading.

The ALL Block has three 2-week units which parallel to the three units of the module.

Optional: Community, Experts, Fieldwork, Service, and Extensions


  • If you have students who have lived in the countries described in the texts in this unit--Colombia, Chad, and Afghanistan--invite family members to come into the classroom to talk with students about life in this country.
  • If you have a number of English language learners speaking the same native language, invite family members to come into the classroom to talk with ELLs in their native language about education, books, and reading in their home countries.
  • Invite family members or teachers to come into the classroom to talk about what reading instruction was like when they were children, and to discuss some of the reading challenges they faced and how they overcame those challenges.


  • Have educators or librarians from other countries where things may be different come into the classroom to describe this to students.
  • Invite mobile librarians to come into the classroom to talk about why there is a local mobile library (there may be mobile libraries for the elderly or for people in rural places in your area).
  • Invite a historian with an expertise on slavery to come and speak with the students about slavery in your particular area in relation to the content of More Than Anything Else.


  • Visit a public library for students to learn how to locate books in the library and the services available to students and families.
  • Visit an age-appropriate slavery/civil rights exhibition.


  • Identify people and/or places in need of books and help students to organize a book drive.


  • Encourage students to research more about life in one of the countries described in the texts and create a presentation to share with the class to help them better understand life in this country.
  • Invite students to perform additional research about education in their expert group country, or about access to books and education in either their country of origin or in a country of interest.
  • Create reading strategy bookmarks for younger readers.

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