Writing to Inform: Overcoming Learning Challenges—Reading | EL Education Curriculum

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ELA G3:M1:U3

Writing to Inform: Overcoming Learning Challenges—Reading

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In Unit 3, students move from analyzing challenges faced by others, to learning challenges that they face, specifically with reading. This is framed with the book More Than Anything Else by Marie Bradby, which describes the reading challenges Booker T. Washington faced. Students hear the whole text read aloud and analyze in detail an excerpt of text that is rich in figurative language and describes the challenges Booker faced in detail. For a mid-unit assessment, students demonstrate their writing skills by writing an informative paragraph recounting Booker's story from More Than Anything Else and the lesson they learned through the challenges faced and how those challenges were overcome.

In the second half of the unit, students determine their own reading challenges and some strategies to overcome those challenges. They use The Painted Essay(r) structure to write a reading contract outlining two of their most significant reading challenges and two strategies to overcome each challenge. Students also practice reading excerpts of Nasreen's Secret School and Rain School for fluency practice throughout the second half of the unit. For Part I of the End of Unit 3 Assessment, students read an excerpt of Nasreen's Secret School or Rain School in a group to record an audiobook. In Part II, students revise their reading contracts based on teacher and peer feedback. For the performance task, students create a reading strategies bookmark to quickly reference the reading strategies they have outlined in their reading contract

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.
  • How can I overcome learning challenges?
  • I can overcome learning challenges by being an effective learner: taking initiative and responsibility, persevering, and collaborating.

The Four Ts

  • Topic: Overcoming Learning Challenges: Reading
  • Task: Students write an informative reading contract identifying two personal reading challenges and two strategies for overcoming each of those challenges. They then create a reading strategies bookmark outlining the information in their reading contract.
  • Targets (Standards explicitly taught and assessed): RL.3.1, RL.3.2, RL.3.3, RL.3.10, RF.3.3, RF.3.4b, W.3.2, W.3.4, W.3.5, W.3.10, and SL.3.5
  • Texts: More Than Anything Else; Thank You, Mr. Falker


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 by 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 effective learners, developing the mindsets and skills for success in college, career, and life (e.g., initiative, responsibility, perseverance, collaboration). Students practice perseverance as they write their reading contracts, and initiative, responsibility, and collaboration as they participate in peer critiques. The following student learning targets are a focus for this unit. Please refer to Teaching Notes in the lessons:

  • I work to become an effective learner:
    • I take initiative.
    • I take responsibility.
    • I persevere.
    • I collaborate.

This unit is approximately 2.5 weeks or 14 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 text 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.

In this unit, students continue to read research texts independently for homework, and engage in frequent research reading shares during the module lesson for accountability.

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 and 2 to support students in preparation for the mid-unit assessment. Students may benefit from an additional review of informational essay structure. The content in More Than Anything Else includes serious and challenging subject matter, which may require additional time as well. Be sure to complete the Language Dives in Lessons 2 and 5. Consider placing less focus and condensing instruction in Lessons 11, 13, and 14.
  • Language Dives: All students participate in their first full Language Dive in Lesson 2, embedded in a close read. ELLs participate in Language Dives in Lessons 2 and 5. 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 and supporting English language learners, please see the Tools page.
  • Goal 2 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 2 Conversation Cues are introduced in Lesson 1. 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 informational texts taking place across different cultures and countries. Because this unit explores issues related to slavery, oppression, and learning challenges, it is important to be particularly sensitive to students' experiences. Some may have similar challenges as the characters in the texts, such as low self-confidence or exhaustion from demanding family responsibilities. It is also possible that some students have been enslaved. Remain inclusive and create space for students to express their feelings about sensitive issues, while being aware that they may experience some trauma or social stigma. Consult with a guidance counselor, school social worker, or ESL teacher for further investigation of diversity and inclusion concerns.
  • Strategic grouping: Since students work with partners to plan informative essays and to practice reading fluency, seriously consider matching ELLs to a partner who has greater language proficiency. The conversations that happen as a result of such strategic pairing will greatly serve the language development of both partners. During reading fluency practice, more proficient readers can provide helpful feedback to students who are less confident.
  • Language processing time: Give ELLs sufficient time to think about what they want to say before they share with other students or write.
  • Writing and essay organization: Students receive explicit instruction in how to craft an informational essay: introductory paragraph, focus statement, proof paragraphs, and concluding paragraph. Students use The Painted Essay(r) format. Students who are still trying to comprehend the language itself may also need additional support grasping this organizational structure. Use color-coding and manipulatives inspired by The Painted Essay(r) routines, such as sentence strips, to support this skill. Also, this essay structure may be different from the text structure students may be familiar with in their home languages. Compare and contrast home language text structure whenever possible.
  • Analyzing figurative language and determining main idea: Students participate in two close reading sessions during which they will hone their comprehension and interpretive skills by analyzing figurative language and determining details that support the main idea of text. Students will complete a series of note-catchers to help them process these concepts. It may be difficult for some students to grasp the concepts behind figurative language. Many students may need additional support to comprehend literal language, so figurative language may seem abstract to them. Spend additional time unpacking the meaning of figurative phrases.

Texts to Buy

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

Text or Resource Quantity ISBNs
Thank You, Mr. Falker
by Patricia Polacco
one per classroom
ISBN: 9780399257629
More Than Anything Else
by Marie Bradby
one per classroom
ISBN: 9780531094648

Preparation and Materials

  • Ensure families are aware of the sensitive content of More Than Anything Else by Marie Bradby and prepare students who may be affected by this context in advance.
  • Ensure you have access to the painting materials required for The Painted Essay(r) in Lesson 5.
  • Prepare technology necessary to record the audiobooks in in Lesson 10 (e.g., a device to record audio or video).
  • Consider enlisting an art or technology teacher to support work on the reading strategies bookmark in Lessons 11 and 13.
  • Gather craft materials for students to create bookmarks in Lesson 13 (e.g., colored cardstock, ribbons, paint, colored paper, glue, ribbon, stickers, etc.).
  • The following materials are introduced in this unit and referenced both throughout the unit and the school year:
    • Working to Become Effective Learners anchor chart
    • Fluent Readers Do These Things anchor chart
    • The Painted Essay(r) template
    • Painting an Essay lesson plan

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 complete their notebooks 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

  • In the ALL Block for this unit, students focus on three components each day for 20 minutes each. This is the format that the ALL Block will follow for the next three modules. The following is an outline of the work students complete in each component:
    • Additional Work with Complex Text: Students read and analyze the Writing Contract: Teacher Model used in module lessons to prepare them to write their own reading contract.
    • Reading and Speaking Fluency/GUM: Students reread the excerpt of More Than Anything Else closely read in module lessons for fluency and accuracy.
    • Writing Fluency: Students build writing stamina by either free writing or by responding to a prompt.
    • Word Study and Vocabulary: Students use their vocabulary logs to analyze two words relevant to the module content.
    • Independent Reading: Students build independent reading stamina of both research reading and free choice texts.

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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