Building Background Knowledge: Water Around the World | EL Education Curriculum

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ELA G3:M4:U1

Building Background Knowledge: Water Around the World

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In Unit 1, students read carefully selected pages of the anchor text, One Well: The Story of Water on Earth to build background knowledge about where freshwater comes from and about the three issues that the book describes: access to water, demands on water, and water pollution. Students begin by hearing pages of the book read aloud to determine the main ideas and supporting details of a read-aloud. They also reread the pages to analyze the illustrations and answer vocabulary and text-dependent questions.

For the mid-unit assessment, students listen to new pages of One Well read aloud to determine the main idea and supporting details before rereading the text to answer text-dependent questions. In the second half of the unit, students read pages of One Well paired with additional complex informational texts to compare the main ideas and supporting details of both texts. For the end of unit assessment, students read a new informational text to determine the main ideas and supporting details before comparing it to pages of One Well.

Big Ideas & Guiding Questions

  • Why are the world's freshwater sources threatened?
  • Water is a finite resource.
  • The demands on water and water pollution threaten our freshwater sources.
  • Due to rainfall, freshwater is not distributed equally around the world.

The Four Ts

  • Topic: Building Background Knowledge: Water Around the World
  • Task: For the mid-unit assessment, students answer questions about new pages of One Well. For the end of unit assessment, students compare the main idea and supporting details of two pages of One Well with a new informational text.
  • Targets (CCSS explicitly taught and assessed): RI.3.1, RI.3.2, RI.3.3, RI.3.4, RI.3.7, RI.3.9, SL.3.2, L.3.1a, and L.3.4.
  • Texts: One Well: The Story of Water on Earth, "Access to Freshwater," "Population Growth"


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 of the school day. However, the module intentionally incorporates science content that many teachers may be teaching during other parts of the day. These intentional connections are described below.

Next Generation Science Standards:

Life Science Performance Expectation:

  • 3-LS4-4
  • LS4.D

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, taking responsibility for identifying habits of character they feel will best serve them in the work they do


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.

In this unit, students 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: To prepare for the Unit 1 assessments, consider prioritizing and expanding instruction in Lessons 1, 3, and 4, which introduce the module topic, establish routines for determining main idea and supporting details from text read aloud, and include Language Dives; and Lessons 7-11, which establish routines for comparing and contrasting informational texts and include close reads and Language Dives. If necessary, consider placing less focus and condensing instruction in Lesson 2 and 6, which provide helpful background, practice, and repetition but don't introduce as many new concepts. However, in Lesson 6, be sure to prioritize the Language Dive.
  • Language Dives: All students participate in Language Dives in Lessons 3, 4, 6, 7, and 9. These Language Dives support ELLs and all students in deconstructing, reconstructing, and practicing the meaning and structures of sentences from One Well: The Story of Water on Earth. Refer to the Tools page for additional information on Language Dives.
  • Conversation Cues: Encourage productive and equitable conversation with Goals 1-4 Conversation Cues (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 additional information on Conversation Cues.
  • 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 the topics of water, water access, and water pollution throughout One Well and other informational texts. Be sensitive to students' experiences and perspectives on these topics and foster inclusive action by creating space for students to express their feelings about issues embedded in the text, 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.
  • Parts of Speech: The Language Dives in the unit support students' understanding of the parts of speech by focusing on a different part of speech in each Language Dive. Encourage students to notice parts of speech and describe their function in various sentences discussed throughout the unit. Students review the Parts of Speech anchor chart introduced in Module 1 and add to it during the Language Dives and throughout the unit.
  • Determining main idea and supporting details from text read aloud: Beginning in Lesson 2 of this unit, students listen to text read aloud to determine the main idea and supporting details. Although students have determined the main idea and supporting details many times in previous modules, this is the first time they do so with text read aloud. If possible, consider practicing this skill with students in other areas of the school day as well, and with texts that are familiar. This will provide students with a better ability to apply this skill during module lessons, minimizing cognitive overload.
  • Comparing and contrasting informational texts: In the second half of the unit, students compare and contrast the main ideas and supporting details of two texts in preparation for the end of unit assessment. There is a gradual release of support as students move from doing this as a whole group, to working in pairs, and finally working independently on the end of unit assessment. Be aware that some ELLs may need continued modeling and thinking aloud of the process of comparing and contrasting texts to ensure their success on the assessment. Allow ELLs to process their ideas orally and invite them to compare and contrast familiar and concrete examples as often as possible.
  • 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
Water Dance
by Thomas Locker
1 per class
ISBN: 9780152163969
One Well: The Story of Water on Earth
by Rochelle Strauss
1 per student
ISBN: 9781553379546

Preparation and Materials

  • Prepare the materials for the Infer the Topic protocol in Lesson 1.
  • The following is an outline of the work students complete in each component of Additional Language and Literacy (ALL) Block in this unit:
    • 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 One Well: The Story of Water on Earth 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.

Technology and Multimedia

  • Project Wet - Additional reading and research: Students read additional texts about the importance of conserving water.
  • The Water ProjectAdditional reading and research: Students read additional texts and view videos about the water cycle.
  • EPA Water Sense Kids: Simple Ways to Save WaterAdditional reading and research: Students read additional information about saving water.
  • Water Use it Wisely: 100+ Ways to Conserve WaterAdditional reading and research: Students read additional texts about saving water.
  • Prezi - Creating a multimedia presentation: Students use Prezi to create their multimedia presentations instead of slideshow software.

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


Invite members of the community, family members, or teachers to come into the classroom to share their experience of issues related to water.


  • Invite a person from the Department of Water to come into the classroom and discuss with the students the efforts being made to keep the state or city's water accessible, clean, and conserved.
  • Invite members of a water conservation group to come in and share their work to preserve local water sources.


  • Go to a water treatment center and investigate how water is cleaned.
  • Go to a local stream or river with an expert naturalist to explore how pollution has affected a local site.
  • Measure and monitor pollution at a local water resource.


  • Adopt a local stream.
  • Create water issue fliers about each challenge to water for students to distribute locally at various sites: grocery stores, gas stations, libraries, etc.
  • Participate in water pollution cleanup opportunities around a local water resource.
  • Fund-raise for an access-to -water project.

Extension opportunities for students seeking more challenge:

Invite students to find additional text- or web-based materials to support their research of possible solutions.

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