Using Writing to Inform | EL Education Curriculum

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In this second unit, students research their expert group animal and its defense mechanisms. Close reading of informational texts and web pages about their expert group animal prepares students for the mid-unit assessment, in which they cite evidence, determine the main idea, and then summarize and organize their research. In the second half of the unit, students synthesize information from their research by writing an informative piece detailing their expert group animal's physical characteristics, habitat, predators, and defense mechanisms. This piece serves as the introduction to their performance task, a choose-your-own-adventure narrative, written in Unit 3. Their research in this unit will also serve as a resource for writing narratives with scientifically accurate details in the following unit.

As of February 15, 2019, the website is no longer available. This website is used as a resource in Grade 4, Module 2 of the Module Lessons and ALL Block. You can still access content, texts, and images, using the links below. These links are archived versions of the original content, text, and images that were found on

Please note that some of these links contain just single images of each animal; videos and slideshows could not be captured in the archiving process.

We will post any new updates here.



Big Ideas & Guiding Questions

  • How do animals' bodies and behaviors help them survive?
  • To protect themselves from predators, animals use different defense mechanisms.
  • How can writers use knowledge from their research to inform and entertain?
  • Writers use scientific knowledge and research to inform and entertain. 

The Four Ts

  • Topic: Students continue to learn about animal defense mechanisms. They focus in on a particular animal during this unit, which they research in expert groups.
  • Task: Students read new informational texts and answer selected and short response questions about them (mid-unit assessment). Students write an informative essay about pufferfish (end of unit assessment).
  • Targets: CCSS explicitly taught and assessed: RI.4.1, RI.4.2, RI.4.9, RI.4.10, W.4.2a, W.4.2b, W.4.2d, W.4.2e, W.4.4, W.4.7, W.4.8, W.4.9b, W.4.10, L.4.1c, L.4.2a, L.4.2c, L.4.2d, L.4.3a.
  • Text: Web pages from the website describing the defense mechanisms of the expert group animals and "Fight to Survive!"


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 Science content that may align to additional teaching during other parts of the day. These intentional connections are described below.


Note: also consider using EL's 4th grade Life Science Module, a separate resource that includes approximately 24 hours of science instruction. This life science module explicitly addresses 4th grade NGSS life science standards, and naturally extends the learning from this ELA module.

Next Generation Science Standards  

Life Science Performance Expectation: 

  • 4-LS1-1: Construct an argument that plants and animals have internal and external structures that function to support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction.
    • LS1.A: Structure and Function: Plants and animals have both internal and external structures that serve various functions in growth, survival, behavior, and reproduction. (4-LS1-1)

Habits of Character/Social-Emotional Learning Focus

In this module, students work to become effective learners: develop the mindsets and skills for success in college, career, and life (e.g., initiative, responsibility, perseverance, collaboration). 


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.

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 2 assessments, consider prioritizing and expanding instruction in Lessons 2-5, and 8-10, which establish the fundamentals of close reading, Language Dives, and researching, and writing the introduction and body of an informative piece. If necessary, consider placing less focus and condensing instruction in Lessons 1, 7, and 11-12, which provide valuable background, revision concepts, practice, and repetition, but don't introduce as many concepts that enable students to begin writing. Note, however, that the process of revising is critical for ELLs; try to at least touch on it in this unit and then go more deeply in subsequent units. 
  • Language Dives: ELLs can participate in an optional Language Dive in Lesson 8. This Dive reinforces a sentence and language structure they were introduced to in Unit 1. It is the second part of two connected Language Dives in Units 1 and 2: Part I, in Unit 1, Lesson 7, guided students to deconstruct, reconstruct and practice the structures of a main idea statement for a summary. Part II, in Unit 2, guides students to use the same language structures as a model for writing a focus statement for an informative piece. Many lessons also include optional Mini Language Dives for ELLs. To maximize language practice and accommodate time, consider dividing or reviewing each Language Dive over multiple lessons. Beginning in module 2 and going forward, create a "Language Chunk Wall"--an area in the classroom where students can display and categorize the academic phrases discussed in the Language Dive. At the end of each Language Dive, students are invited to place the Language Dive sentence strip chunks on the Language Chunk Wall into corresponding categories, such as "Nouns and noun phrases" or "Linking language." Consider color-coding each category. Examples: blue for nouns and subjects; purple for pronouns; red for predicates and verbs; yellow for adjectives; and green for adverbs. See each Language Dive for suggested categories. Students can then refer to the wall during subsequent speaking and writing tasks. For more information on Language Dives and supporting ELLs, see the Tools page.
  • Goal 3 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). See the Tools page for the complete set of cues. Goal 3 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 investigate animal defense mechanisms. Take time to draw out students' prior experiences and associations with the animals introduced in this module if students are comfortable sharing. Some students may have ties to or experience with the countries of origin of the animals.
  • Language Processing: Give ELLs sufficient time to think about what they want to say before they share with other students or write.
  • Evidence and Intellectual Property: To some ELLs, the concept of locating and citing evidence may seem strange or overemphasized. Copyright laws in the United States are different from the laws in some countries. Make sure students demonstrate that they know that citing evidence is an important part of supporting claims as well as giving credit in the United States.
  • Reading: Gist, Main Idea, Details: Some ELLs may struggle to distinguish between the gist, main idea, and supporting details in a text. See the lesson-specific supports for additional guidance.
  • Writing: The conventional Writing Process and five-paragraph structure will be unfamiliar and challenging for some ELLs. Question what you think students know, and see the numerous lesson-specific supports for suggestions.
  • Independent and Dependent Clauses: Begin conversations about the structure of English compound and complex sentences. Ask students how they compare with their home languages. Once students understand the components of and differences between an independent and dependent clause, they can make huge gains in writing clearly.
  • Celebration: Celebrate the courage, enthusiasm, diversity, and bilingual skills 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
by Marilyn Singer
1 per class
ISBN: 9781467749091

Preparation and Materials

Expert Group Animal research notebook

In Lessons 1-11, students use an Expert Group Animal research notebook to record notes and observations about their expert group animal.  

  • Three-banded armadillo
  • Springbok gazelle
  • Ostrich
  • Monarch butterfly (see the module overview document for details related to research on butterflies across grades 4 and 5).  

Students use this research notebook in Lessons 7-11 when they plan, write, revise, and edit their informational pieces of the final performance task. They also refer to it throughout Unit 3 as they work on their narrative pieces of the final performance task.  

In advance, consider preparing the Expert Group Animal research notebook (in Lesson 1) as a copied and stapled packet. In addition, consider providing students with a research folder for use throughout the module. This will help students keep their materials (research notebooks, texts, writing) organized and in one place.

Each lesson contains examples of completed pages of the Expert Group Animal research notebook for teacher reference.

The Informational Texts anchor chart is introduced in this unit and referred to throughout the module and the school year.

Technology and Multimedia

  • Google Docs - Create collaborative online word-processing docs and spreadsheets in folders. 
    • Consider creating the research notebooks in Google Docs for students to complete online.
    • Consider creating the Expert Group Animal research notebook in Google Docs for students to complete online. To do this, create folders for each expert group animal. Within those folders, create a folder for each student and convert each page of the research notebook to a Google Doc. A Google Form could also be used for the Web Page research guide, in which students answer questions after closely reading the text. Consider creating collaborative expert group documents--for example, the KWEL chart. See the suggested file organization hierarchy below:
    • Class
      • Folder: Expert Group
      • Folder: Student 1
      • Folder: Expert Group Animal research notebook
      • File: Gist chart
      • File: Web Page research guide
      • File: Organizing Research note-catcher 
      • Folder: Student 2
      • Folder: Student 3
      • Folder: Student 4
      • File: Expert Group Animal KWEL chart
    • Informative text about the expert group animal: Consider having students write their informative text on a Google Doc so both you and they are able to access and edit their work online. 
  • Padlet - Create online notice boards / anchor charts that you can add notes to. 
    • Create digital word walls: Academic Word Wall and Domain-Specific Word Wall. 
  • Seesaw - Create student learning portfolios to share with other students, families, and the teacher. 
    • Students can create work or take pictures of their work on this app that can be accessed by the teacher or by families.

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 a number of English language learners speaking the same home language, invite family members to come into the classroom to talk with ELLs about their expert group animal and their narratives in their home language.


  • Invite an expert from the local zoo/wildlife conservation organization to come in and speak with students about animal defense mechanisms.
  • Have a professional writer visit the class to discuss the writing process. Ask the writer to share how he or she researches topics to write about.


  • Visit the local zoo or wildlife/animal park to observe animal defense mechanisms and students?expert group animals in action for additional research to inform writing.


  • Find out about organizations working to protect students' expert group animals and their habitats. Get involved in helping/promoting this organization.
  • Share narratives with the local zoo. Perhaps they can be displayed or used for classes.

Extension Opportunities for students seeking more challenge:

  • Choose an animal to conduct a deeper study of: Compare and contrast different species and their defenses.
  • Create a food web for different animals to explore the relationships between predators and prey.
  • Read about habitats and ecosystems and the role of individual species in maintaining balance.
  • Collaborate with the art teacher to teach students how to create scientific drawings of different animals and their defense mechanisms.
  • Conduct hands-on science experiments and demonstrations. Note: The goal of the lessons in this unit is for students to build scientific knowledge while becoming better readers. These lessons do not fully address science content standards, nor do they replace hands-on, inquiry-based science.
  • Ask students to conduct additional research on their expert group animal with additional texts or websites. Expand the web research that students engage in to include an open search and evaluation of online resources. Teach students to evaluate the reliability of these resources.
  • Have students create a third choice ending for their narratives.
  • Have students read aloud or perform their narratives for the class.

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