Using Writing to Entertain | EL Education Curriculum

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In this unit, students apply the research they have completed (in Unit 2) about their expert group animal and its defense mechanisms to write a choose-your-own-adventure narrative about their animal as part of their performance task for this module. Students begin this unit by reading a mentor literary text, Can You Survive the Wilderness? by Matt Doeden, as a class. This text introduces them to the format of a choose-your-own-adventure. Students hone their writing skills through practicing with a class model based on the millipede. For the mid-unit assessment, students plan for and draft the introduction to their own narratives. Then, through mini lessons and peer critique, they continue to revise their writing. Finally, in the end of unit assessment, students write the second choice ending of their narrative on demand, and then combine this with their first choice ending to create their final performance task in a choose-your-own-adventure format. 

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 these links are single images of each animal; video and slideshow 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 plan and write a first draft introduction to a narrative text (mid-unit assessment). Students write a conclusion to a narrative text (end of unit assessment).
  • Targets: RI.4.9, W.4.3, W.4.4, W.4.9b, W.4.10, L.4.1d, L.4.2a, L.4.2b, L.4.2d, L.4.2a,b,d, L.4.3a, L.4.3b, L.4.3c, L.4.3a-c, L.4.6
  • Text: Selections from Can You Survive the Wilderness? by Matt Doeden and "Powerful Polly" written by EL Education for instructional purposes. 


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 inerms 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 3 assessments, consider prioritizing and expanding instruction in Lessons 2-5, and 8-10, which establish the fundamentals of close reading and researching, and writing the introduction and body of an informative piece. Be sure to complete the Language Dive in Lesson 7. 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 revision process will be critical for ELLs.
  • Language Dives: ELLs can participate in an optional Language Dive in Lesson 7. This Dive supports students in writing introductions for their narrative texts. 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.
  • Goals 1-3 Conversation Cues: Continue to encourage productive and equitable conversation with Goals 1-3 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 Unit 2, 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 instruction and the classroom itself. Be particularly sensitive to the "adventurer in danger" scenario in this unit, as some ELLs may have had recent, traumatic, treacherous experiences in the wilderness. Make the most of student background as they develop animal character profiles in this unit, infusing the character with unique cultural perspective.
  • Language Processing: Give ELLs sufficient time to think about what they want to say before they share with other students or write. Encourage them to discuss with a partner what they want to write before they begin writing. Invite them to verbally summarize with a partner what they have written after they have written it.
  • Language Standards: ELLs may make language errors beyond the CCSS Language Standards addressed in this unit. Consider pointing out these errors and providing resources for students to correct them, e.g., conversation with a proficient speaker, grammar website, exemplar writing samples. Focus on those errors that impede comprehension, those that disturb proficient speakers, those that the student identifies, and those that are most frequent.
  • Vocabulary: ELLs will be exposed to a lot of new vocabulary. Support vocabulary acquisition by exploring the collocations for each vocabulary word (how it is frequently grouped with other words, e.g., characteristics is often characteristics of or have distinguishing characteristics). Have them categorize new vocabulary in the vocabulary log, e.g., "sensory details," "transitional words," or "language to describe narrative characteristics."
  • 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
Can You Survive the Wilderness?
by Matt Doeden
1 per class
ISBN: 9781429679961

Preparation and Materials

Animal Defenses Research Notebook and Expert Group Animal Research Notebook

During this unit, students will need to reference the research notes they completed during Units 1 and 2 to write their narrative piece about their expert group animal. It will be important for students to access both research notebooks during these lessons to include the facts and details from their research in their final performance task. 

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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