Building Literacy in a Collaborative Classroom: Toys and Play | EL Education Curriculum

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Building Literacy in a Collaborative Classroom: Toys and Play

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In this module, students build their literacy and citizenship skills as they engage in a study of toys and play. In Unit 1, students consider norms and behaviors for sharing toys and interacting with peers through structured conversations, learning experiences such as role-play and guided discovery of toys, and an analysis of the text Llama Llama Time to Share by Anna Dewdney.

In Unit 2, students learn more about toys as they consider what makes something a toy and what makes toys fun. They learn to sort and describe toys by specific attributes. They also begin to think about perspective as they discuss and write about their own toy preferences, using language and ideas from the text Toys Galore by Peter Stein.

In Unit 3, students deepen their understanding of perspective as they read the text Have Fun, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell. Students also learn about toys from a historical perspective using the text Playing with Friends: Comparing Past and Present by Rebecca Rissman. As a culmination of the unit, students interview a classmate about his or her preferred classroom toy. They use the information from the interview to create their performance task: an informational piece of writing and drawing about their classmate's preferred toy and how the classmate likes to play with it. This performance task centers on CCSS ELA W.K.2, W.K.8, L.K.2c, and L.K.2d.

Guiding Questions and Big Ideas

  • What can we do to make playing together fun?
    • People can learn to play and work together through cooperation.
  • What makes toys fun?
    • Using your imagination makes toys fun.
  • Which classroom toy do I prefer? Why do I prefer that classroom toy?
    • Everyone has preferences and reasons for their preferences.
  • What toys do others prefer? Why do they prefer them?
    • Different people prefer different toys for different reasons.

The Four Ts

  • Topic: Toys and play
  • Task: Informational writing describing a classmate's toy preference
  • Targets (CCSS explicitly taught and assessed): RL.K.1, RL.K.7, W.K.1, W.K.8, SL.K.1, S.L.K.3
  • Texts: Llama Llama Time to Share; Toys Galore; Playing with Friends; Have Fun, Molly Lou Melon

Content Connections

This module is designed to address English Language Arts standards and to be taught during the integrated literacy block of the school day. The module also intentionally incorporates social studies content that many teachers across the nation are expected to address in first grade. These intentional connections are described below. (Based on your state or district context, teachers may also choose to address additional specific social studies or science standards during other parts of the school day.)

C3 Framework for Social Studies:

  • D2.Civ.9.K-2: Follow agreed-upon rules for discussions while responding attentively to others when addressing ideas and making decisions as a group.
  • D2.Civ.10.K-2: Compare their own point of view with others' perspectives.
  • D2.Civ.11.K-2: Explain how people can work together to make decisions in the classroom.

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 module, students work to become ethical people by treating others well.


Each unit in the K-2 Language Arts Curriculum has one standards-based assessment built in. 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.

Performance Task

Describing a Classmate's Toy Preference

This performance task gives students an opportunity to showcase their deepened understanding of perspective through an informational writing piece about a classmate's preferred classroom toy. In this task, students use the information they gathered from interviewing a classmate to learn about his or her preferred classroom toy and how the classmate likes to play with that toy as a basis for their informational writing. Students first draw and label their classmate's preferred toy and add a sentence to accompany their drawing. Students then create a drawing with accompanying labels to show how their classmate likes to play with the preferred toy. Finally, students add a sentence to accompany this drawing. The entire task is scaffolded through heavy teacher guidance and modeling. (The format of this task should be somewhat familiar to students, since the Unit 2 assessment has a similar drawing and writing format and requires students to produce an informational piece of writing about their own preferred classroom toy.) Students share their written pieces with their classmates, the principal, and other classroom visitors during an end of module celebration. This task addresses CCSS ELA W.K.2, W.K.8, L.K.2c, and L.K.2d.


See each Unit Overview for a list of any unusual physical materials required (such as puppets or props) for module lessons.

Texts and Resources to Buy

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

Text or Resource Quantity ISBNs
Playing with Friends
by Rebecca Rissman
One per classroom
ISBN: 9781432990275
Toys Galore
by Peter Stein
One per classroom
ISBN: 9780763662547
Have Fun, Molly Lou Melon
by Patty Lovell
Six per classroom
ISBN: 9780399254062
Llama Llama Time to Share
by Anna Dewdney
Six per classroom
ISBN: 9780670012336


Each module is approximately 6-8 weeks of instruction broken into 3 units. The "week at a glance" chart in the curriculum map gives the big picture, breaking down the module into a detailed week-by-week view. It shows how the module unfolds, the focus of each week of instruction, and where the six assessments and the performance task occur.


Labs are 1 hour of instruction per day. They are designed to promote student proficiency and growth.

There are 5 distinct Labs: Explore, Engineer, Create, Imagine, and Research. Each of the Labs unfolds across an entire module and takes place in four stages: Launch, Practice, Extend, and Choice and Challenge.

During their Lab time, students break up into smaller Lab groups and go to separate workstations (tables or other work spaces around the classroom). This structure creates a small collaborative atmosphere in which students will work throughout their Labs experience. It also supports the management of materials (since each workstation has its own materials).

Connections to the Labs

Released along with this module is a separate package called Labs. This 60-minute block of daily instruction provides primary students with the opportunity to apply and enhance their module content, habits of character, and literacy skills through arts, dramatic play, building, and other hands-on experiences. There are four Labs for the first kindergarten module: Create, Explore, Imagine, and Engineer. The Labs are directly connected to the content of the module and should be implemented alongside the integrated lessons.

Labs for this module focus on having students:

  • Learn to take care classroom materials
  • Build social-emotional skills through playing and collaborating with classmates
  • Practice drawing toys using details and shapes to build fine motor skills
  • Problem-solve through engineering challenges to create toys
  • Reinforce vocabulary and content knowledge through exploration of toys

Connections to the Reading Foundations Skills Block

The Reading Foundations Skills Block is an hour of instruction that teaches students how to crack the alphabetic code. This block supports reading and writing conventions necessary for student success in the Integrated Reading Block, covering all Reading Foundations Standards and the Language Standards associated with spelling. Research and Standards-based instructional practices are designed to support teachers as they teach students how to read, write, and analyze words. Built-in instructional supports and resources provide teacher guidance for differentiation in both the Whole and Small Group settings based on each students' Phase of Reading and Spelling Development. The Skills Block includes one hour of instruction: 15-20 minutes of Whole Group and 45 minutes of Differentiated Small Group instruction.

Skills Block lessons for this module focus on having students:

  • Learn and practice concepts of print: reading left to right, up and down, and pointing to each word as it is read aloud
  • Identify words that rhyme
  • Listen for the beats (syllables) in words
  • Identify the name, shape, and sound of letters

Refer to each unit overview for more detailed information regarding that unit, including information about what to prepare in advance and extension opportunities.


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