Getting to the Core of the ELA Common Core

Many educators in the public,  private, and homeschool settings get a bit frazzled when the words, “Common Core Standards” are mentioned.  My goal for this post is to break down the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts in the primary elementary grades; into bite size pieces.  By doing this, we can better understand the scope and sequence of these standards and use that knowledge to benefit our students.  Think of it this way, if I owned a fruit stand and there was another fruit stand just around the corner it is, “good business” to understand the workings of that stand as well as my own.  This way I can make informed and educated decisions about my own fruit stand!

I know for myself, I was very pleasantly surprised to see that the approach our family took to homeschooling not only met, but exceeded the standards in many areas.  In addition, I also saw one area that I needed to increase my students’ exposure.  I am not using the CCSS to develop my,  “Early Writers’ Quest” class.  I want to use these standards to look and see how I can make this class even better.

Let’s peel back the layers and see what we find!  Keep in mind that these are the basics!  For more specific information see  Under the English Language Arts layer we find:  Reading Literature, Reading Informational Texts, Reading Foundational Skills, Writing, Language, Speaking and Listening.

Reading Literature: Fiction, nonfiction, informational, persuasive, narrative,  and poetry

  • Displaying comprehension of complex texts with questioning, retelling, determining central themes, and author intentions for writing.
  • Demonstrating knowledge of key literary terms, concepts of story structure, and points of view of characters.
  • Using prior knowledge blended with information gained from text,  illustrations, and digital sources to interpret and/or compare multiple texts.

Reading Informational Text:  Across all content areas

  • Expressing understanding by both asking and answering questions pertaining to key information and main topics in text.
  • Identifying main purpose of text as well as connections between historical events, scientific concepts and technical procedures.
  • Evaluating and interpreting diagrams, maps, and illustrations as they pertain to the text and to prior knowledge.

Reading Foundational Skills:  Phonics, word recognition, and fluency

  • Applying grade-level appropriate knowledge of phonics and word analysis.
  • Reading with accuracy and fluency to aid in comprehension.
  • Using context to confirm word recognition or apply self-correction or rereading for comprehension clarification.

Writing:  Fiction, nonfiction, informational, persuasive, narrative, and poetry

  • Enhancing prior knowledge by researching to strengthen the writing process and to develop evidence for author’s purpose in writing.
  • Collaborating with peers and teachers in the pre-writing, writing, and editing stages.
  • Using digital tools for collaboration, editing, and publication.

Language:  Conventions and mechanics

  • Demonstrating understanding of grammar and word usage when writing or speaking.
  • Expressing English standards for capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
  • Ability to use reference materials such as dictionary for clarification of spelling, definitions, or selection of alternate words when writing.

Speaking and Listening:  Comprehension, collaboration, and oral expression of knowledge

  • Participating in discussions over content that has been read or heard.
  • Collaborating with peers or adults for the purpose of giving or getting feedback on written work or oral presentation.
  • Using digital tools for production of oral presentation or interpretation of digital information.

Many of the Common Core Standards are very intentional about incorporating technology into each facet.  This is becoming more and more important for our 21st-Century students!  We have heard that many jobs of the future will look very different from jobs and careers of the present.  These 21st-century jobs will require critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, problem solving, media and technology literacies.  This was the area that I needed to be more intentional about educating myself as well as my students.  In the past I have not done much to incorporate technology into my family’s course work nor that of my Literature, Grammar, or Writing classes.  In the primary elementary grades I will be suggesting to my students’ parents to incorporate keyboarding into their curriculum.  If we are going to be asking our students to use desktop computers or laptops to complete assignments this will be a beneficial skill to help them on their way to becoming independent writers.  Do your research and find a curriculum that fits your student and your family.   Here are some suggestions:

Essential Guide to Teaching Keyboarding in 45 Minutes a Week: K-8 Curriculum   

Dr. Fry’s Keyboarding for Beginners 

Typing Instructor for Kids Platinum                                                                                                         

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Free Online Programs:

Free Online Typing Course

Peter’s Online Typing Course

There is also a blog that I have found incredibly helpful when I have questions about anything having to do with technology.  This will be a good place to keep in mind as the year progresses and we potentially want to incorporate things like blogging, digital story telling,  podcasting, and maybe even book trailers!

My roles in the field of education have reached a pretty full spectrum; from public school teacher, homeschool mom, homeschool co-op teacher, public school parent, homeschool consultant,  private educational therapist, and tutor.  My goal for this post was to look at the Common Core State Standards just as we would the scope and sequence for a curriculum or a text-book series.  As teachers of our children, it is good to understand the world going on around us.  Let’s set the stage for great learning communities that work and grow together.  We can do this by realizing that we will always be students; learning from each other…and from our kids!



Leapin’ into Lit Chats!


We’ve spent the last month really getting a grip on fiction and nonfiction texts that are out there and how we might be able to partner them together. We can think of it as the ‘mix and match’ concept with books. Now let’s take a detailed look on how we can use our time with these books more intentionally with our kids.

This fall your students will be participating something called the Literature Circle. This is done using a mentor text which students will visit more than once taking time to pull out different bits and pieces of good stuff. Students will either have the option to select a job or they may be assigned a role to play.  There are lots of different kinds of jobs to pick from, here are just a few.


These roles have a clear connection to the skills that we want them to develop. They target deeper thinking skills like making inferences, public speaking and also work toward growing collaboration with their peers. The collaboration is critical as they will take time to work on their own piece of the Literature Circle and then return to share what they have found.

To best develop these skills necessary to do each job well, students need ample opportunity to practice each role. That’s where the ‘Lit Chat’ comes into play at home. When families share a book together or are reading a variety of texts on the same topic this is a great tool to initiate additional discussion as well as working toward deeper comprehension.

Let’s see how that might look! What if your household is reading some combination of texts on World War II such as; Twenty and Ten by Claire Huchet Bishop, Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, and The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. Students at a variety of levels can bring to the ‘Lit Chat’ information that their text includes. A Discussion Director might raise a question such as, “What was life like for those who were hiding in your text?” “Who was hiding in your text and why?” The Passage Picker might share a specific passage that was meaningful to them and explain why it touched them. The Connector might seek to find a way to connect the ideas or concepts given with the different texts. A Word Wizard might ask questions that lead to further research or investigation for specific vocabulary like concentration camp, Nazi or invasion to look for answers in other resources.

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By using a ‘Lit Chat’ technique at home students will get the opportunity to practice these collaborative skills and collect additional information that was not in their own text. Also, when students are interacting with their own text in such an intentional way their comprehension of the text will be greater.  A casual ‘Lit Chat‘ may take place toward the end of the day around the dinner table when ideas can be shared, illustrations maybe displayed and new questions can be raised.  If you want more structure to your ‘Lit Chat’ a graphic organizer might help.  The Venn Diagram makes it easy to pick a specific detail, event or character in each text and then compare.  KWL charts give students an opportunity to discuss prior knowledge and build on from that foundation as they drink in more information with their “wonderings” and “discoveries”.

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There are many resources available on the concepts of Literature Circles and Graphic Organizers.

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I was incredibly blessed to see Jeff Anderson, author of 10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know , speak and hear first hand just how fun grammar and writing can become when given good directions and the right tools!  Be sure to check him out!  Lynne Dorfman and Rose Cappelli share lots of details and information in Mentor Texts: Teaching Writing Through Children’s Literature, K-6.  They are passionate about using books as mentor texts which encourage readers to get all that they can from each and every book they read.

In addition, these are powerful resources that make a connection between students, books and writing.  I really appreciate the site as it will help you find books that are of a specific topic or genre that your students enjoy.  Put in your student interests, select a genre and you will get suggested books in return! (Good for moms too!)                                

Hope you all are taking time for,  JOURNAL FOR FIVE !  Remember that we need to show our kids that we are ALL writers.  Everything from notes to Grandma to the grocery list on the frig is considered writing.

Looking ahead to August:  Getting to the Core of the Common Core Standards.  We all love measuring and marking our kids on the closet wall just to revel in their growth.  Understanding the CCSS will help us to see the bench marks that we should be shooting for in their education.  Take a look at as you begin making plans for this coming fall.




Puttin’ the “Flesh on Nonfiction”

I just love the idea of finding fictional  texts to partner together with nonfiction in order to  put “flesh on nonfiction”. Many students struggle with reading their text books and other nonfiction texts because they may find them dry and unappealing.  By partnering texts, we can direct students to hunt for the similarities and differences.  With time, students will see where inferences were made and where authors may have “taken a few liberties”.  We ask students to write reports, stories and essays based on the knowledge they have gained through reading and observation.  By traveling in the footsteps of other authors who have researched topics prior to writing a narrative text, they can see just how important the details found in nonfiction can add weight and depth to their writing.

So, how do we get started finding some of that good flesh?  Let’s jump in by looking at excellent fiction mentor texts.  A mentor text can be any book that we read multiple times for a variety of reasons.  Our first read may be for pure enjoyment of the text.  Our second and subsequent reads will be developing our  “wonderings”.  This happens when a mentor texts raises more curiosities and questions in our minds.  We will start with, The Story of Ruby Bridges, a nonfiction award winner by author Robert Coles.  This is a wonderful telling of a time when racial tensions in the United States were at their highest.  This young brave girl and her family would bring change to our nation.  As you read this text with your students, draw out their feelings, thoughts and “wonderings”.  After a second read, decide what other ideas or questions you might want to dig for a deeper understanding.  Was Ruby the only child who went through this kind of experience?  Was it like this all over our country?  Is this still a problem our nation struggles with today?  Next enters fiction text, Amazing Grace, by author Mary Hoffman who gives us a very different perspective of racial relations and how love and compassion can give us a very different view!

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There are other valuable written and visual sources available such as graphs, charts, newspapers and magazines.  Sources for these types of nonfiction information might be found by searching Bing or Google.  Helpful websites such as the Library of Congress (Teacher Section)  or Library of America will also be excellent places to find more “flesh”.

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This same method of study and discovery can be used all across our studies.  Whether considering your studies in science, math, literature, or history, there are valuable “wonderings” to be pursued!  For example, these mentor texts are wonderful when studying westward expansion. The Camping Trip that Changed America by Barb Rosenstock, Locomotive by award winner Brian Floca or Off Like the Wind by Michael Spradlin.

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Encourage students to look for current nonfiction sources that they can collect.  Their findings may be of historical significance in the future!  Anything from newspaper articles, magazines, flyers, restaurant menus, recipes, brochures and maps can help mark our place in history!  Collecting these and adding them to your writer’s journal can make a great springboard for your Journal for Five entries.  Highlight your favorite stops on the zoo map, write a restaurant review to go with the restaurant menu, or comment on a brochure and what other information should have been included!  All these are samples of nonfiction writing…we all need to realize that writing happens in all shapes and sizes!

Would love to hear about the “wonderings” of your summer and what kinds of “flesh” you can find for the nonfiction that you discover!


The Nonfiction Niche

One of the challenges when working with nonfiction is trying to confirm the accuracy of the text.  Many of our students find it difficult to get excited about nonfiction and that is why text selection is so critical.  Powerful illustrations and word phrases can go a long way to snatch a reader’s attention.

eat your math

This tasty text is a treat for all those who love math…and even for those who don’t!  This is a rainy day morsel when there is nothing to do but origami and cooking!  Whether it is the “Tessellating Brownies” or the “Variable Pizza Pi” you won’t be able to keep the kids from being amused by math.  The “Kitchen Tips” are also great information for all entry level chefs!  Author Ann McCallum shares lots of other math and science tidbits on her website.

The Fate of the Yellow Woodbee gives readers a different worldview!  A missionary’s call unfolded that is full of adventure and danger.  How do you reach into another world to share the truth?  This text is full of information about Nate Saint and what happened when the Waorani culture collided with the modern world.  This has great potential for an Alpha Box exercise or a RAN chart.  These authors, Dave and Neta Jackson,  share exactly where their text strays from fact in attempt to create a more concise telling of the events.  Other texts by these authors:  Listen for the Whippoowill: Harriet Tubman and Kidnapped by River Rats:  William and Catherine Booth

fate of yellow

A beneficial way to confirm accuracy is by using partner texts when doing research.  Consider a few of these as examples.  Periodicals are an incredible resource that should never be forgotten!

untitled (31)                             kids discover glaciers

What is it like to live in Alaska?  Just what do kids do for fun? Text partners: Recess at 20 Below and Kids Discover: Glaciers (Volume 17, Issue 7) cover much of the same content and give students opportunity to confirm facts that are presented.    These great texts show all kinds of chilly thrills!   Use them together to make great Double-Entry Journal possibility or perhaps the Venn diagram.  Pictures in both of these texts will “snow” blow you away!  Another book by  author, photographer and special education teacher Cindy Lou Aillaud is Everybody Plays! How Kids With Visual Impairments Play Sports .

 I Grew up to be President contains fact filled mini-biographies of all 44 presidents.  This partnered with Kids Discover: The Presidency (Volume 18, Issue 9) can be the launching point for Alpha Boxes or the creations of a Venn diagram comparing two presidents or comparing themselves to their favorite president.  Be sure to check out author Laurie Calhoven!

kids discover the presidency                                         I grew up to be president


This delightful duo is wonderful for the naturalist in the group!  The illustrations in,   If You Hold a Seed  by Elly MacKay are so very unique!  Something magical happens when you plant a seed and follow it through the seasons of change.   This simplistic text can easily be partnered with,           The Magic School Bus: Plant Seeds to create a timeline of sorts that shows the pollination of a seed through the growth of a plant at each season of the year!

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Don’t forget your Journal for Five time!  Remember one of the best teaching tools is modeling!  We want to be a good role model for our students of the behavior we want to see in them.

Read often!  Write often! 

Share your great finds and your inspiring words with those you teach!

A Bevy of Biographies!

The genre of biographies, autobiographies and memoirs often dangle somewhere between fiction and nonfiction. The reason for this is that these texts are based on someone’s ability to remember events of the past. These snapshots of history may cover a lifetime or just one single event. When students interact with this genre they are given an opportunity to view life experiences and see people rising to the challenges placed before them. Using a nonfiction text as a “partner” may help students to confirm the facts found in a single source. This is a great opportunity to Double Journal Entries or even RAN charts.

Be sure to comment and tell us about your favorite biography, autobiography or memoir.  Keep striving to do your Journal For Five!  I would love to hear about your summer adventures, book discoveries and ideas for bringing Biographies back to life through your kids!  Here are a couple of my favorites with a link or two for additional insights!

 miracle mud
Ever had something that you loved so much that you spent all your time thinking about it?  That’s the case for Lena Blackburne and baseball?  He didn’t stop there…he was a problem solver!  Take a look at the discovery he makes and the steps he takes for the sport he loves. Reflect and see if there is an underlying problem in something you love to do.  It might have just such an unfound solution.

what to do about alice

Outrageous Alice!  What is a girl to do when her father is President of the United States and all she wants to do is have adventures?  Her crazy behavior as a youngster  prepares her well to become an ambassador of goodwill!  Compare the lives of this president’s daughter with another using a Venn diagram!  Also by Barbara Kerley The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy).

helen's big world

Helen Keller’s life story is nothing short of amazing.  Students will naturally have “wonderings” about what it was like.  Create with students a RAN chart including headings “What I already know, Exciting new information and “Wonderings about Helen.  Complete the first column as a pre-reading activity and discuss anything about blindness, deafness or Helen that students may already know,  Also by Doreen RappaportMartin’s Big Dream

  Jane was a young girl with a dream…and a stuffed chimpanzee, Jubilee!  Her dreams became a reality!  This Caldecott Honor winner has child-like illustrations which detail the experiences of the young Jane Goodall. Partner this text with Jane Goodall websites to create a Double-Journal Entry with headings Facts I connect with, What it makes me think and How I feel about this.

a wizard from the startme jane

School isn’t for everyone!  Young Tom Edison was a boy who never quite fit within the structure of the classroom.  A supportive mother encouraged him at home to chase down all his wonderings!  Make comparative timelines of the crazy antics and discoveries of Thomas Edison and begin to create with your students a timeline of their own lives.  Also by author:  America is Under Attack:  September 11, 2001: The Day the Towers Fell

On a quest for poetry!

Every couple of weeks I will try to help us focus on a different genre of literature. While we all have our favorites, we do need to encourage our young writers to expand their horizons as readers. So, my challenge to you is when you head to the library each week or so check in with your friendly librarian. From my experience they are always happy to join in a quest for literature.

I guess I never thought of becoming a writer, but I do love to read! The Little Red Hen was on the right track when encouraging others to be part of each phase when creating something. By attempting to write poetry we can have a greater appreciation of the work or “real” poets!

Be sure to “reply” or “comment” and share your favorite poetry findings!

Don’t forget to “Journal for Five”!



Beneath My Swing        by Laura Hempel

Little girls giggle,

Little boys soar,

Each spring upon my swing.                                                                 kids on tree swing

Little toes dangle,

Little feet scurry,

Through grass beneath my swing.

Young girls blossom,

Young boys ripen,

Well-worn grass below my swing.

Young men till soil,

Young women spread seeds,

Grass returns in the shadow of my swing.

Little girls I reminisce,

Little boys I recollect,

Each spring upon my swing.

Fold Me a Poem by Kristine O’Connell George is a delightful choice for poetry on a rainy day. Pick up a companion text on the art of origami and you’ll be all set for a rainy day adventure!  Also by this author:  Toasting Marshmallows-Camping Poems


Be sure to    “Leave a comment” and share your favorite poetry findings!

Don’t forget to “Journal for Five”!     

Truckery Rhymes by: Jon Scieszka gives poetry an “off road” experience! Illustrations in this book give readers a sense of adventure while priming the pump for excellent choral reading opportunities! Also by this author: The True Story of the Three Little Pigs.

Early Writers’ Quest: Parents’ Guide

Welcome to “Early Writers’ Quest” parent guide! This summer I want to introduce you to the world of blogging! In order for us to become effective teachers of writing we need to, “read like a writer and write like a reader”! Here on the EWQ Parents’ Guide you will find suggestions for picture & chapter books, professional articles and suggested summer activities. Be sure to share the highs and lows of your summer reading & writing adventures! This fall your students will become bloggers too!

Books for kids:
Forest Has a Song by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater
A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson
Insectlopedia by Douglas Florian
World Rat Day by Patrick Lewis

Books for moms & dads:
Poems Please! Sharing Poetry with Children by David Booth & Bill Moore
When You’ve Made it your Own: Teaching Poetry to Young People by Gregory Denman

“Journal For Five” time:

Get the kids comfortable with taking a journal along on all your summer adventures.  Journaling can be anything thing from pictures from the day at the beach, rubbings from the bark of a tree at the park, observations made at the museum or highlights/lowlights from the day on the bike path.  Get in the habit of “Journal For Five”.  Be a good role model of writing for at least five minutes a couple of days of the week. Be sure to share with each other what you all have written.  If you find it tough to get going try leading into “Journal For Five”  by reading a poem or short story to get those creative juices flowing!  Feel free to share any of your journal entries on our blog to inspire each other to, “read like a writer and write like a reader”!

On rainy days take time to check out some websites of your favorite authors: or

insectlopedia          kids discover insects

Just imagine what they do!  Creativity of insects in motion united with poetry.  Wonderful word choices and great  variety of poetry writing samples.  Use these poems to springboard into your own favorite discoveries in the great outdoors!  Also by this author:  Summersaults, Autumblings, Winter Eyes and Handsprings.

Discover more interesting details about those little creepy crawly friends of the great outdoors by partnering Insectlopedia with Kids Discover magazine Volume 16 Issue 7 on Insects!