I wanted to share some great work that the second grade team at WT is doing in regards to the “Foundational Skills” and “Language” Standards of the CCSS.  They’ve figured out a way to incorporate teaching the very specific mechanics, grammar & word knowledge that CCSS requires using a quick, daily approach called “Language Boards.”  It’s like the daily warm-up or D.O.L (daily oral language) of yesteryear.

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The Nuts and Bolts of Language Boards:

1.  Designate a spot on a whiteboard that can be used all year for your “Language Boards”

2.  Look through the “Language” and “Foundational Skills” sections of CCSS at your grade level.  Create “stems” for the standards.  “Stems” are what you see in the photos above in blue construction paper.  The “stems” stay the same all year, but the examples below (that students must work through) are what change daily.  For example, one of the first grade Language standards is:  Distinguish shades of meaning among verbs differing in manner (e.g., look, peek, glance, stare, glare, scowl) and adjectives differing in intensity (e.g., large, gigantic) by defining or choosing them or by acting out the meanings.  One could create a stem that says:  Draw a picture of these two words and think about how they are different.  Then, on Monday, the two words could be:  cry, bawl.  On Tuesday: glare, peek.  On Wednesday:  tiny, small.  For third grade, a Language standard is:  Form and use regular and irregular plural nouns.   A language stem for the year might be:  “Read this noun.  Write it’s plural form.  Is it regular or irregular?”

3.  All students have a “Language” notebook where they write their Language work down each day.  Mrs. O said that after six weeks or so, they may change some stems, add some stems etc. so that throughout the year, they cycle back and add new knowledge continually.  Having all the stems pre-made makes it easy to see which ones they’ve taught and which ones they still have left to teach.

4.  After 10-15ish minutes, teachers quickly review the answers as a group54.  Every now and again, as a formative assessment, teachers have students rip out a page from their Language Notebooks and use it to answer the all-important question:  Do they get it?  Is my teaching sticky?  

Why “Language Boards” Work:

1.  They take minimal preparation and can be used throughout the year.  This can be done at any grade;  you just need to look at your grade level standards (here) and modify to meet the requirements.

2.  They are quick.  No teacher should spend hours each day droning on about dangling modifiers or doing meaningless fill-in-the-blank activities that rarely translate to real reading or writing.   A quick shot in the arm (10-15 minutes) of grammar, mechanics and vocabulary is what “Language Boards” supply.

Who Needs Language Boards:

1.  According to CCSS, we all do!  Every grade level has a foundational skills section and a language section.  Look at them as your scope and sequence for teaching grammar, mechanics and word knowledge.  If you haven’t even ventured to these sidebars yet, I won’t tell anyone.  Promise.  These two sections of CCSS are a great guide for figuring out that ACADEMIC LANGUAGE that our students need to know, use, identify and understand.

2.  The structure of “Language Boards” assures that we teach all of our grade level standards by year’s end.  I’m a huge fan of writer’s workshop, but sometimes the nature of “mini-lessons based on student need” can mean that we never actually dig deep into what adjectives are or how to divide up words into syllables or the power of verbs.  “Language Boards” occur, then, outside of the workshop framework, although the skills should translate into real writing.  A great way to use “Language Boards” is during transition times like:   first thing in the morning, right after lunch or following recess.

2.  ELLs benefit greatly from explicit instruction in the way our language works.  Recently, I asked a second grade EL student what a verb was.  Stumped, he tentatively replied:  “A, E, I, O, U?”  Hhhmm, Verb/Vowel…I got the confusion.

To address these common confusions and misunderstandings, the new ELD standards, which are aligned with CCSS, suggest that we layer our teaching with “language objectives”.   For example, if you’re teaching about character traits, motivation etc., then teaching the academic language of ‘adjectives’ (sneaky, shallow, confident, verbose) would be a natural “language objective” for that lesson.  If you’re teaching about making your writing flow in sequence, then a perfect “language objective” might be on ‘transitional words/phrases’.  Check out a great list of common transitional phrases for narrative writing here.    A 4th/5th grade teacher in SF had these great charts posted in her room so her mixed language learners could refer to it while working on their writing and reading:

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So, if we want our students to write with more clarity, specificity and detail, then knowing what these words in our language are called will help our students be able to manipulate them in their writing.  Additionally, understanding the ‘shades of meaning’ around words and the reasons why authors choose certain words, is going to aid in student comprehension and inferencing skills.

If you’d like the second grade stems, please email me!  The WT team gave them to me and would be happy to pass them along!