Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

Ways to Balance a Curriculum in the Primary Grades

This is a guest blog post by Dr. Geraldine Haggard, who   is a retired teacher, Reading Recovery teacher leader, author, and university teacher. She spent 37 years in the Plano, TX school system. She currently tutors, chairs a committee that gifts books to low-income students, teaches in her church, and serves as a facilitator in a program for grieving children.

Today the teachers of primary grades face some challenges.   There are demands from national and state governments that require the teaching of set curriculums for reading, writing, and the content areas. Time allotments of the days do not seem adequate to meet all of these requirements. Teachers are looking for ways to plan their instruction and not neglect any of the disciplines. There are large numbers of children who enter the classrooms with a lack of experiences needed to develop vocabulary and the use of English. What might be the answer to these problems? How can teachers better prepare the children for the shift from 'learning to read and write' to using 'reading and writing to learn'?

Research and some schools are finding that integrating the three curriculum areas (reading, writing, and content areas) is the answer.   Better readers and writers result from using the content areas with focused reading and writing activities. However, there are four important components needed in this procedure if it is to be effective. (source:   www.primary-education-oasis.com , "Teaching Writing to Children" ) These components are:

-Modeling, done by the teacher
-Shared writing, led by the teacher with student(s) participating
-Collaborative writing, allowing student(s) to work with other students and/or the teacher as they are writing
-Independent writing, allowing the student to work alone

If you do not include all four of these components as you teach, the results will not be pleasing. This could be compared to baking a cake and leaving out an important ingredient. The purpose of this blog post is to introduce the reader to some research-based ways to deliver a writing program that includes the four important ingredients. I’ve referenced some websites to help you become more familiar with the various procedures.

READ ALOUDS   ( www.readwritethink.org ,   an IRA site,   "Teacher Read Aloud. ")

I once heard Marie Clay say that when a teacher reads aloud to students, meaning can be negotiated in the discussion and activities that follow.   After the reading, the children are provided released responsibility as they discuss new vocabulary and the message of the read-aloud, and as they write together and independently.

I recommend that each teacher maintain a vertical file of fiction and nonfiction books that can be used as read-aloud during special content-area topics and holidays.   After the books have been read aloud, they can be placed in a reading center and be re-read by a student or a group of students. Include computer programs that you have available and that are approved for your use.

LANGUAGE EXPERIENCE APPROACH   (www.k12teacherstaffdevelopment.com, "Understanding the Language Experience Approach") 

The teacher models and shares writing techniques as students dictate.
 The results are used for reading together with the teacher or other students, or reading alone. In New Zealand, I saw the charts on the walls and heard the children talk about 'reading the walls' that had been put there by the teacher.

I did my student teaching in a first-grade class in a demonstration school. The children were in a social-studies unit on transportation. The charts from Language Experience were displayed on the wall and read and re-read. The students decided to make a train from boxes. They wrote and illustrated magazines for the people who rode the train.

SHARED WRITING   ( www.readwritethink.org , "Strategy for Shared Writing" )

This approach is much like the language experience approach, but students do part of the recording of the message.   Two colors of pens can be used, one for the teacher, and another for the student(s). These compositions can become big books, or small books, to be read in a center or the class library. Students can illustrate these books. They can add to the original scripts. This can be an opportunity to share what they are learning in the content areas.

WORD WALLS   ( www.teachersnet.com ,"10 Great Word Wall Strategies" )

I recommend two word walls. One should be for the special words that are needed to write about the content-area studies.   As a teacher, I used a long piece of wide shelf paper. As we met new words in fiction and nonfiction that were related to the content area, the words were entered in large print on the list. These words were discussed and used orally. The children used them as they wrote. I have seen teachers ask the students to record these words on a special page in their writing journals.

READING/WRITING JOURNALS   ( www.eworkshop.on.ca , pages 15-30,"Independent Reading Assessment Tools" ) and ( www.scholarwork.edu , "The What, Why, When, and How of Reading Response Journals ")

Written responses can be made during and after reading. The journals can stimulate discussion during center time and in large groups later.   The children can write answers to questions and create their own questions. They can interact with each other as they write.

Writing about what is learned and expressing reflections facilitate growth in content areas, reading, and writing. Explore 'jigsaw' and 'circle' writing.

WRITER'S WORKSHOP   ( www.busyteachercafe.com , "Writing Workshop")

This teaching tool includes all of the requirements for creating a successful program for children in content areas, reading, and writing.   The site shares activities for teachers and students. The teacher models a writing technique. Children read, write, and participate in conferences with their peers and teacher. These interactions can result in books written by children to add to the class library. The site defines the workshop, gives hints for planning, and shares examples of writing done by children.


Study the standards and essential elements in your state and school settings. Start your vertical file of books for guided and shared reading, read-aloud, and writer's workshop. Use personal libraries, the school library, and the public library to supply you with books for read-aloud and research by the students. As you purchase new books, buy books that fit your curriculum. Use nonfiction and fiction. Hameray has a huge selection of both fiction and nonfiction that are based on the content areas.

Remember the four research-based tasks of the teacher:

-I do it. MODELING
-CHILDREN do it together
-CHILDREN work independently

One goal of integrating the three disciplines is to make writing relevant for all students. Study students' writing over a period of time. Decide what still needs to be modeled and practiced. Plan conferences that allow you and other students to study writing done by the students. You will find all of the children are writing and reading with more enthusiasm. You will be preparing the students to move to higher grade levels that require 'using reading and writing to learn.'

If computers are available for students, explore district-approved sites for reading stories online, using the search engine to find related activities, and for writing for a purpose. Saved writing samples can be dated and used in the students' portfolios.


Geraldine Haggard is the author of several books from our   Kaleidoscope Collection Series . For more information about the   K aleidoscope Collection  Series click  HERE  to return to our website or click the series highlight page below.