How can you organize your fourth grade ELA block? For the best results, sit down with a year-long planning grid. Then consider standards, skills, and complexity. Finally, arrange engaging activities around genres.
Estimated reading time: 16 minutes
Are you looking for inspiration for your fourth grade ELA block? Read on for food for thought.
In my experience, it works well to think, discuss, and list topics first. Once you have a good idea of your content, you can thoughtfully add it to a year-long schedule.
Table of contents
- Focus Your Fourth Grade ELA Block on the Two Sides of Writing
- Sequence Fourth Grade Literature Standards
- Consider Informational Text Standards
- Organize Your ELA Block with Genres
- Plan Writing Experiences for Your Fourth Grade ELA Block
- Schedule Your Year with a Weekly Grid
- Now It’s Time to Arrange Your ELA Block
- Layer on Language
- Extend Your ELA Block into Applied Subjects
- Enjoy Teaching Your ELA Block
Focus Your Fourth Grade ELA Block on the Two Sides of Writing
Before you consider standards or skills, wrap your head around the two sides of writing. With this broad view of the written word, you can improve reading comprehension and writing.
When you organize your fourth grade ELA block around the two sides of writing, kids understand the continuum from literature to informational text. A year scheduled any other way doesn’t provide those nuances.
At the beginning of the year, introduce the two sides of writing. Stretch your arms out wide to illustrate.
Fiction, or the Expressive Side
On the right, we have expressive writing. This is the fiction side. Here, you’ll find creativity and figurative language.
Far down on your hand, you’ll find poetry.
On your right arm, narrative writing stretches from more to less expressive. This form of writing uses a story arc structure: exposition (introduction of characters, setting, and situation), rising action (steps taken in response to situation), climax (most exciting point), and falling action (resolution). In narrative writing, characters generally speak to one another, so this form includes dialogue.
Nonfiction, or the Informative Side
Moving over to your left arm, we enter the informative side of writing, or nonfiction. However, narrative writing flows to this side too. Personal and historical narratives (including biographies), while factual, are told using a story arc and dialogue.
Farther to the left, we find a different structure. Most nonfiction texts use the “hamburger.” In the first paragraph (top bun) a thesis statement expresses the main idea. Then the following paragraphs (burgers) support the thesis with evidence and details. In many cases, a concluding paragraph (bottom bun) restates the thesis and main pieces of evidence.
Argumentative writing falls just after narrative nonfiction on the continuum. Sometimes, it includes expressive elements. However, it uses a specific form of the hamburger. In the first paragraph, students state their opinion and reasons. As they write the subsequent paragraphs, they provide evidence to support each reason. Finally, in the last paragraph, kids restate the opinion (for persuasive writing, as a call to action) and reasons.
Informational texts come next. This includes how-to essays, research, and even constructed responses. Again, kids will use the hamburger. Now, though, they must stick to the facts. (This explains why students can’t say that an animal is beautiful when writing a research paper.)
Why It’s Important
Teaching the two sides of writing is essential to a good ELA block. This overarching concept helps kids in both reading and writing. Furthermore, it connects the two.
First, focusing on the two sides of writing increases reading comprehension. When students approach a piece of writing, they should ask, “Which side?”
If it’s fiction, they will anticipate a story arc, dialogue, and figurative language. They will look for characters, setting, and situation early in the story. Then they can follow the plot. Afterwards, it’s easy to find a theme. Just consider how the character’s actions affected the outcome.
If it’s nonfiction, most times, kids will expect a hamburger structure. That means they can find the main idea and supporting details in the first paragraph. Very helpful.
Of course, they’ll learn that some types of nonfiction, like biography, also use a story arc. Again, increased comprehension.
Second, understanding the two sides of writing improves kids’ writing skills. When given a prompt, they’ll initially consider whether to use a story arc or hamburger. Furthermore, students will know when to use expressive language – as opposed to when to stick to the facts.
As you use the two sides of writing, you’ll find all kinds of ways to incorporate nuances into student writing. For example, the nonfiction side sometimes requires citation. (And remember, constructing responses to literature and informational texts falls on that side.)
Sequence Fourth Grade Literature Standards
Now it’s time to organize your literature standards. Sequence them from simple to complex. Also consider which are prerequisites to others, as well as which go together. For example, to start my fourth grade ELA block, I first organized those that needed to be taught sequentially.
Sequence of Fourth Grade Literature Standards
- Discriminate between poetry, prose, and drama. This standard gave me something simple and straightforward to teach early in the year. Furthermore, the structural vocabulary provided important building blocks for teaching the fiction side of writing. Specifically, kids learned that prose (narrative writing) includes sentences, paragraphs, and dialogue. Additionally, it provided an opportunity for me to introduce the fiction side of writing (literature) and the story arc.
- Summarize. Piggybacking on the newly introduced story arc, kids listed characters, setting, goal or motivation, obstacles, steps, and outcome. Then they simply used their list to write a summary. This gave me an opening for teaching transition terms, as well.
- Find a theme. In the summary, students considered how the character’s actions (steps) affected the outcome. From that, they identified the theme. Of course, fables offer the most obvious themes. Therefore, they made the best choice for this segment of the ELA block.
- Answer questions with constructed responses. Yep, this has to happen early in the fourth grade ELA block. Then kids need to practice over and over again. With that said, however, these opportunities may be spread throughout the year. Otherwise, students get overwhelmed.
- Describe characters, settings, and events. Actually, this is a bit of a mixed bag. To describe a character, kids consider their thoughts and actions. For a setting, they analyze how time and/or place affected characters’ actions. Then, for both of these, they construct a response. However, when students describe an event, they actually write a summary for a specific part of a story.
- Compare folktales. Of all fourth grade literature standards, this is the most complex. In addition to identifying characters, settings, plots, and themes, they must use higher order thinking to analyze and compare. Although it must be taught before standardized testing, it must follow all of the standards listed above. Also, since the standard specifies folktales, that’s where that genre will fall.
Standards That Can Be Taught Anytime
Additional standards didn’t fit in the sequence. Therefore, they could be plugged in anywhere:
- Understand allusions to mythology. Since I organize genres in my classroom, this standard fits with my Greek mythology unit.
- Identify point of view. In order to understand perspective, kids must identify pronouns (specifically, I/me, he/him, she/her, they/them). Therefore, I chose to teach this when I got to pronouns in my parts of speech progression.
- Analyze media. Although I like to spend a little time with direct instruction for this standard, it can be reinforced through any (and every) piece of literature used throughout the year. Therefore, I’ll provide a brief introduction early in the year.
Consider Informational Text Standards
Second, think about how your informational text standards fit into your fourth grade ELA block (as well as other subject areas). For example, I organize mine like this.
What to Teach in Fourth Grade ELA Block
- Identify main idea and key details. With the hamburger analogy, kids will find these easily. This standard must be taught at the beginning of the year. Additionally, it’s essential to understanding the second side of writing: nonfiction.
- Determine the meanings of words. Although I plan to reinforce this with my science and social studies texts, I want to teach each skill through direct instruction. Again, this is a beginning-of-year priority.
- Describe text structure. Again, I’ll teach this through direct instruction and reinforce whenever we read nonfiction texts. However, this skill is more complex. Therefore, it can wait until the second or third quarter of the year. Furthermore, I’ll ask kids to write paragraphs with different structures.
Standards to Teach in Other Subject Areas
- Answering questions with constructed responses. Fortunately, I’m teaching this with literature. Since the responses will look similar, we can simply apply the skill in social studies and science.
- Explain events, procedures, ideas or concepts in historical or scientific texts. Essentially, this standard extends constructing responses. I’ll make a note to give kids experiences with these as they answer questions in social studies and science.
- Compare firsthand and secondhand accounts. This standard relates to point of view in literature. I will extend understanding of first- and third-person perspective. Then students will compare primary and secondary sources, especially during history lessons. I make a note to search for more primary sources. Additionally, I will take some time in the winter to explore texts by and about Wilson Bentley, as well as read the awesome picture book, Snowflake Bentley.
- Interpret information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively. Each of these forms will be handle differently. (1) I’ll teach visual elements in literature and through conscious attention in other subject areas. (2) Oral presentations may include speeches and presentations, videos and sound clips, etc. (3) Quantitative elements will be taught through direct instruction in math and science.
- Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points. In addition to doing this with instructional materials, I can ask kids to analyze one another’s argumentative writing in this way.
- Integrate information from two texts. One word: research writing. This will be part of my writing curriculum.
Although you may take a different approach, I’ve identified only three standards that need a chunk of time in my fourth grade ELA block. Early in the year, I’ll teach kids to find main idea and supporting details. Additionally, I’ll use some formal methods to teach strategies for finding word meaning in texts. Later, I will teach informational text structures.
All other skills must be consciously woven into discussions and assignments in social studies, science, and/or math.
Organize Your ELA Block with Genres
Genre studies powerfully connect learning experiences. Not only that. They’re fun too!
Next, list the genres you’d like to teach in your fourth grade ELA block. Then ponder reading and writing opportunities that each offers. Brainstorming might go something like this:
First Quarter ELA Block
- Fables – These short folktales provide perfect opportunities for teaching summarizing and theme. Not only that, they work well as the first narrative writing experience of the year. Kids can get the hang of the story arc, work on characterization, and brush up on writing dialogue. To bring in a little drama, we could use fables plays for short skits.
- Pourquoi Tales – Kipling’s Just So Stories tell how certain animals came to be. Differentiated adaptations of these tales let me teach kids to describe characters, settings, and events. Furthermore, students have lots of fun writing an additional narrative.
- Fantasy – Similarly, adaptations of The Wind in the Willows can be used to teach kids to answer questions. Since constructing responses takes a lot of effort, students can use these texts as exemplars in writer’s workshop.
- Fairy Tales – By this time, we need to work on some informational text. Maybe we can use short articles on fairy tale authors to teach main idea and supporting details. Then we could have some fun with Cinderella stories. Kids could compare elements – and write their own parodies.
Second Quarter ELA Block
- Classic Children’s Literature – To study point of view, we could pull in some excerpts from classic children’s literature, like Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz. That way, our kids would experience some classics.
- Realistic Fiction – Let’s do a full-blown genre study. We can start with realistic picture books and move to a novel study, like Hatchet or The Black Stallion. Students can also write longer realistic narratives.
- Historical Fiction – This unit could tie in with our social studies curriculum. Maybe we could read a novel from pioneer times like Little House in the Big Woods.
Third Quarter ELA Block
- Mythology – Our students love learning about characters from Greek mythology. They can each research a character and display what they’ve learned. Although our kids can’t actually write myths, they can write argumentative pieces about their favorite characters. Let’s include The Lightning Thief as a novel study.
- Folktales – Later in the year, we can teach kids to discriminate between types of folktales. Additionally, they can learn to compare and contrast them.
Fourth Quarter ELA Block
- Mysteries – What fun! Let’s go all-out. We can work on finding inferences and read short mysteries. Adding a bunch of detective activities – and even a simulation – would really engage our students. Kids can write their own mysteries and read novels like The Westing Game or The Maze of Bones.
- Biography – How can we teach biography in a fun way? If we let each student read about one person, maybe they can dress up and act as that person. You know, sort of like a wax museum.
Yes, genre studies connect your ELA block – and add excitement. However, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can sprinkle them in with other approaches as well.
Plan Writing Experiences for Your Fourth Grade ELA Block
Like everything else, writing should be arranged from short to long, simple to complex. As the year goes on, add more and more strategies to make kids writing shine.
Scaffold Narrative Writing Experiences
- Adding dialogue
- Building characterization with actions and words
- Establishing a theme
- Using sensory words and figurative language
- Choosing specific nouns and active verbs
- Selecting words for effect
- Adding details
- Varying sentence beginnings, types and lengths
- Using transition terms
As we discussed earlier, it’s also important to organize writing in your ELA block from short to long. Fables, for example, are short. On the other hand, realistic stories may be long.
Move from One- to Five-Paragraph Argumentative Writing
In fourth grade, begin with one-paragraph argumentative writing. As they write these short pieces, they will learn how about beginnings and endings, topic and detail sentences, calls to action, and elaboration.
When they’re ready, move to five-paragraph essays. The progression is easy. As kids elaborate more, they need full paragraphs for the introduction, supporting details, and conclusion.
Find Opportunities for Informative Writing Everywhere
Sometimes, you don’t even realize you’re asking your students to write informative pieces. For example, you may ask them to explain steps in pollination or construct a response. Additionally, research is a form of informative writing. Whenever your students inform or explain, remind them to use the hamburger.
As kids explain or tell how to do something, remind them to include a topic sentence and supporting detail sentences. After you teach informational text structures, they can consciously write sequence, cause-effect, compare-contrast, and problem solution paragraphs. Adding specific transition terms will connect ideas in the text. These short pieces boost the quality of kids’ nonfiction writing.
Constructed Response Is Informative Writing Too
Anytime you ask kids to construct responses, they’re writing informative paragraphs. Again, they use a topic sentence (answer) and detail sentences (textual evidence).
Fourth graders should conduct short research projects throughout the year. Even the standards say so. You can add these activities in your ELA block – or wherever they apply.
Schedule Your Year with a Weekly Grid
Finally, it’s time to create a schedule for your fourth grade ELA block. Create a weekly grid. Across the top, list all the subjects you teach. For ELA, include columns for reading, writing, language, and vocabulary. Along the side, create rows for each week of the grading period. Typically, this will be more than nine weeks due to vacations. With the date, also include number of days of instruction in that week.
As alternatives, you can arrange sticky notes on a large table or wall or work on a large white board. Of course, curricular planning is always better with a team of teachers.
First, Add Math, Social Studies, and Science
Start with subjects that require specific sequence, namely math and social studies. After penciling those in, add science topics to make the greatest number of connections. For example, when you study geology at the same time as geography, you can better explain the landforms of the region. Additionally, you may want to work on measurement in math when you need it in science.
Second, Schedule Seasonal and Subject-Specific Projects
Next, add your favorite seasonal ELA topics and projects, as well as any that correspond to social studies and science. For example, you may like to write research papers during Women’s History Month or study poetry in April. Get them on the grid before anything else.
Now It’s Time to Arrange Your ELA Block
As you schedule, pay attention to what’s happening in each week and balance intensity. For example, if kids are learning to construct responses in reading (which requires lots of writing and wears them out), do something light in writing.
Additionally, include both short and long activities. Short assignments teach skills. But with long assignments, kids practice many skills. Be bold. Tackle more extended projects to bolster your fourth grade ELA block.
Layer on Language
Sure, some language skills will be taught in conjunction with writing. For example, kids learn to use figurative language and dialogue in narrative writing. But in fourth grade ELA, they must also learn about parts of speech, capitalization, and punctuation.
One of the biggest mistakes I ever made was scheduling mechanics and writing in the same block. My language textbook had chapters on things like adjectives with a writing project at the end. In a year scheduled like this, my students would spend weeks on mechanics – and only complete a handful of writing projects each year. Wrong approach.
Instead, layer language skills. In other words, carve out a small amount of time (10 or 15 minutes) each day to address them. If you choose a spiraling daily language program, it’s easy.
Extend Your ELA Block into Applied Subjects
Your students should be reading and writing a lot. Therefore, your fourth grade ELA block will be stuffed. Kids will be reading short texts and novels. Hopefully, you’ll schedule a bit of time each day or week for sustained silent reading too. They’ll be writing, writing, writing.
To protect your ELA block, schedule some activities in other blocks.
We already talked about all the informational text skills you can teach in other subjects:
- Answering questions
- Explaining events, procedures, etc.
- Exploring firsthand and secondhand accounts
- Interpret visual, oral, and quantitative information
- Tell how an author uses reasons and evidence to support a point
Study your year-long schedule. Where will these fit best? On a separate sheet of paper, list how you will incorporate and revisit each of these standards.
Make sure you’ve scheduled plenty of short and a few long research projects. These activities will let you teach the final informational text standard on integrating two or more texts. In addition, most locales have a set of research standards, such as:
- Develop and follow a research plan.
- Analyze relevance and reliability of information.
- Gather information from a variety of print and digital sources.
- Paraphrase to take notes.
- Categorize/organize information.
- Provide a list of sources (works cited or bibliography).
- Present information in written, oral, and multimodal formats.
Kids must also use the Internet ethically. Today, with AI, this becomes even more important.
Speaking and Listening
Learning is social. Have you included plenty of collaborative activities? Standards related to group work call for kids to:
- Participate in a variety of collaborative discussions.
- Piggyback on others’ ideas.
- Express ideas clearly.
- Come prepared.
- Follow rules.
- Carry out assignments.
- Pose questions and make comments.
- Review key ideas in their own words.
Furthermore, kids need to listen to speakers (other than you). Guest speakers and presentations found on the Internet allow them to:
- Take notes; paraphrase.
- Identify reasons and evidence used to support points.
And, of course, kids need to present orally. They can:
- Report on a topic.
- Tell a story.
- Present a play.
- Create audio recordings.
Including more opportunities for speaking and listening will make your classroom a vibrant, interesting place.
Enjoy Teaching Your ELA Block
I know, it’s a lot. But spending time organizing your fourth grade ELA block is worth it.
Who says it needs to be boring? You’re in charge, so make it fun!
Go ahead. Enjoy teaching.