Life is a Timed Test!: How to Integrate ELA Skills and Concepts to Achieve Goals and Complete the Scope and Sequence


Dear Dr. D',

"Our Scope and Sequence is huge, and I do not know how to get everything done and include the Jane Schaffer Writing Program, too. Help!! I'm drowning!" 


Dear Lisa,

Most teachers feel the same as you about the time crunch with or without JSWP. I know I did, and I became so frustrated at times. Between the Scope and Sequence, the State test, the daily class disruptions and interruptions, the unpredictable field trips, and the loads of paperwork, I sometimes felt like I would drown. I wish an easy answer were available to you. Let me see if I can assuage some of your frustrations.

When I started feeling overwhelmed, the first question I asked myself was “What must my English Language Arts students be able to do to 1) complete this year; 2) graduate from high school; 3) enter and sustain college (if they choose to attend); and 4) become productive global citizens? 

The second question is “What can I control?”

MY HUMBLE SOLUTION: I like to look at a literary work we are reading in and/or out-of-class. That work could be a novel, a drama, a short story, a poem, or an essay. It could also be a passage. I have written quite a bit in this blog, so you might need to read a little here and there. 

1)     Vocabulary – Look at the work and pull the vocabulary words which you know your students will not understand upon first reading. Create a list and give it to them. Review it aloud. You will test them over this list, focusing on the first ten words the first week; the first twenty words, the second week; the first thirty words, the third week (select twenty words out of the thirty); the first forty words, the fourth week (select twenty words out of the first forty). Spelling – two points; definition – three points. Next week's Blog will be devoted to a Vocabulary unit developed by me and Mrs. Nancy Sharma of North Richland Hills, Texas.

2)     Writing – Create one or more prompts (I like the students to have a variety of prompts from which to choose, and I would rather read paragraphs/essays on different topics than 150 on the same topic – Ugh!). See my previous Blog on creating effective prompts. Notice, I said paragraphs OR essays. Sometimes we think that we have to assign entire essays. The key is to have them write as often as possible, and these experiences can be effective, short, and easy to score. 

  1. As they read, you could have them create and submit each week the CDs that support their topic, embedded as direct quotations in complete sentences. Discerning strong evidence and embedding it properly in a sentence is a valuable skill that needs much practice. The grading is fast and valuable with immediate feedback.  
  2. You could have them submit their Tchart for one body paragraph (CDs written in complete sentences). Stagger your due dates. For example, Period 1: Due on Monday; Period 2: Due on Tuesday; Period 3: Due on Wednesday, etc.  Stagger due dates, so you don’t have 150 – 220 pieces of writing at once.
  3. You could have them submit all of the graphic organizers, including the Shaping Sheet, for one paragraph.
  4. You could have them create and submit a thesis statement.
  5. You could have them submit the introduction only (with the thesis).

3)     Grammar – For those of you who have taken my training or read my previous blog on writing prompts, you'll remember how I suggested that you create mini lessons in your prompts to discuss with your students grammar, usage, or syntax. AS you read the prompt(s) to the students, identify grammatical constructions on which your students need practice. Tell the students that they are going to work on one or two grammar lessons with each prompt. You demonstrate that grammar, usage, or syntactical phrase or structure in your prompt. Then tell them, "Students, on your Shaping Sheet, (or in the final draft of the paragraph or essay), you will highlight (or draw arrows) and label your demonstration of knowledge of those grammar lessons you have learned." The following list provides some ideas for you to model and assign: 

  1. Agreement: P/A; S/V;
  2. Vary your types of sentences: highlight and label an example of a simple, compound, complex, and/or compound-complex sentence (or have them highlight only simple for the first paragraph; simple and compound for the second paragraph; simple, compound, and complex for the first essay; simple, compound, comples, and compound-complex for all future essays);
  3. Commas: insert a comma between two independent clauses that are joined with a coordinating conjunction; use a comma after a long introduction (dependent clause, long prepositional phrase . . .) at the start of a sentence; use two commas to set off “grammatically unnecessary” information from the rest of the sentence; use a comma after each item in a series;
  4. Syntax: parallelism – demonstrate parallel structure with three or more words on either side; repetition – demonstrate your understanding of anaphora; loose vs. periodic sentences;
  5. Vary your sentence openings: Start a sentence with a noun, a pronoun, an article, a gerund, an infinitive, an adverb, a participle, an adverb clause, an expletive, a prepositional phrase, a noun clause, an adjective.

4)     Reading – As they read aloud or alone, they should use their red and green pens to annotate (like we do in the training). If they may not write in their books, create a dialectical journal as they write with CDs on the left of the Tchart and CMs on the right of the Tchart.

5)     Speaking – Once a week or every other week, while they are reading, each student brings a Level Two or Level Three question to class (for a grade). Set up your classroom on those days in Connie Abshire’s Inner/Outer activity. Train them to take turns speaking, pausing, encouraging others, praising each other, discussing the work (great social and academic skills -- remind them that their discussion (CM) must be based on evidence (CD) from the work).


You might ask, “But what about preparing the students for the state test, Dr. D?” 


Create your writing prompts to do that. If the writing is expository, then think of the subjects in the text you are reading. For example, in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the following are only a few of the subjects in this 19th century novel that could resonate even today: 

  • What qualities make a good father
  • Knowing the difference between right and wrong
  • Friendship
  • Importance of family
  • Judging another person

(Remember, the above phrases are subjects, not themes. Themes answer the question, “What would the author (in this case, Mark Twain) say about the qualities that make a good father?" One answer: A father figure protects, shows affection, tells the truth, and never abandons a child.)

Have them write an essay on one of these subjects:  Sample prompt: Families come in many different shapes and forms. Using your observation, experience, and reading, explain what makes a family and how it impacts a person's life. If you use a real-life observation, consider a 2+:1 ratio. For your reading example, consider using a 1:2+ ratio. Provide strong evidence (CDs) and thoughtful commentary (CMs) to support your ideas. 


Or think of some controversial issues in the text (that's why I love using large pieces, such as novels and dramas -- so rich with options). How about using a 1987 prompt that would lend itself well to Huck Finn?

In the following passage, E.M. Forster argues that personal relations are more important than causes or patriotism.  Read the passage carefully.  Then write an essay agreeing or disagreeing with Forster’s views.

             I hate the idea of causes, and if I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.  Such a choice may scandalise the modern reader, and he may stretch out his patriotic hand to the telephone at once and ring up the police.  It would not have shocked Dante, though.  Dante places Brutus and Cassius in the lowest circle of Hell because they had chosen to betray their friend Julius Caesar rather than their country Rome.  -- Forster's "What I Believe" is published in: Forster, E.M., Two Cheers for DemocracyISBN 0-15-692025-5.

Assignment: Have the students submit the JSWP graphic organizers and include the counter argument and refutation on the Shaping Sheet. You could have them write an introduction and a thesis statement and two body paragraphs with one being from the reading (Huck Finn) and the other from an observation or experience. Use 2+:1 ratio.

Finally, Lisa, what helped me tremendously occurred when I began integrating the skills and concepts in the Scope and Sequence (S&S) rather than taking them on individually and making them mutually exclusive from other skills and concepts in the S&S. This takes time to plan, but saves time -- and even more important -- creates quality time! The rewards are huge!

I hope this helps!

Keep reading and writing!

Warm regards,

Dr. D'