Reading and Language Arts

Reading and Language Arts

reading togetherThe reading and language arts program inspires a love of literature and writing, and a respect for the power of words. Tilden students learn the skills and concepts required for strong oral and written communication.

Reading: Continuity throughout Tilden School’s reading program is maintained at all grade levels with instruction by our master reading teacher. Each child is followed closely as he/she works at his/her own reading level. Individualized reading instruction includes the following:

  • Reading assignments at child’s reading level
  • Sight vocabulary
  • Exercises for literal and critical comprehension
  • Assignments for skill development in decoding, syllabification, grammar, and spelling
  • Vocabulary building

Students in every grade develop reading comprehension as they explore a variety of literary genres and respond through discussion, art, drama, and writing. They read stories, articles, poetry, plays, novels, and primary sources within the context of the curriculum. They visit our extensive library at least once a week and read independently.

Readers developed by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, together with the 1,000 Most Used Words in Reading, provide additional sources for the sight vocabulary essential for reading success. At all grade levels, this sight vocabulary is recorded on word cards following an individual session of sounding out new words (approximately every two weeks). This promotes independence in reading new words, and provides a review of rules of syllabification and vowel sounds, as needed. From Kindergarten through fifth grade, as each student works at his or her own level, he or she is followed closely by Whitney Tjerandsen, our lead reading teacher.

Students who are reading at the third-grade level and above also use Reading for Understanding (R.F.U.), an individualized program that provides excellent practice in test-taking and looking at written material to discern the best answer to questions that may be oblique, symbolic, or abstract.

IMG_7104_13390728605_oWriting: Building strong writing skills is central to Tilden’s goal of developing inspired and knowledgeable communicators. Writing is critical at all grade levels and crosses many curriculum areas, including literature, history, science, social studies, math, technology, and language arts. It takes different forms at different times, including story writing, subject reports, poetry, scripts for dramatic presentations, book reports, and journal and math writing.

One of the highlights of Tilden’s writing program is Thursday Story Writing. For one and a half hours every Thursday, all students from Kindergarten through fourth grade meet for an extended period of writing on a topic selected to help students learn to write with confidence. They are encouraged to report happenings in their lives and to develop insight into the practical and philosophical aspects of being alive. Sample topics: summer activities; something that has changed; recommendations for the Halloween Carnival; what they are struggling with right now; what they talk about with their friends; how they go about making a friend; fall, with adjectives (color, texture, number, etc.); scary things; vacation highlights. With a 4:1 child-to-adult ratio, the students learn to develop a main idea, add details, and end with a summary. After first grade, they each write at least 120 words, each week. Over the year, each student writes 35 stories, all displayed on our walls. At the end of the school year, all the stories are sent home–a treasure to be kept as a record of their growth in writing and their thoughts in elementary school.

(In addition to Thursday story writing, fourth grade adds an intensive writing program. This academic rigor continues in the fifth grade, with the goal being competence writing a research essay.)

Spelling: Students in grades 2-5 use a program based on Forest and Sitton’s Instant Spelling Words for Writing to acquire the thousand most-often-used words in writing. The students work at a level which reflects their own needs and abilities, participate in small spelling groups, and practice quick recall during weekly sentence dictation activities. Spelling practice at home is encouraged for students from third grade up. The goal is accurate spelling in written work.

Phonics: Students use skill-specific phonics workbooks as needed to provide independent practice of the tools required to become competent readers.

The grade-level sections below describe the particular goals for each grade, and enhancements to the continuous curriculum described above.


The focus of the Kindergarten reading and language arts program is to set a base for building strong literacy and comprehension skills while helping each child move forward with confidence and enthusiasm at a comfortable pace. Each child enters at a different place in his or her development and progresses at an individual pace. Phonemic awareness, letter recognition, sight vocabulary, spelling, reading, and writing are developed through themed unit writing projects, handwriting workbooks, songs, movement activities, games, and discussions.

Reading and phonics work combines elements from the Letterland program (a character-based phonics program developed by Lyn Wendon from England) and the Harcourt Brace Reading Program (an “oldie, but goodie” series with likable characters and a controlled vocabulary). We supplement these basic tools with a rich variety of additional reading experiences.

Writing is a component of all kindergarten curriculum areas. Writing is introduced through the program Handwriting Without Tears®. This foundation set, the Kindergarteners join the Thursday story writing program, with stories of one or two sentences, using a mix of inventive and conventional spelling. As the year progresses, stories lengthen and move to more conventional spelling. Kindergarten students expand their skills with writing focused on themes under investigation in the K classroom. The emphasis is on content and idea building.

Developing oral speaking skills, through oral presentation and readers theater, is a central component of the Kindergarten curriculum. We take opportunities throughout all areas of the K curriculum to encourage and boost the student’s voice, posture, delivery, and effective content. It starts at the beginning of the year with introducing themselves to their fellow classmates and reporting during morning meetings, and builds to memorizing and sharing poetry and creating whole class readers theater pieces from favorite storybooks. Students also build confidence through increasingly complex oral presentations designed to stretch them from sharing about themselves to presenting acquired information to a large audience. These are small and powerful first steps in their journey as powerful speakers at Tilden.

First Grade

The objectives of the first-grade reading and language arts programs are to assist children in achieving reading fluency at grade level or above, to support students in developing confidence in their reading and communication skills, and to provide a rich environment of language experiences to enhance each child’s literacy development. Students normally enter first grade reading at several different levels. Instruction begins at each student’s level with a variety of materials and methods used to reinforce and build upon skills developed in the Kindergarten year. Children may read in small instructional groups, individually with a teacher, or with a student partner, depending upon which method best suits the material to be read and each student’s instructional needs. Reading progress is frequently assessed, and adjustments are made as needed.

The Harcourt Brace Reading Program develops word recognition, comprehension, and fluency in a structured and sequential approach. We supplement this program with a variety of other reading materials, such as Weekly Reader and National Geographic Young Explorer magazines, classroom collections of easy readers, chapter books, and books the students check out weekly from our library. The Letterland phonics program provides a strong foundation in phonics, with follow-up instruction in phonics workbooks designed to reinforce skills.

Students learn proper letter formation and practice printing daily to develop legible handwriting.

First-grade students have many opportunities to develop writing skills through directed Thursday Story Writing and informal classroom journal writing. With their first Thursday story, students begin making a personal dictionary of words they have used in their writing. As the year progresses, they use this resource and begin to develop basic dictionary and spelling skills. Children write in their classroom journals several times a week, using inventive spelling and phonics skills to sound out words. As they become more experienced writers, students begin naturally to transition from inventive spelling to conventional spelling, and complete much of their writing independently.

The language arts are integrated throughout the curriculum with class discussions, dramatizations, poetry, verbal presentations, classroom journal writing, and Thursday Story Writing. Each day the children listen to a story read by a teacher, and are introduced to language patterns, vocabulary, rhyme, poetry, imagery, etc. Some of these poems and stories lend themselves to follow-up dramatizations, artwork, and related projects.

Second and Third Grades

Phonics: In addition to the first-grade program skills, second- and third-graders review vowel sounds, diphthongs, “r” controlled vowels and vowel rules, such as the silent “e” rule, the double vowels rule, etc. In addition, the syllabification of words for ease of sounding out new words is emphasized. They learn basic rules for breaking words:

  • between compound words, and between roots and endings
  • between two consonants, like and different (vc/cv)
  • before the consonant, if there is only one (v/cv), or after, if that doesn’t unlock the word. (vc/v)

Weekly review of the rule that the vowel is short if it is followed by a consonant, long if it’s not, solidifies sounding accuracy and speeds up that CLICK of recognition, as the word patterns and predictability of vowel sounds become automatic. Humorous rhymes and actions provide interesting ways to spice up what could be rather dull. Teaching phonics and sounding strategies enables children to be independent readers.

Reading Comprehension: Second-grade students use Macmillan Literature-Based Reading Activities to help spark discussions on setting, plot, character, and point of view. Through the year, we look for main ideas and details in each of five or six books we work on in depth. The vocabulary extension, interpretation of what is in the book (and also what is between the lines), and simple recall, stretch into extrapolation, making Friday a very interesting day for exploring ideas with classmates who have diverse perspectives to share.

The third-grade readers participate in a literature program, reading novels while learning to analyze what they have read. The focus is on sequencing plot, summarizing events, describing characters, identifying and describing setting, and formulating opinions. The literature analysis assignments often integrate reading, art, writing, speaking, and performance skills.

For comprehension practice, students meet in small groups with a teacher to read and discuss National Geographic Magazine and Weekly Reader articles written for their grade levels.

Language Arts: Second-grade students use the Kelley Liongate Grammar, Gr. 1-2, for parts of speech and punctuation.

The goal of the second-grade language arts curriculum is to strengthen writing skills and enhance the connection between reading, writing, and thinking. Students learn both the parts of speech and the parts of a sentence, capitalization, punctuation, and abbreviations.

Literature Appreciation: Engaging stories central to the second-grade reading curriculum, and we have a rich library from which the children can borrow books to enjoy at school.

Vocabulary Extension: In second grade, we explore a new Latin or Greek root or affix every week, and continue in third grade. Students have learned a collection of at least 100 roots and affixes by the end of third grade.

Literature Appreciation and Analysis: The third-graders meet every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for a class we fondly call Literature Appreciation and Analysis. This is a literature class designed to expand upon the foundation of literary study already begun in earlier grades. During the year, the third-graders read and analyze five or six books in three different genres. They gain further understanding of several elements of literature, especially character, setting, and plot organization. They add to their understanding of how characters’ actions help us to infer their traits. They analyze the settings of books, watching for the ways the setting enhances the movement of the plot. They identify main events, list the events in sequence, and then use the list to create a story summary. They participate in, and sometimes lead, book discussions, bouncing ideas around the room and making the stories come alive. During discussions, they infer, predict, summarize, and evaluate. The third-graders respond to the literature through art, writing, poetry, performances, and role playing.

During the course of the year, the third-graders complete several independent book projects at school and at home. The purpose of the book projects is to reinforce the concepts and terminology the students are learning in class, to extend their thinking about books, and to practice the skills involved in planning and executing long-term projects. Organizing, creating, and presenting a project involves many skills (which are taught in class), and it is part of the process of becoming an independent worker.

RAH stands for Read At Home, and the third-graders are asked to read aloud to an adult at home several times a week. RAH helps promote fluency in reading aloud, as the students continue to make reading every day a habit.

Language Arts for Young Authors: At Tilden we place a huge emphasis on writing, as ultimately, one’s learning, work, and intellect are judged through one’s writing. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, our third-graders strengthen their writing through learning the editing and revision processes. Their “editing eyes” are developed to attend to capitalization, end punctuation, commas, quotation marks, abbreviations, apostrophes, subject/verb agreement, usage, and contractions. In addition, they learn the parts of speech to revise with stronger verbs, more descriptive adjectives and adverbs, and proper nouns. To compliment this, they learn to confidently use both a dictionary and a thesaurus as resources for their writing. Furthermore, our third-graders are introduced to a greater variety of phrasing to begin revising for sentence fluency. Through individualized spelling instruction, each student masters the most commonly used words in English text, in combination with morphology. Finally, cursive is taught till mastered, and computer keyboarding instruction leads to word processing, boosting the third-graders’ ability to manipulate text.

Fourth Grade

???????? Reading: To further develop word attack skills and sight vocabulary, the basal reading program continues in fourth grade. Each child works at his or her own level and is followed and taught by our master reading teacher. In addition, all students explore literature in a variety of genres, reading, analyzing, and discussing several curriculum-based novels. The elements of literature studied include character, setting, plot, point of view, theme, and mood. To strengthen comprehension, students sequence events, identify main idea, summarize, synthesize, and predict outcomes. Independent book projects provide students with an opportunity to practice the literature analysis skills they have learned. Fluency and expression in oral reading are encouraged with a read-at-home program.

IMG_8601Language Arts/Writing: The language arts program is integrated throughout the curriculum and is driven by the skills the students need to continue their growth as writers. Specific skills are taught, practiced, and evaluated within content areas. For example, during literature study students will think about what they are reading and then respond with a variety of written assignments, applying the language arts skills and the literature analysis skills they have learned. Students will apply language arts skills as they respond to a variety of curriculum-based topics.

Fourth-graders practice identifying parts of speech, punctuating sentences, and using synonyms to create more vivid and descriptive images. They learn to identify and compose several figures of speech, including simile, metaphor, hyperbole, alliteration, and personification. They apply their understanding of topic sentence, supporting details, summary sentence, and sequencing ideas to writing well developed paragraphs, and they link paragraphs together in three-paragraph and five-paragraph essays. They write seven-paragraph reports while they learn about gathering information, using note cards, creating introductory and closing paragraphs, and organizing a bibliography. The students learn the format of a friendly letter and then apply their knowledge in actual correspondence. They write poetry using a variety of formats designed to encourage their creativity and their enjoyment of the genre. Each student’s drafts and final versions of all writing assignments are stored in his or her personal writing folder, creating a complete look at the progress made during the year.

IMG_8713Our computer teacher facilitates each student’s acquisition of computer keyboarding and word processing skills—key components of the fourth grade writing program. Fourth grade writing is drafted, revised, and edited on computer.

Fourth-graders continue to practice using resources, such as a dictionary, an encyclopedia, a thesaurus, the Seattle Public Library databases, and the World Wide Web.

Cursive is reviewed and practiced throughout the year.

Spelling: The spelling program is individualized, with the students continuing their acquisition of the thousand words used most often in writing. The students work independently, participate in small spelling groups, and practice quick recall during weekly sentence dictation activities. Spelling practice at home is encouraged as well. The goal is excellent spelling in written work.

Thinking, collaborating, learning: Thinking skills are taught and integrated within the curriculum. Students explore and apply fact vs. opinion, comparing and contrasting, analogies, inference, classifying, evaluating, predicting, sequencing, deductive reasoning, and summarizing.

Collaborative skills are taught and practiced within the context of the curriculum. Students learn the skills needed to work cooperatively in a group.

Fourth-graders are open, eager learners. They are developing their independence, as well as learning to work cooperatively with others. They are continuing to gain the skills they need to become life-long learners.

Fifth Grade

Reading: In the course of reading novels, the fifth-graders engage with text to build understanding and find meaning. The goal is for students to become active readers, figuring out what information to attend to, and connecting that to other information. In addition, students analyze literary devices (metaphor, imagery, point of view, etc.) used by strong writers, and are encouraged to apply them to their own writing. They explore plot, character development, setting, symbolism, and theme through text analysis and discussion. Questions and discussions focus on considering and extending meaning, rather than retrieving information.

Students are introduced to Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, as well as Virgil’s Aeneid (if time).

They read Weekly Reader magazine regularly to stay abreast of current events.

During weekly library time, students are exposed to a variety of literary works, and may check out books of their choice.

002Writing and Language Arts: Writing is developed and strengthened through the six traits of quality writing: ideas and content, organization, sentence fluency, word choice, voice, and conventions. Writing assignments are designed to teach students how to build and organize academic, five-paragraph essays. Through the use of the writer’s notebook, each fifth-grader explores topics of interest, digging for details and developing voice.

003Students conduct research for their essays by means of interviews, published essays, articles, nonfiction and reference books, reliable databases, and websites on the World Wide Web, using online tools to systematically cite sources and take notes.

Grammar is taught to help student authors develop more flexibility and variety in their writing. Editorial correctness is required for final drafts. Spelling is taught in combination with morphology.

The understanding and enjoyment of poetry is encouraged as the students read, write, memorize, interpret, and recite. Additionally, poetry is explored as opportunities arise. For instance, we study poems by Walt Whitman during our Civil War unit, and Edgar Allan Poe’s works around Halloween, among others.

Speech: Speaking opportunities include informal presentations, essay readings, poetry readings and recitations, readers theater, a Shakespearean play performance, and more. Speaking skills are developed through formal speech assignments based on essays completed in the writing program. Students learn to present speeches utilizing presentation software and hardware.


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