Massachusetts Curriculum Framework
English Language Arts
ADOPTED February 1997
Early Literacy: Success in Reading by Grade Three
The Massachusetts Board of Education is committed to ensuring that all
students become effective readers by the end of the third grade.
Children's success at reading becomes the measure that schools,
families, and children themselves use in determining whether or not they
are adjusting to school and learning how to learn. The goal of
well-conceived beginning reading programs is to have students reading
beginning materials by the middle of first grade, reading at grade level
by the end of third grade, and making continual grade-level progress
The Carnegie Task Force on Learning in the Primary Grades recently
published the results of its extensive study of preschool and primary
programs across the country. The Report notes that:
The findings illustrate several important points about the teaching of
Good readers, research shows, attend in a rapid, automatic way to almost
all of the letters in the words they read; they also have a practiced
sense of the likely associations of sounds in a language and of patterns within
words and syllables.
Research and practice have demonstrated that effective instruction outweighs perceived "abilities" in children. In particular, the ability to pay attention to the component sounds of language, or "phonemic awareness," is not highly correlated with general intelligence; it can be taught.
Monitoring a student's progress closely is important.
Adapting instruction to individual needs is critical in ensuring that all students learn to read.
Teacher training and staff development must focus closely on balanced approaches to meet the needs of all students.
Phonics and Whole Language
The history of education is marked by vigorous debates about
curriculum and pedagogy. In the case of beginning reading instruction,
today's debate focuses on the differences between a "whole language"
approach and a "phonics," or skills-based, approach. This is in many ways
a debate that has gone on for one hundred years.
Proponents of a whole language approach claim that reading develops
naturally, much as speech does. They do not deny the alphabetic principle
of our writing system. But they do believe that understanding the
relationships between sounds and letters is only one of the many ways
students can learn new words encountered in their reading. They also
believe that understanding sound
letter relationships is not necessarily the most important way to learn
new words, and that it does not need to be formally taught. Whole language
advocates believe that instruction should focus on immersing students in
meaningful reading materials.
Those who support systematic phonics instruction want children to read
meaningful material, but note that students cannot read a whole story
unless they can decode most of the words in it. Phonics instruction is
based on the alphabetic principle, and emphasizes teaching children the
relationship between sounds and letters. When a student knows the
letter-sound connections, he can "sound out" and read the vocabulary
encountered in a text. As most linguists and reading researchers have
pointed out, learning to read is not like learning to speak; most
children in cultures with writing systems have had to be taught to read.
Moreover, learning to read is not a natural developmental phenomenon,
since many cultures over the centuries never evolved writing systems on
their own. To ensure steady progress in reading, all primary grade
teachers should provide both explicit, systematic phonics instruction and
a variety of high quality reading materials that motivate students to read
fluently and with understanding.
Characteristics of Effective Early Literacy Programs
In the first edition of Learning to Read: The Great Debate,
published in 1967, Jeanne Chall made the distinction between a "meaning"
emphasis and a "code" emphasis in beginning reading instruction, pointing
out that comparative studies from the early 1900s on show that students
who have had systematic phonics instruction achieve higher scores in word
identification and reading comprehension than students in programs with a
"meaning" emphasis. In Beginning to Read, Marilyn Jaeger Adams has
summarized and synthesized the past decade's research on reading
instruction, confirming Chall's earlier conclusions. The heart of a sound
beginning reading program is an appropriate balance between explicit,
systematic instruction in the relationships between sounds and letters and
a focus on the meaning of written language through the use of high quality
reading materials and authentic language activities. While skills alone
cannot develop good readers, few readers can become proficient without
these fundamental skills.
Students are successful at learning to read when they know the elements
that make up the words in their texts. They recognize letters and patterns
of letters and they know the sounds associated with these symbols. This is
called phonics knowledge or phonics skills. In Kindergarten, students
should begin to develop an awareness of the different individual sounds in
words, such as beginning or ending sounds (a phenomenon that reading
researchers now refer to as phonemic awareness, and which used to be
called beginning phonics). This can be accomplished with word games and
other activities that develop students' explicit attention to the discrete
sounds in words. The teaching of phonics skills should continue until
students are able to read independently.
Oral language development is also vital to literacy development.
Throughout the preschool, Kindergarten, and primary grades, teachers
should read aloud to students and engage them in meaningful discussions.
Students can learn to predict meaning in picture books read to them by
looking at the illustrations, and discussing how the images complement the
text. When older students visit the classroom, or when students learn to
read independently, they should be invited to spend some time reading
aloud to the class.
The formal reading program should begin in first grade. Students should
be taught the relationships between sounds and letters and then given
opportunities to practice decoding skills independently and in
collaborative groups. Groupings should be flexible and allow for
regrouping based on careful assessment of progress. As students acquire
decoding skills, they become confident in their ability to identify
unfamiliar words in increasingly more complex texts and materials.
Some students come to school already reading and can make appropriate
progress in classrooms that place a strong emphasis on meaningful reading
and writing activities. Other students may have reading disabilities and
need long-term, structured programs. Nevertheless, the vast majority of
children do not have reading disabilities or come to school already
reading. These students benefit from a reasonable balance between
explicit skills instruction and authentic reading activities to assure
steady growth in the development of their ability to read accurately,
fluently, and with understanding.
The Writing Connection
Young children need to learn how to form the letters that comprise their
writing system, as well as how to express their thoughts in the written
word. Italian educator Maria Montessori emphasized exercises in which
children learn the correlation of sounds with shapes by feeling textured
letter shapes, forming letters repeatedly with a pencil, and using
moveable alphabets as they sound out words. In describing her teaching
methods, Thomas C. Crain wrote, "Writing paves the way to reading.
Through writing children form a muscular and visual memory of the letters
and words and therefore can recognize them."
Students should spend time writing about ideas in a variety of
forms--letters, stories, and short informational essays. Writing
reinforces the fact that language has meaning. It gives students an
opportunity to develop a personal voice and style upon which they can
Adapting to Individual Needs
Students come to school from diverse experiences with sound and symbol.
Sometimes the sounds and orthography of the home language or dialect may
be different from those of standard English. With explicit instruction,
students can learn standard English as they continue to develop as
effective readers. This is particularly valuable for young children as
they learn a second language.
Students whose first language is not English need many opportunities to
speak and read English. Teachers should encourage them to practice
speaking and writing in English and should praise them regularly for the
progress they make. Students can learn to speak a second language when
they are given consistent and continual practice in using the language in
authentic language activities and in all their school work.
Everyone agrees that learning to read is the essential mission of the
primary grades. Therefore, administrators need to ensure that schools are
organized to teach reading. Several pilot programs cited in the Carnegie
report emphasize the importance of organizing class size, daily schedules,
and assignment of staff so that smaller groups of students can practice
their reading together with teachers and peer tutors.
If students continue to have difficulties with reading after grades one
or two, they should have opportunities for intensive reading assistance.
Reading help may be necessary for some students throughout their school
years. It should be seen as a safety net to ensure that all students are
able to achieve literacy and high standards in all curriculum areas.
The Goal of Early Literacy
This English Language Arts Curriculum Framework sets the goal that
every child who enters Kindergarten or first grade in Massachusetts will
become an effective reader and writer of the English language by the end
of third grade.
Figures C, D, E, and F are designed to clarify literacy expectations
for students in the primary grades. Teachers, parents, family members, and
friends must take responsibility together for helping young children
progress toward achieving literacy. As children become competent readers,
they learn to love reading and books. The reading and writing skills and
strategies presented in Figure C are the essential elements in
teaching early literacy. This list is not intended to be exhaustive, nor
does this figure suggest the order in which these activities should take
place, for writing, reading, and literary interpretation are often part of
the same lesson. As the standards and examples in this framework
demonstrate, students continue to refine their ability to read and write
throughout their academic careers.
What level of reading should be expected of students at the end of the
third grade? Figure D shows three sample passages from reading
texts designed for the end of grade three, and Figure E presents
passages from the beginning of fourth grade readers. These sample passages
of literary, informational, and practical texts have been selected to
indicate the range of vocabulary and different kinds of formats third and
fourth grade students are expected to read and comprehend.
Finally, the teaching anecdote in Figure E demonstrates one way in
which an adult--teacher, parent, grandparent, or friend--might combine
phonics instruction with the reading of a story and the exploration of
different kinds of literature.
Figure C: Key Reading and Writing Skills and Strategies
Introduced and Developed from Preschool to Grade 3
| ||Preschool-Kindergarten Students||Grade 1|
|Grades 2 and 3|
Use moveable alphabets
Scribble or "write " for a purpose (e.g., make signs, "write" letters)
Use "invented spelling to "write words"
Identify and form all letters
Understand alphabetic principle and concept of audience when writing
Know standard spelling of commonly used words; still use some invented spelling
With teacher help, begin to use basic mechanics such as end marks and capitalization
Consider audience and purpose when writing for a variety of audiences
Use standard spelling for majority of commonly used words
With teacher help, edit writing for basic mechanics and standard spelling
Identify initial and rhyming sounds of words
Identify both words in compound words (e.g., cowboy, raindrop)
Use pictures to predict when listening or viewing stories
Ask questions to clarify meaning when listening or viewing
Know most letter/sound correspondences and use them to decode/use words in context
Know common word endings (e.g., plurals, ing, ed) and use them to decode/use words in context
With teacher help, use relevant text features (e.g. bold print) to predict new information.
With teacher help, reread to improve understanding
Know all letter/sound correspondences and use them to decode/use words in context
Know common suffixes and prefixes (e.g., tion, ment, re, un) and use them to decode/use words in context
Independently use relevant text features to predict new information.
Independently reread to improve understanding
Develop awareness of story structure (i.e., beginning, middle, end)
Learn difference between fantasy and reality in stories
Follow simple concrete, oral directions
Respond personally to literature
"Write" stories or letters by dictating to teacher who models writing.
Develop appreciation of literary devices such as rhythm, rhyme, alliteration, and figurative language
Recognize story elements such as events, characters, setting, moral
Understand difference between fiction and nonfiction
Follows more complex, abstract, oral directions
With teacher help, make connections among pieces of literature and between literature and life experiences
After brainstorming ideas and key vocabulary, write stories, letters, reports
With teacher help, recognize and create literary devices such as rhythm, rhyme, alliteration, figurative language
Understand story elements, including theme, and use them in reading and writing
Write simple informational reports and recognize genres (e.g., fables, fairy tales
Read and follow "how to" directions
Make connections between literature and other experiences more independently
Write stories, letters, and reports more independently
Recognize and use literary devices such as rhyme, alliteration, and figurative language more independently
Figure D: Sample Passages Students Should Be Able to Read at
the End of Grade 3
The lowest part of the Titanic is divided into sixteen
watertight compartments. If one compartment starts to flood, the captain
can just pull a switch. A thick steel door will shut. The water will be
trapped. It cannot flood the rest of the ship. Two or three or even four
compartments can be full of water. Still the Titanic will float.
The Titanic had another nickname--"The Rich Man's Special."
Some of the richest people in the world are sailing on the Titanic.
Their tickets cost more money than a sailor earns in a lifetime.
One afternoon Henry arrived at Mr. Capper's garage in plenty of time
to fold his papers. He counted a stack of forty-three Journals and
as long as he was early, he took time to glance through the paper. He
looked at the headlines and read the comic section. Then the picture of a
smiling lady caught his eye. It was the lady who gave people advice when
they wrote to her.
During the Revolutionary War, General George Washington and his
soldiers faced a bitter winter camping at Valley Forge. It was very cold
and there was little food--sometimes only oats and milk. But they always
lit a fire and cooked what there was. Valley Forge Oatmeal was simple to
make. Today, by adding some special ingredients, it can be a delicious
To make 4 servings, you need:
- 1 1/2 cups of rolled oats
3 cups of water
1/2 teaspoon of salt
4 pats of butter
2 cups of milk
a stove (and someone to help you with it)
4 cereal bowls
How to do it:
- Add half a teaspoon of salt to the three cups of water in the pot and bring to a boil.
- Stir in the rolled oats, gradually, so the water comes to a boil.
- Reduce heat.
- Add a handful of raisins.
- Let it simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Stir now and then.
- Pour the mixture into four cereal bowls and top each with a pat of butter.
- Mix in a teaspoon of honey in each bowl.
- Add a little milk to each bowl.
- Sprinkle with cinnamon on top and enjoy! It's also a good way to keep warm!
Figure E: Sample Passages Students Should Be Able To Read at the
Beginning of Grade 4
Nothing Paul Bunyan ever did was small. He had an ox named Babe, who
used to help him with his work. Babe was just about the most phenomenal
ox in Michigan. His color was blue, and he stood ninety hands high. If
you happened to hang on to the tip of one horn, it's doubtful if you could
have seen the tip of the other, even on a clear day. One day when Paul
and Babe were out plowing, the ox was stung by a Michigan deer fly about
the size of a bushel basket. Babe took off across the country dragging
the plow behind him, right across Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri, with
the deer fly bringing up the rear. After a while Babe reared south and
didn't stop till he got to the Rio Grande. The plow that Babe was hitched
to dug a furrow two miles wide and two hundred miles long. You can check
it in your own geography book. They call it the Grand Canyon
A wonderful thing happened this new school year. Gigi, Consuela,
Paquito, and I were all going into the fourth grade, and we were put in
the same class. It had never happened before. Once I was in the same
class with Consuela, and last year Gigi and Paquito were together. But
this--it was too good to be true! Of course knowing Gigi and I were in
the same class made me happiest.
Our teacher, Miss Lovett, was friendly and laughed easily. In early
October she told us that our class was going to put on a play for
Thanksgiving. The play we were going to perform was based on a poem by
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, called "The Courtship of Miles Standish." It
was about the Pilgrims and how they lived when they first landed in
Many mammals of the Ice Age grew heavy coats of hair. The hair
protected them from the cold. The woolly mammoth was one of these. It
lived in what is now Europe, and in China, Siberia, and Alaska.
The Columbian mammoth lived in a warmer climate, too. It traveled
from Asia to Europe, and to parts of America.
Sometime it is called the Jeffersonian mammoth. It was named after
Thomas Jefferson, who was President when one was discovered in the United
States. President Jefferson was interested in the past, He encouraged
scientists to find out more about it.
Figure F: Early Literacy In An Elementary Classroom
The following snapshot of a combination first/second grade
class illustrates how a teacher fosters early literacy. In these lessons,
the teacher, Mr. Griff, demonstrates how he incorporates phonemic
awareness into the reading of literature with his class. As he reads, he
gives students the opportunity to think carefully about ideas and
vocabulary and, at the same time, reinforces their decoding skills.
The class gathers around Mr. Griff in the group time corner. Both teacher
and students have copies of William Steig's Amos and Boris, the
story of an unlikely friendship between Amos, a mouse, and Boris, a whale.
The story begins as Amos falls overboard in the middle of the ocean, and
Boris comes to his rescue. They develop a strong friendship; and many
years later when Boris is beached by a hurricane, the tiny mouse finds a
way to rescue the great whale.
As Mr. Griff begins to read, the students share books and follow along:
Amos, a mouse, lived by the ocean. He loved the ocean.
He loved the smell of the sea air. He loved to hear the surf
sounds - the bursting breakers, the backwashes with
Earlier in the day, Mr. Griff and the children have brainstormed several
of their daily word lists, printed the words on big newsprint pads, and
placed the lists on easels in the group time corner. One of the lists
contains "beginning B" words, such as boy, beach, bread, and
butter. Mr. Griff knows that, as his students listen and read
along, they will bring different memories and experiences to their
understanding of the story; he also wants them to make connections
to letter sounds and vocabulary. First he reads the whole story to them.
Then he rereads the opening lines and says, "I love the way the author
uses words that help me hear the sounds in this story. What are some
words that help you hear the sound of the surf?"
"Bursting breakers!" one child answers, " and backwashes with rolling
"Which ones are 'B' words?" Mr. Griff asks.
"Bursting breakers and backwashes," another child replies. "We can add
them to our brainstorm list."
"Boris should go on our list too," says a third child. "With a capital
'B' because it's a name."
"Pebbles should too," says another child.
Mr. Griff pauses and says, "Let's listen carefully and look at that word again. Where is the 'B' sound in pebbles?" The child reconsiders and says that it is in the middle.
"What sound does pebbles start with?"
When she identifies "P" as the first letter, Mr. Griff says, "Right! Can you think of other words that begin with 'P'?"
She comes up with "pad," "puppy," and "printed."
"Perfect!" says Mr. Griff, starting to write the new list on another piece of paper. After the students have added the new words to both their lists, he resumes reading.
"What sort of fish are you?" the whale asked. "You must be one of a kind!"
"I'm not a fish," said Amos. "I'm a mouse, which is a mammal, the highest form of life. I live on land."
"Holy clam and cuttlefish!" said the whale. "I'm a mammal myself, though I live in the sea. Call me Boris."
Mr. Griff is aware that this "mammal conversation" provides an opportunity
to expand his students' vocabulary, and he asks them what they know about
mammals. Students offer information and observations from their reading
"They have warm, red blood! I think they have hair."
"They give birth to their babies, not hatch eggs."
"Amos and Boris look so different, but since they're both mammals they're the same in some way too. Maybe that helps them be friends."
The class finishes reading the story together, and on the following day
Mr. Griff introduces "The Lion and the Mouse," an Aesop fable about a lion
who spares the life of a mouse who in turn saves the lion's life. By
introducing another story in which friendship is the key idea, Mr. Griff
builds upon students' knowledge of Amos and Boris to help them
think about how similar ideas are used by two different authors. He asks
students to talk about how the two stories are the same and how are they
different, and then write about the connections between the two stories,
as well as connections to other stories they have read.
In the course of this two-day unit, Mr. Griff has skillfully interwoven
lessons about letters and their sounds, the meanings of words, the beauty
of language, and the ideas that stories can convey. He has started his
students on the pathway of discovering a lifetime of wonder, enjoyment,
and knowledge in the books they read.