Massachusetts Curriculum Framework
English Language Arts
ADOPTED February 1997
The Learning Standards in the Language Strand set the expectation
that students will demonstrate understanding of the dynamics, nature,
structure, and history of the English language.
The Importance of Oral Language
"We listen to the equivalent of a book a day, talk the equivalent
of a book a week, read the equivalent of a book a month, and write the
equivalent of a book a year." Walter Loban, an advocate for teaching
oral language, used this comparison to remind an audience of teachers
and graduate students of the dominant role that oral language plays in
everyday experiences. Loban followed this statement by pleading,
"Please in the name of all that is good in language and thinking, please
let the children talk. Let them talk a great deal."
Children need to learn how to listen as well. The development
of speaking and listening skills must continue from preschool throughout
a student's academic career. Loban's passionate plea for attention to
oral language development in the classroom stems from his understanding
that oral language provides the foundation for thinking in and about
language. A significant link exists between well-developed oral
language and strong reading and writing skills. Moreover, oral language
further enhances thinking through its use in informal writing. When
adequate attention is given to instruction in both informal and formal
speaking, students learn why the rhetorical elements of purpose and
audience so strongly influence such important matters as word choice,
usage, tone, and style in oral discourse.
Language and Vocabulary Development
Children's oral language develops naturally from exposure to the
language of their parents and immediate community of relatives,
neighbors, and friends. It is further enriched when they listen to the
language of literature and engage in activities such as memorizing
poems. An effective program in language development builds on the
language children bring to school. It does so in a way that shows
respect for students' home languages, whether they are non-standard
English dialects or other languages, but does not lower expectations for
them. All children need to learn the language of education. Lisa
Delpit, an educator who has worked extensively with young children,
including those who speak a non-standard dialect, argues that all
children must be explicitly taught the language of formal education,
including its structure, discourse patterns, rules of interaction, and
the spoken as well as written rules of standard English.
As educational researchers have long noted, "Vocabulary development is
concept development. Vocabulary growth and language growth go hand in
hand." Just as word knowledge is the single most important factor in
students' listening and reading comprehension, an effective speaking and
writing vocabulary is indispensable in developing skill in composition.
A planned program in vocabulary development is thus an important
component of instruction in the English language arts. In such a
program, all students learn to use a dictionary regularly as a resource
for all their reading.
An effective program in language development also encourages students
whose first language is not English to use English consistently in the
English language arts class and in other subjects in order to develop
proficiency in English in greater depth. As experience and research
demonstrate, students learn a second language best when the
opportunities for authentic communication are regularly provided in all
their classes. The more that students try to speak in English, rather
than translate from their home language, the more they will be able to
think directly in English. (For teaching suggestions for students of
limited English proficiency [LEP], see Appendix E.)
History of the English Language
Because many students come to school speaking a non-standard
dialect, all students need to understand the sources of these
differences and the nature of a living language. Thus, this strand also
emphasizes teaching students the way the English language has developed
across time and place in both its oral and written forms. The English
language has the largest vocabulary of all the world's languages, and it
is still growing because that is the nature of a living language. This
vocabulary reflects the influence of every language community with which
English-speaking people have been and are in contact. Although there
are many variations in its oral forms, students need to recognize that
its written form has been relatively stable for centuries and is used
throughout the world in almost identical ways except for minor variation
in some spellings.
*Learning Standard 1: Students will use agreed-upon rules for
informal and formal discussions in small and large groups. These
rules include active listening, staying on topic or creating an
appropriate transition to a new topic, building on the ideas of previous
speakers, showing consideration of others' contributions to the
discussion, avoiding sarcasm and personal remarks, taking turns, and
gaining the floor in appropriate ways.
||Follow agreed-upon rules for class discussion and
carry out assigned roles in self-run small group discussion.
PreK-2: The teacher and students develop rules for whole class
discussion, and the reasons for each rule.
3-4: Students participate in self-run, small-group discussion, taking
turns assuming different roles (such as leader, recorder,
||Apply understanding of agreed-upon rules and
individual roles in a variety of discussion formats.
||Students practice summarizing the previous speaker's main point
before responding to it.
||Identify and practice techniques such as setting time
limits for speakers and deadlines for decision-making to improve
productivity of group discussions.
||In preparation for a student council meeting, students plan an
agenda for discussion, including how long they will allow each speaker
to present a point of view. They build into their agenda time for
making decisions and taking votes on key issues.
||Drawing on one of the widely-used professional
evaluation forms for group discussion, evaluate how well students and
others engage in discussion.
||Using evaluation guidelines developed by the National Issues
Forum, students identify, analyze, and evaluate the rules used in formal
or informal group discussions at a local government meeting or on a
television news discussion program.
*This Learning Standard is best assessed at the local level.
*Learning Standard 2: Students will pose questions, listen
to the ideas of others, and contribute their own information or ideas in
group discussions and interviews in order to acquire new knowledge.
||Contribute knowledge in class discussion to develop
the framework for a class project.
PreK-2: Students contribute
to a list of the kinds of people they know about who are community
helpers, and decide whom they wish to invite to class to talk about the
work they do.
3-4: Students generate a list of the people they know who are community
helpers, generate as a group the questions they will use for
interviewing them individually, and then report on the results of their
interviews to the class.
||Gather relevant information for a research project or
composition through interview techniques.
||As part of a unit on
immigration to this country during the twentieth century, students
brainstorm questions with which to interview elderly relatives,
neighbors, or immediate family members. They integrate this information
into a group report on the immigrants' reasons for migrating to America,
modes of transportation used, and the social and economic conditions
they faced on arrival.
||Summarize in a coherent and organized way what they
have learned from a focused discussion.
similarities and differences in the social and political contexts for
the views of Thoreau, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. on non-violent
disobedience, students summarize what they learned from the discussion,
noting similarities and differences in the political and social
||Analyze differences in their responses to focused
group discussion in an organized and systematic way.
||After reading and discussing "The Fall of the House of Usher"
by Edgar Allan Poe, as an example of observer narration; "The Prison,"
by Bernard Malamud, as an example of single character point of view; and
"The Boarding House," by James Joyce, as an example of multiple
character point of view, students analyze in an essay how the authors'
choices of literary narrator made a difference in their own responses as
*This Learning Standard is best assessed at the local level.
*Learning Standard 3: Students will make oral presentations that
demonstrate appropriate consideration of audience, purpose, and the
information to be conveyed.
||Give oral presentations about experiences or interests
using eye contact, proper pace, volume, and clear enunciation.
PreK-2: Students explain why something they bring from home is
important to them.
3-4: Students give a presentation of information they have acquired
from a visit to the Children's Museum.
||Present similar content for various purposes and to
different audiences (peers, parents, younger students), showing
appropriate changes in delivery (gestures, vocabulary, pace, visuals).
||Students modify their original presentation of a science
project to parents when they explain it to a third-grade class.
||Analyze a group of historic speeches for the features
that made them memorable, and prepare a speech using some of these
||Students study the rhetoric of formal speaking by
reading or listening to such memorable speeches as JFK's inaugural
address, one of FDR's "fireside chats," one of Winston Churchill's
speeches during W.W. II, Susan B. Anthony's "Petition to Congress for
Woman Suffrage," Booker T. Washington's "Cotton States Exposition
Address," and/or Theodore Roosevelt's "Man with the Muckrake." After
analyzing several of these models, students write and deliver a short
persuasive speech on a current topic of interest.
||Deliver formal oral presentations using clear
enunciation, gestures, tone, vocabulary, and organization appropriate
for a particular audience.
||Students develop a formal presentation to their school
committee or student council on a local school issue by structuring
their arguments carefully and practicing delivery, including appropriate
inflections and gestures. Students also design and apply criteria for
evaluating their speeches before delivering them.
*This Learning Standard is best assessed at the local level.
Learning Standard 4: Students will acquire and use
correctly an advanced reading vocabulary of English words, identifying
meanings through an understanding of word relationships.
||Identify and use correctly in all content areas words
related as antonyms, synonyms, members of classifications, compounds,
homophones, and homographs; and words related through prefixes and
suffixes. Use a dictionary when necessary.
PreK-2: Throughout the year, a second grade class compiles a
list of all the prefixed words beginning with intra-, inter-, and
trans- that students hear on television or radio and can find in
print. After pooling together the words they find (such as
intracity, interstate, transcontinental), they discuss their
meanings and create a class dictionary.
3-4: Students make up a game in which they compose dictionary sentences
by opening a children's dictionary to any page and finding a noun and a
verb. Then they add as many words as they can find on that one page to
form a sentence that makes sense. (E.g., Peaceful peacocks pay
||Identify and use correctly in all content areas words
related as synonyms or shades of meaning, antonyms, and homographs; and
words related through word parts and word origins. Use a dictionary or
||Students examine rhyming dictionaries,
dictionaries of homophones and homographs, dictionaries of word roots
and combining forms, etymological dictionaries, classification books,
dictionaries of perfect spelling, thesauruses, bilingual dictionaries,
and dictionaries for terms in specialized fields to discover the many
ways in which words can be organized and how these different kinds of
resources help readers and writers.
||Identify and use correctly in all content areas
idioms, cognates, words with literal and figurative meanings, and
patterns of word changes that indicate different meanings or functions.
Use a dictionary or related reference.
||Students study patterns
of changes in a variety of literate words, e.g., for most verbs ending
in -ate (narrate, narration, narrator), -ize
(sanitize, sanitation, sanitizer), and -ify (verify,
verification, verifier), for nouns ending in -ist
(individualist, individualistic, individualistically), and
for adjectives ending in -ic (basic, basically, with
public, publicly as the only major exception).
||Identify and use correctly in all content areas new
words acquired through study of their different relationships to other
words. Use a dictionary or related reference.
||Students each choose a word in a favorite literary passage and
examine all the synonyms for it in a thesaurus. They decide if any of
the synonyms might be suitable substitutes in terms of meaning and
discuss the shades of meaning they perceive. They also speculate about
what other considerations the author might have had for the specific
choice of word.
Learning Standard 5: Students will identify, describe, and apply
knowledge of the structure of the English language and standard English
conventions for sentence structure, usage, punctuation, capitalization,
||Identify parts of speech (e.g. nouns, verbs, and
adjectives), punctuation (e.g., end marks, commas for series,
apostrophes), capitalization (e.g., countries, cities, names of people,
months, days), paragraph indentation, usage (e.g., subject and verb
agreement), sentence structure (e.g., fragments, run-ons), and standard
PreK-2: Students examine as a class anonymous copies of stories
written by children in another class and correct them for punctuation,
capitalization, usage, and spelling.
3-4: The teacher gives students a passage from a story about the
Franklin Park Zoo or the Walter Stone Zoo as a dictation. After the
dictation, the teacher shows them printed copy of the passage and each
student corrects his or her own dictation for spelling, punctuation,
capitalization, or usage errors.
||Identify all parts of speech, types of sentences
(e.g., simple, compound, and complex), mechanics (e.g., quotation marks,
comma at the end of a dependent clause before a main clause), usage
(pronoun reference), sentence structure (parallelism, properly placed
modifiers), and standard English spelling (homophones).
||In small groups, students examine anonymous compositions written by
students in other classes and locate incomplete sentences (those missing
a noun or verb), errors in usage, sentence structure, punctuation, and
capitalization, and examples of illegible handwriting.
||Diagram a sentence, identifying types of clauses (e.g., main and
subordinate), phrases (e.g., gerunds, infinitives, and participles),
mechanics (e.g., semicolons, colons, and hyphens), usage (e.g., tense
consistency), sentence structure (e.g., parallel structure), and
standard English spelling.
||Students analyze the clauses and
phrases in the first two lines of Robert Louis Stevenson's poem, "My
"I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see."
||Identify, describe, and apply all conventions of
||Students in a journalism class proofread the galleys of
articles to appear in their student newspaper, note all instances of a
faulty grasp of standard English conventions, and make corrections
Learning Standard 6: Students will describe and analyze how
oral dialects differ from each other in English, how they differ from
written standard English, and what role standard American English plays
in informal and formal communication.
||Identify variations in the dialogue of literary
characters and explain how these variations relate to differences in the
characters' occupations or social groups, or the geographic region of
PreK-2: After the teacher reads aloud Robert McCloskey's
Lentil, she helps students identify the author,s use of dialect
to convey the central character's authentic conversational language.
3-4: Students read Patricia McKissack's Flossie and the Fox,
Mildred Pitts Walter's Justin and the Best Biscuits in the World,
and Mary Scioscia's Bicycle Rider. They identify features of
dialect contained in McKissack's story and discuss why the authors might
choose to have characters speak or not speak in dialect.
||Analyze how dialects associated with informal and
formal speaking contexts are reflected in slang, jargon, and language
styles of different groups and individuals.
||Students read Paul
Zindel's Pigman, Theodore Taylor's Cay, and Mark Twain's
Adventures of Tom Sawyer and identify slang words, regionalisms,
jargon and informal and formal expressions used by different characters
or groups in the books. Students identify slang expressions,
regionalisms, jargon, and expressions used in their own school; compare
their lists with those taken from the readings; and discuss how and in
what circumstances dialect can enhance, enliven, or inhibit effective
||Analyze the role and place of standard American
English in speech, writing, and literature.
||The Story of English,
||Analyze when differences between standard and non-standard dialects are
a source of negative or positive stereotypes among social
||After reading George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion and
Leo Rosten's Education of Hyman Kaplan, students analyze how
these works address in very different ways the problems facing dialect
users or immigrants adjusting to a new culture. Students consider the
role that perceived level of education plays in how immigrants and
speakers of non-standard English are viewed.
Learning Standard 7: Students will describe and analyze how
the English language has developed and been influenced by other
||Identify words or word parts from other languages that
have been adopted into the English language.
PreK-2: Students discuss some of the common foods they eat and
discover how many of their names come from other languages: pizza,
yoghurt, spaghetti, sushi, tacos, and bagels. Students use a map
to locate countries where these languages are or were used.
3-4: Students discuss a list of Greek and Latin prefixes and roots and
try to compile as many words as they can that use these roots. For
example, astronaut, astrology, aqueduct, aquamarine.
||Describe the origins and meanings of common, learned,
and foreign words used frequently in written English.
||Students research the origins of common names of objects (such
as popcorn, denim, and bus), as well as the meanings and origins of
erudite foreign phrases (such as sub rosa, caveat emptor, ad hoc,
carte blanche, faux pas, pièce de resistance, and pro
bono), and popularly used foreign phrases (such as bon
appètit, au revoir, numero uno, hasta la vista), for the
purpose of creating their own etymological dictionary.
||Analyze the origins and meanings of common, learned,
and foreign words used frequently in written English and show their
relationship to historical events or developments.
||Students examine many of the words from daily life-- such as
meat, father, mother, sister, brother, church
- to note their Anglo-Saxon and Germanic origin. After tracing the
derivation of words such as "beef" from Old French, students develop a
chart with one list of English words of Anglo-Saxon/Germanic origin and
another list of English words with comparable meaning reflecting the
influence of the Norman Conquest.
Explain and evaluate the influence of the English language on world
literature and world affairs.
||English: The Global