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Archived Information

Massachusetts Curriculum Framework

English Language Arts
ADOPTED February 1997

Language Strand

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.

Language Strand
*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.

GradesStandardExamples
PreK-4 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, timekeeper).

5-8 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.
9-10 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.
11-12 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.



Language Strand
*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.

GradesStandardExamples
PreK-4 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.

5-8 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.
9-10 Summarize in a coherent and organized way what they have learned from a focused discussion. After discussing 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 contexts.
11-12 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 readers.

*This Learning Standard is best assessed at the local level.



Language Strand
*Learning Standard 3: Students will make oral presentations that demonstrate appropriate consideration of audience, purpose, and the information to be conveyed.

GradesStandardExamples
PreK-4 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.

5-8 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.
9-10 Analyze a group of historic speeches for the features that made them memorable, and prepare a speech using some of these features. 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.
11-12 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.



Language Strand
Learning Standard 4: Students will acquire and use correctly an advanced reading vocabulary of English words, identifying meanings through an understanding of word relationships.

GradesStandardExamples
PreK-4 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 peachy pawnbrokers.)

5-8 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 related reference. 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.
9-10 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).
11-12 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.


Language Strand
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, and spelling.

GradesStandardExamples
PreK-4 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 English spelling.

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.

5-8 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.
9-10 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 Shadow,"
"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."
11-12 Identify, describe, and apply all conventions of standard English. 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 before publication.


Language Strand
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.

GradesStandardExamples
PreK-4 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 the story.

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.

5-8 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 communication.
9-10 Analyze the role and place of standard American English in speech, writing, and literature. The Story of English,
11-12 Analyze when differences between standard and non-standard dialects are a source of negative or positive stereotypes among social groups. 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.


Language Strand
Learning Standard 7: Students will describe and analyze how the English language has developed and been influenced by other languages.

GradesStandardExamples
PreK-4 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.

5-8 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.
9-10 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.
11-12 Explain and evaluate the influence of the English language on world literature and world affairs. English: The Global Language




Last Updated: February 1, 1997
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