Massachusetts Curriculum Framework
English Language Arts
ADOPTED February 1997
The Learning Standards in the Literature Strand set the expectation
that students will learn to respond thoughtfully to all forms of spoken
and written literature.
The Importance of Literature
Literature is the heart of the English language arts and the
touchstone for all language learning. It represents the unique human
gift of composing and communicating ideas through language. With its
emphasis on active and thoughtful response to a variety of genres, this
strand echoes many of the priorities expressed in the Common Core of
Learning: "All students should read a rich variety of...fiction,
poetry, drama, and nonfiction from different time periods and cultures,
relating them to human aspirations and life experiences."
This strand encompasses literature in written and oral form--books
and other print media, storytelling, speeches, and performances. (Film,
video, and multimedia are considered in the Media Strand.) An effective
English language arts program teaches students to respond to a rich
variety of literature with increasing sophistication and to communicate
their interpretations of what they have read, heard, and seen through
various means of expression.
In selecting literature for the classroom, teachers should consider the
For fiction, poetry, and drama, important aspects include:
- Themes that provoke thinking and provide insight into universal human emotions and dilemmas
- Authenticity in depiction of human emotions and experiences of diverse cultures
- Excellence in use of language (e.g., rich and challenging vocabulary, style, skillful use of literary devices)
- Exploration of the complexity and ambiguity of the human condition
For nonfiction, important aspects include:
- Accurate and complete information
- Coherent arguments and points of view
- Excellence in the use of language
Literature should reflect the diversity of interests and
abilities within each classroom. Relying solely on textbooks is
limiting to both teachers and students. Many types of literature and
instructional materials can be used to enable individual students to
meet high standards. Accordingly, texts and students must be matched.
Consider the following anecdote about author John Steinbeck.
"Some people there are who, being grown, forget the horrible
task of learning to read. It is perhaps the greatest single effort that the
human undertakes, and he must do it as a child....I remember that words--written
or printed--were devils, and books, because they gave me pain, were my enemies." John
Steinbeck, the writer of these words...was finally lured into a lifetime
passion for language and literature...by an abridged version
of Thomas Malory's cycle of Arthurian legends.
It was given to him by an aunt, who may have suspected that
some magic in the book might awaken the reader's imagination. Near the end of
his own life, Steinbeck returned to childhood literary roots
to recreate the story world that had shaped his own life's
work.The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights is his last
gift to a worldwide community of readers.
Steinbeck's experience emphasizes the goal of helping learners to
connect with literature even if it means connecting first with an
"abridged" version. Getting the right book into the hands of the right
reader at the right time is the essence of being a matchmaker.
Literature should reflect the diversity of our nation and world.
It should include high quality fiction, poetry, drama, and non-fiction
from many cultures. It is important to remember that no single author
or piece of literature can represent an entire culture; no one situation
represents all situations of a given culture. For example, a focus on
only traditional Native American tales might reinforce students' notions
that Native Americans are a people of the past without a presence
Approaches to Literary Criticism
Literary analysis usually begins with a set of assumptions
about the most purposeful way to "open" a text or with a theory about
how to interpret literature. There are, of course, many different
theories about interpretation of literature, drawing on aesthetic,
historical, psychological, philosophical, or linguistic perspectives.
Each perspective offers a critical lens through which to view a work of
literature. For example, an aesthetic approach might concentrate upon
the words and form of a particular work, seeing it as evidence of art
for its own sake (New Criticism); or it may focus upon the reader's
emotional reaction to the work (Reader Response). On the other hand, a
historical approach might look at literature in terms of the type of
society that produced it (e.g., Marxist Criticism). A psychological or
psychoanalytic approach would emphasize interior characterization and
internal action and, perhaps, include a study of the biography of the
author (e.g., Freudian Criticism). A philosophical perspective would
teach students to consider the ethical, moral, or religious significance
of a work of literature.
In a comprehensive literature curriculum, students learn that there
are many approaches to the interpretation of literature and that no one
approach is "privileged." Throughout their academic experience, they
have the opportunity to test out different theories of literary
criticism and learn that a text and its influence can be viewed from
more than one perspective.
Organizing A Literature Curriculum
School and district literature programs should be organized so that
there is a broad and coherent selection of materials articulated for
each grade. Literature units and courses may be organized by author,
genre, literary period, or theme, or by historical periods. Each
approach can be related to study in history, philosophy, and history or
criticism of the visual and performing arts.
Students who are studying the work of a particular author
learn how a writer develops his or her style, voice, and ideas over
time. By reading or listening to interviews with the author, students
can be "introduced" to the author in his or her social and political
context. By reading critiques of the author's work, students learn how
critics develop their opinions and how the author influenced the times
in which she wrote. For example, by reading some of his early and
later works, students can learn a great deal about the evolution of
George Orwell's thinking, as well as about the political and moral
issues of his time.
Students also study a particular genre to acquire knowledge of a
particular literary form. For example, by studying a unit on the short
story, featuring writers from countries around the world, students
learn how short stories are written in a variety of cultural settings
and how some may emanate from the oral traditions of a people.
A unit on historical periods enables students to realize how
culturally significant literary works and historical events can
influence subsequent works of literature. For example, a study of
well-known excerpts from the King James Version of the Bible as
literature enables students to discover the enormous influence of this
translation on subsequent literature and oratory in England and in
America. Another historical approach might focus on particular literary
periods, such as the Romantic or Victorian period, or the Harlem
Renaissance. This will help students learn how authors reflect the
ideas or social issues of the era in their works. A third approach
might connect the study of American historical documents with
literature; examples of this form of organization are shown in Appendix F.
Thematic units can engage students with literature at any level .
For example, second graders can explore the theme that an act of
kindness is never wasted by comparing a contemporary tale such as
William Steig's Amos and Boris with Aesop's fable "The Lion and
the Mouse." Teachers should, nonetheless, acknowledge that the theme
chosen for literary study may be only one interpretation of the various
works under consideration.
Humanities courses, particularly at the secondary level, can help
student integrate their understanding of literature and the history of
the visual and performing arts. Students can also learn to relate
various art forms to intellectual and social movements and historical
events. When teachers collaborate across the disciplines, they design
curricula in which students have the opportunity to apply skills and
knowledge learned in one discipline to those learned in another.
Including a Variety of Nonfiction
In their daily lives, and eventually in the workplace, students need to
be able to comprehend informational text that is practical in nature.
Elementary students need to learn how to find the significant
information in a reference entry or nonfiction book, or how to read and
follow instructions for making a recipe or playing a game. Middle and
high school students use reading and writing strategies to understand
the complex informational material contained in a computer manual or a
history, science, or mathematics textbook.
Many works of nonfiction have high literary merit, such as speeches,
biographies, and works on nature, science, the arts, or history, and
these should be read for their aesthetic qualities as well as for the
information they contain. As they read and discuss excerpts from Rachel
Carson's Silent Spring, or Simon Schama's Citizens, for
example, students learn to pay attention to the way in which authors of
nonfiction use words and images for both aesthetic and rhetorical
Useful Teaching Practices
The following practices can enhance the study and enjoyment of
literature for all students, PreK - 12 and in adult basic education programs.
Reading Aloud and Memorization: Students should have many
opportunities to read aloud in class. When teachers also
read aloud, they model strategies for responding to literature, teach
lessons on literary techniques, broaden students' reading interests, and
build appreciation of the language and sounds of literature. Reading
aloud is valuable at all grade levels. For example, the scene at the
end of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, in which Scout
stands on Boo Radley's porch and comes to understand Boo better by
imagining what he must have seen "begs" to be read aloud. As many
teachers of high school English have discovered, reading this scene
aloud illuminates literary concepts such as theme, characterization, and
point of view as it envelops listeners in the language of literature.
Memorizing poetry, speeches, or dialogue from plays can engage students
in listening closely to the sounds and rhythmic sequences of words.
Young children delight in making a poem their own by committing it to
memory. Since memorization and recitation or performance require
repeated reading of a poem or speech, these techniques can often help
older students find layers of meaning that they might not discover in a
single reading. As many adults know, the poems, songs, and speeches
learned in the classroom often last in memory long after graduation.
Dramatization: When students plan and dramatize scenes in
a story, many members of the class have opportunities to get involved
in improvising dialogue and movement for a particular character.
Inviting authors, illustrators, actors, and directors into the classroom
for single presentations or as artists-in-residence for extended
projects helps students to understand the process of creating and
presenting literary works. Hearing the "behind the scenes" story of how
an article, book, play, film, or multimedia production came to be is
also a powerful form of career education.
Response through the Arts: Projects that combine reading
and writing with artistic activity can help many students concentrate on
the meaning of their readings. For example, as his class studies
Elizabethan theatre after reading Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet
, a ninth grader who likes to paint can be invited to design a set
for the play as it might have been performed in the Globe Theatre and
explain orally and in writing the rationale for his design. To complete
the assignment successfully, the student must read the play and
informational text closely, and express his ideas clearly in writing and
Classroom Book Collections and Classroom Reading Time:
Most students need to be given time for reading in school. Many
schools set aside time each day for sustained silent reading and provide
classroom libraries to help students develop an appreciation of reading.
Using Schoolwide and Community Resources: The classroom
library and the school library/media center can be essential resources
in developing a strong and varied literature curriculum. Library media
specialists can work with teachers in selecting instructional materials
to support literature study through a variety of approaches. These
materials include print and non-print media such as film, photographs,
paintings, music, CD-ROM, laserdisc, and computer software. Teachers
and school library media specialists should also collaborate with
librarians in public libraries to ensure that students can make good use
of these larger collections.
Learning Standard 8: Students will decode accurately and understand
new words encountered in their reading materials, drawing on a variety
of strategies as needed, and then use these words accurately in speaking
||Use their knowledge of phonics, syllabication,
suffixes; the meanings of prefixes; a dictionary; or context clues to
decode and understand new words, and use these words accurately in their
PreK-2: Students encounter difficulty in decoding the word
"sap" in a story about maple trees. Their teacher asks them to recall
how they sounded out "tap," "map," and "cap." They use their knowledge
of phonics to decode "sap" and then discuss the meaning of the word in
3-4: Students learning to read the labels on common, over-the-counter
medicines come across the word anti-bacterial. Their teacher
asks them to figure out the meaning of anti-freeze and then has
them figure out the meaning of anti-war and anti-labor ,
as well as anti-bacterial, so that they learn the meaning of
||Use their knowledge of Greek and Latin roots as well as context clues and
glossaries to understand the specialized vocabulary in the content
areas, and use these words accurately in speaking and writing.
||While reading about the men and women who pioneered in space
and under the sea, students come across such words as astronaut
and nautical and use their knowledge of Greek and Latin
roots and the context to work out the meaning of these words. They then
compile a list of words they find in their science materials that are
based on other common Greek and Latin roots.
||Use their knowledge of Greek, Latin, and Norse mythology; the Bible; and other
works often alluded to in British and American literature to understand
the meanings of new words.
||Students come across the word
narcissistic in a literary work (or genetic in their
science materials, or venereal in their health materials) and
reread the myth of Narcissus and Echo to understand the meaning of
narcissistic (or a portion of Genesis to understand
genetic, or the myth about the goddess Venus to understand the
meaning of venereal).
||Use their knowledge of literary allusions to understand their meaning when used in
other literary works.
||Giants in the Earth,
ABE Perspective: When they encounter a new word in a newspaper
article, ESOL learners try pronouncing the word in several ways to see
if they can recognize a word with which they are familiar with by ear.
Learning Standard 9: Students will identify the basic facts and
essential ideas in what they have read, heard, or viewed.
||Identify the basic facts and ideas in what they have
read, heard, or viewed, drawing on such strategies as recalling prior
knowledge, previewing illustrations and headings to make predictions,
listening to others' ideas, and comparing information from several
Focusing and Planning:
PreK-2: Students and their teacher read together Dan the Flying
Man, a predictable book which uses repeating phrases. When they
reach the part on each page that tells where Dan flies next, the teacher
reminds students to use the pictures, the rhyming pattern, and their
knowledge of beginning sounds to figure out new words. Students
demonstrate use of these strategies in their independent reading to
figure out other books' essential ideas.
Monitoring and Assessing:
After reading Patricia Lauber's Volcano: The Eruption and Healing
of Mt. St. Helens, the students are unclear if the eruption is
related to the eruption of volcanoes in Japan. Students generate their
own ideas and then the teacher provides a video on the volcanoes around
the Pacific Rim. The students brainstorm what they learned from the
video and are now able to place Mt. St. Helens in a broader
||Identify basic facts and ideas in what they have read, heard, or viewed, drawing on
such strategies as recalling genre characteristics, setting a purpose,
generating essential questions, and clarifying ideas by rereading and
||Focusing and Planning:
Groups of students prepare to read or listen to reports about men
and women who have contributed significantly to science and technology, such as Marie Curie, Alexander
Graham Bell, James Watson and Francis Crick, Thomas Edison, Nikola
Tesla, Elijah McCoy, Albert Sabin, Charles Drew, the Wright Brothers,
and Rosalyn Yalow. Students generate questions they expect the reports
to answer based on their knowledge of biography and share their com
pleted reports. (Connects with science and technology)
||Identify and describe the essential ideas in what they
have read, heard, or viewed, by using the focusing, planning,
monitoring, and assessing strategies that they have found most effective
in helping them learn from a variety of texts.
||Focusing and Planning:
As part of an interdisciplinary humanities unit, students brainstorm
ideas and do research on the influence of the literature preceding the
French Revolution. They read selections by philosophers of the
Enlightenment such as Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot, and Montesquieu, and
view a filmed version of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro to see
the operatic version of Beaumarchais's play. They compose essays for a
classroom collection, indicating how basic ideas in these selections
related to subsequent political events.
(Connects with history/social science, arts)
||Identify, evaluate, and synthesize the essential issues or ideas in what they have read,
heard, or viewed, and explain why the focusing, planning, monitoring,
and assessing strategies they used were effective in helping them learn
from a variety of texts.
Focusing, Planning, Monitoring, and Assessing:
Students analyze and evaluate the controversy about the
Smithsonian's planned exhibit of the World War II bomber plane Enola
Gay in 1996. They brainstorm the various perspectives they seek to
explore and generate questions to guide their understanding of the
material they collect.
After examining the explanatory labels and wall text planned for the
exhibit, they read the subsequent protests by various United States
veterans groups, public officials, and military or other historians.
They read newspaper editorials on the issue, recent Japanese scholarship
on World War II, the reactions by yet other historians, and the final
response of the Smithsonian director to the controversy as he explained
why he withdrew the exhibition.
Students then compose essays evaluating the nature of the "culture
wars" exemplified in the disagreement over the appropriateness of the
exhibition at the Smithsonian. In their essays, they evaluate which
strategies were effective for them in learning to draw conclusions from
the variety of texts and conflicting viewpoints they read.
(Connects with history/social science)
ABE Perspective: Students prepare to read an article on
nutrition by making predictions based on headings, charts,
illustrations, and personal experience, and by generating a list of
questions they expect the article to answer. They share written reports
with each other.
Learning Standard 10: Students will identify, analyze, and apply
knowledge of the characteristics of different genres.
Distinguish among common forms of literature such as
poetry, prose, fiction, nonfiction, and drama and identify such
differences as these:
poetry is written in verse and commonly associated with
images, concrete descriptive phrases, and the figurative language of
similes and metaphors;
prose is associated with straightforward statements, unadorned
by imagery and closer to everyday speech than poetry;
fiction is associated with narrative, novel, and short story,
as opposed to
non-fiction, which is associated with presentation of facts,
concepts, and ideas.
Apply this knowledge as a strategy for reading and writing
PreK-2: Students listen to a fable from Aesop, a Thornton
Burgess tale, and a story about woodland animals. Students are asked by
their teacher to decide which selection is fiction and which is fantasy,
to create a graphic organizer showing the similarities and differences
between the stories, and to reach a conclusion about what they learned
from each story.
3-4: Students investigate bugs in a variety of ways: they collect
bugs, care for them, observe them, read about them, and write about
them. Using a magazine such as Cricket as a model, students
create their own class magazine about bugs, and include non-fiction
articles, poetry, and short stories.
||Identify and analyze the characteristics of four major
genres - non-fiction, fiction, drama, and poetry - as forms chosen by an
author to accomplish a purpose.
||Students study Anne Frank's
Diary of a Young Girl and then study the play based upon it.
They select one scene from the play that corresponds to a section in
the actual diary and analyze the difference of character portrayal in
each. Students analyze the specific lines not found in the diary and
present an argument on how the lines present a different view from the
diary. Finally, students take excerpts from the diary not used in the
play and create an extra scene for the play. (Connects with
||Compare and contrast the presentation of a similar
theme or topic across genres to explain how the selection of genre
shapes the message.
||Students compare and contrast three reactions to Lincoln's
death: Walt Whitman's poem, "O Captain, My Captain," Frederick
Douglass's eulogy, and the report in The New York Times on April
12, 1865. They demonstrate what each piece contributes to their
understanding, making specific contrasts between the impersonal
newspaper report and the personal poem and eulogy. They further analyze
the differences between the two personal genres by finding examples of
the use of imagery, diction, metaphor, sound, structure and tone.
(Connects with history/social science)
||Identify and analyze characteristics of genres such as
satire, parody, allegory, and pastoral that overlap or cut across the
lines of basic genre classifications such as poetry, prose, drama,
novel, short story, essay, or editorial.
ABE Perspective: After reading a traditional picture book of the
"Story of Little Red Riding Hood" to her children, a student reads the
versions in Politically Correct Bedtime Stories by James Finn
Garner, or James Thurber's Fables for Our Time and analyzes the
satirical elements she detects in the modern versions of the tale.