At The Core Of It All

“You will see that there is a topic sentence, three big ideas or stars and then two smaller red bar lines on your worksheet for the details,” said Ring Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Denise Powers. “You already wrote the topic sentence and one big idea about what Tim forgot in the video, ‘The Iroquois Confederacy.’ Now, we need to support it with details. It’s like building an ice cream sundae. You start with the vanilla ice cream but you add details like sprinkles, whipped cream and a cherry on top. Just ice cream is good but adding details makes it better. It is the same with your writing, details make your writing better. I want you to read quickly through the article on the Iroquois and locate specific text details about the Iroquois flag to tell Tim what he missed explaining in the video. Highlight the specific details you will use.”

Powers, along with Special Education teacher, Mark Crandall, were teaching a lesson in unit one, module one in the new fourth-grade ELA Common Core modules. The eight- to 10-week module is comprised of three units and integrates ELA and social studies as students read, write, listen and speak, to learn about the Native Americans of New York. The goal of the unit is for students to read closely in order to identify the main idea of a given piece of text. In Powers’ class, students used text details from sections of the Iroquois Constitution and an article titled “The (Really) Great Law of Peace.”

“So far, I am enjoying the ELA module,” said Powers. “I like the integration of ELA with social studies and/or science content because it allows us to maximize our teaching time. As a result of adopting the modules, the students are reading more non-fiction and far more rigorous texts. For example, we have always learned about the Iroquois, but this is the first time I’ve exposed my students to the Iroquois Constitution, learning to read and analyze from a primary source document. The texts are challenging, but as we continue to provide students with the skills and strategies they need to tackle difficult reading their confidence will increase, and they will see more success.”

According to, parents will see six shifts in English Language Arts for prekindergarten to fifth grades due to the new Common Core modules:

Your child will read more nonfiction. You can help your child by reading more nonfiction at home. Have fun with it by letting your child read magazines and books on topics they are interested in, like dinosaurs or skateboarding.

Your child will learn more about the world through reading. Give your child more fact-based books about the world to read about. Maybe they are interested in kangaroos? Bring home a book about Australia so they can find out more about kangaroos but also learn about the country where they live.

Students will need to use evidence from the text to support what they say. This is different from the opinion questions used in the past. Ask your child to provide evidence in everyday discussion. If you have a disagreement with your child, ask them to support their side with evidence as to why they are right.

Students will learn to write from what they read. Encourage writing at home together -maybe a detailed story from your family’s history.

Students will have an increased academic vocabulary. Stretch your child’s vocabulary-read often together so your child can learn new and challenging words. If they do not seem to understand a new word, look it up together in the dictionary, talk about what it means, and use it in other sentences.

Students will read challenging text very closely. Children will need to make sense of what they read and draw own conclusions. Read challenging books with your child to enhance their reading experience.

“I would urge parents to view the newly adopted modules with an open mind,” said Powers. “If parents have questions or concerns about the modules, including the homework, they should not hesitate to call their child’s teacher.”

As a parent, you can help and learn more by talking with your child about what they are learning. Ask open-ended questions about what they learned in school each day, read their homework and attend school events to learn about what their teachers expect.

“We are making these new shifts to the Common Core curriculum because our previous standards did not adequately prepare our students for college and careers in the 21st century,” said Annette Miller, JPS English coordinator. “These new standards are challenging and students will need the support of teachers, parents, and communities to meet these higher expectations.”

Parents and families can find out more information about the Common Core Learning Standards and modules at