Elementary Language Arts

The Branch School offers a reading and writing program that is designed to meet ambitious 21st century global standards. We use the Units of Study for Teaching Reading and the Units of Study for Teaching Writing by Lucy Calkins, developed at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University. The reading units are organized into four grade-specific units around three types of writing: opinion, information, and narrative writing. We also offer evidence-based programs in teaching phonics, word study, grammar and vocabulary.

Kindergarten

Kindergarten students use a spelling program uniquely designed for The Branch School and written by a Neuhaus trained educator. Within this program, students are taught to analyze words to learn their patterns and rules.They are taught to recognize regular words, rule words, and irregular words. The program also teaches the following: phonology and phonological awareness, sound-symbol association, the six syllable types, morphology, syntax and semantics. In kindergarten, the Neuhaus Education Center’s Reading Readiness program is used. An online reading program, Raz-Kids, is also provided for students in kindergarten. This program allows students to better develop their reading fluency and comprehension skills.

First Grade

In first grade, the skills and habits that children learned in kindergarten are reinforced and built upon. In the first unit, Building Good Reading Habits, kindergarten learning is strengthened, and students establish reading partnerships. By using the social power of peers working together, students learn how to become more strategic as readers. The second unit, Learning About the World: Reading Nonfiction, uses the natural curiosity of children as they explore nonfiction. Children learn comprehension strategies: word solving, vocabulary, fluency, and author’s craft. The third unit, Readers Have Big Jobs to Do: Fluency, Phonics, and Comprehension focuses on the important skills within the reading process, setting children up to read increasingly complex texts. In the last unit of first-grade, Meeting Characters and Learning Lessons: A Study of Story Elements, students learn about story elements and the foundational skills for building literal and inferential comprehension, including empathy, imagination, envisioning, prediction, character study, and interpretation. During the reading workshop time, students also participate in a small group reading instruction or guided reading groups. An online reading program, Raz-Kids, is also provided for students. This program allows students to better develop their reading fluency and comprehension skills.

The first grade writing units allow students to hone their reading and writing skills. In the first unit, Small Moments: Writing with Focus, Detail, and Dialogue, students learn how to take everyday events in their lives and develop them into focused stories. They also learn how to develop characters in this unit using dialog and interaction. In the second unit, Nonfiction Chapter Books, students begin their work with informational writing as they combine pictures and charts with domain-specific vocabulary. During this unit, students learn how to create books that teach others about a specific topic. Unit three, Writing Reviews, teaches students how to create persuasive reviews. They are taught how to review pizza restaurants, TV shows, ice cream flavors, and finally books. In the final unit, From Scenes to Series: Writing Fiction, students learn to use action, dialogue, and feelings to create a whole series of fiction books modeled after Henry and Mudge.

In first grade, students use a spelling program uniquely designed for The Branch School and written by a Neuhaus trained educator.Within this program, students are taught to analyze words to learn their patterns and rules.They are taught to recognize regular words, rule words, and irregular words. The students are given a focus for each week and follow the same procedure weekly. On Monday, they are taught the new pattern for the week and then participate in activities on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday which allow them to practice the new pattern. On Fridays, they are given a spelling test covering that week’s pattern.

Second Grade

In second grade, students at The Branch School move away from a focus on print and move to a higher-level focus on meaning. The first unit, Second Grade Reading Growth Spurt, teaches children to learn how to take charge of their reading, helps them draw on their background knowledge to figure out challenging words, understand author’s craft, and form big ideas about text. In the second unit, students begin learning that books can be used with which to teach. This unit, Becoming Experts: Reading Nonfiction allows students to learn more about topics with which they are familiar. They begin to understand new topics, while also continuing the work with word solving. They also work on vocabulary development and comparing and contrasting information across texts in this unit. In the third unit, Bigger Books Mean Amping Up Reading Power, students are taught strategies that help them develop three foundational reading skills—fluency, understanding figurative language, and comprehension. In the final unit for second-grade, Series Book Clubs, children begin their work with book clubs. They study author’s craft so that they can begin to understand ways that authors use word choice, figurative language, punctuation, and even patterns that authors use to evoke feelings in readers. During the reading workshop block, students also participate in a small group reading instruction or guided reading groups. Students are placed into flexible groups based on reading level and strategy proficiency.

In the second grade writing units, students begin their work with author studies and learn how to write true stories as well as lab reports and book reviews. In unit one, Lessons from the Masters: Improving Narrative Writing, students continue their work with small-moment stories and learn how to create engaging narratives by writing with greater detail. In the second unit, Lab Reports and Science Books, students read nonfiction books and learn how to design and write about experiments and other scientific information. Unit three, Writing About Reading, teaches students to write persuasive arguments and has students learning how to read closely and gather evidence from texts. The final unit, Poetry: Big Thoughts in Small Packages, helps children explore language using poetry. Students are taught how to use line breaks to express meaning and rhythm. They are also taught the skills of visualization and how to use figures of speech to enhance their writing.

Second grade students also use a spelling program uniquely designed for The Branch School and written by a Neuhaus trained educator. Within this program, students are taught to analyze words to learn their patterns and rules.They are taught to recognize regular words, rule words, and irregular words. The program also teaches the following: phonology and phonological awareness, sound-symbol association, the six syllable types, morphology, syntax and semantics. An online reading program, Raz-Kids, is provided for students. This program, intended for home use, allows students to better develop their reading fluency and comprehension skills.

Third Grade

In third grade, students move from a focus on learning to read to reading to learn. In the first unit, Building a Reading Life, students work closely with fiction books and are taught word solving, vocabulary development, and prediction. The second unit, Reading to Learn: Grasping Main Ideas and Text Structures, focuses on the important skills needed to read expository nonfiction. Students learn how to determine main ideas, recognize text infrastructure, compare texts, and think critically about their reading. They also learn the necessary skills for reading narrative nonfiction, and determine importance by using their knowledge of story structure. In the third unit, Character Studies, students learn how to focus more intently on fiction. They are taught how to closely observe characters, make predictions, and interpretation. In the fourth unit, Research Clubs: Elephants, Penguins, and Frogs, Oh My!, students learn that they can learn from the texts they are reading. Students work in book clubs and focus their time on learning how to synthesize and organize information about animals. In this unit, they are also taught how to use the information they read to seek solutions to real-world problems. During the reading workshop block, students also participate in a small group reading instruction or guided reading groups. Students are placed into flexible groups based on reading level and strategy proficiency.

The first writing unit in third grade is Crafting True Stories. This unit helps students develop personal narrative writing. There is a greater focus on the writing process and an emphasis on drafting, revising and editing. In the second unit, The Art of Information Writing, students begin to write chapter books that synthesize a wide variety of information. They learn how to categorize information and break topics into subtopics. The topics students write about in this unit are those which are familiar to them. The third unit, Changing the World: Persuasive Speeches, Petitions, and Editorials, teaches students to use their skills with gathering and organizing information to persuade others regarding important causes, such as stopping bullying, recycling, and saving dogs. The fourth, Once Upon a Time: Adapting and Writing Fairy Tales, uses familiar fairy tales to explore techniques of fiction writing. Students learn about writing scenes, writing from the perspective of a narrator, and the ability to use figurative language to convey mood in their writing.

The reading and writing programs also consist of an If… Then… Curriculum which offers some additional units of study and allows teachers to differentiate and support students needing additional instruction.An online reading program, Raz-Kids, is also provided for students.This program allows students to better develop their reading fluency and comprehension skills.

Third grade students use a spelling program uniquely designed for The Branch School and written by a Neuhaus trained educator. Within this program, students are taught to analyze words to learn their patterns and rules. They are taught to recognize regular words, rule words, and irregular words. There is a deeper focus on vocabulary and grammar instruction beginning in third grade. Students are taught Greek and Latin Roots, and affixes. The students are given a focus for each week and may follow the same procedure weekly. On Monday, they are taught the new pattern for the week and then participate in activities on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday which allow them to practice the new pattern. On Fridays, they are given a spelling test covering that week’s pattern.

Fourth Grade

In fourth grade, there are two units in reading fiction and two units in reading informational texts. The four writing units in kindergarten through fourth grade are organized around the three types of writing mandated by the Common Core: opinion, information, and narrative writing. The reading and writing curricula also consist of an If… Then… Curriculum which offers some additional units of study and allows teachers to differentiate and support students needing additional instruction. We also offer evidence-based programs in teaching phonics, word study, grammar and vocabulary.

The first reading unit in fourth grade is Interpreting Characters: The Heart of the Story. In this unit, children develop their inferencing and interpretation skills while studying the complexity of characters, and exploring themes found in the texts they read. In the second unit, Reading the Weather, Reading the World, children are placed into research teams. Research teams are responsible for researching and exploring important topics such as extreme weather and natural disasters. They are taught to synthesize information, practice cloze reading, compare and contrast texts, and evaluate sources to determine their credibility. In the third unit, students do research on historical events. Children study multiple points of view, support a position with reasons and evidence, tackle complex texts, and learn strategies for using new vocabulary. In the final unit for fourth grade, Historical Fiction Clubs, children practice reading analytically, synthesizing complicated narratives, comparing and contrasting themes, and incorporating nonfiction research into their writing.

In the fourth grade writing units, students become more familiar with genres that they will regularly encounter in their school work. Students write thesis-driven persuasive essays, literary essays, and research reports. In the first unit, The Arc of Story: Writing Realistic Fiction, students are taught to analyze their writing in the same way that they analyze reading. The second unit, Boxes and Bullets: Personal and Persuasive Essays, teaches students to gather evidence, support and express opinions on topics for which they already have interest. In unit three, Bringing History to Life, students delve into historical research. They write informational texts about key figures in Texas history. In the fourth unit, The Literary Essay: Writing About Fiction, students build upon their narrative writing abilities and begin to learn about literary essay writing. The focus is on writing about fiction.

Fourth grade students use a spelling program uniquely designed for The Branch School and written by a Neuhaus trained educator. Within this program, students are taught to analyze words to learn their patterns and rules. They are taught to recognize regular words, rule words, and irregular words. There is a deeper focus on vocabulary and grammar instruction building on the work done during third grade. Students are taught Greek and Latin Roots, and affixes. The students are given a focus for each week and follow the same procedure weekly. On Monday, they are taught the new pattern for the week and then participate in activities on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday which allow them to practice the new pattern. On Fridays, they are given a spelling test covering that week’s pattern.