A Beginning Primer for Implementing the Common Core Standards in English Language Arts for Elementary Teachers, Grades 3-5.

Daniel J. Rocchio, Ed. D.

Professor Emeritus

Adjunct Professor of Literacy

Maryville University


The purpose of this article is to provide a brief review of resources and guidelines that teachers, literacy coaches and administrators can use to begin their development or refinement of units of instruction that meet the Common Core Standards (2010) for the English Language Arts (i.e., hereafter noted as CCSS-ELA). This beginning guide is primarily focused on units for grades three to five and includes recommendations for struggling readers. This resource does not take the place of a careful reading and unpacking of the standards included in the texts synthesized here, but I hope this perspective will help your school with decisions about CCSS-ELA implementation.


What Are the Best Sources for the ELA Curriculum Committee?

The three books that would best inform a PLC related to curriculum development for the CCSS-ELA are

1. Pathways to the Common Core (Calkins, Ehrenworth, & Lehman (2012),


2. Expanding Comprehension with Multigenre Text Sets ( Nichols, 2009)


3. Text Complexity: Raising Rigor in Reading (Fisher, Frey & Lapp (2012).



If your PLC had to choose one text for careful study, I would recommend the Calkins’s book and her related website ( http://readingandwritingproject.com/resources/classroom-libraries.html). The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project has assisted many school districts with implementing CCSS-ELA.


Where Should a School/District Begin?

When deciding where to begin your implementation of the CCSS, Calkins (2012) suggests that each school or district begin by identifying its strengths and building upon those strengths systemically throughout the school or district. For example, if a district has done a good job of implementing the writing process and the data indicate that most students are writing at a proficient level based upon the district/state writing rubrics, then the district might want to focus initial literacy goals upon the gaps between the current district writing curriculum and the writing standards of the CCSS (e.g., the focus on argumentation)


What Literacy Framework Will Help Children of All Reading Levels to Succeed?

The literacy framework that provides the best opportunity for achieving the CCSS-ELA is an inquiry model that incorporates reading and writing workshop ( e.g., see Calkins work at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project). This inquiry/literacy framework is also explained and modeled clearly in the Nichols (2009) text that presents an outline of multigenre units for ELA at the third and fifth grade level. The perspective that Nichols provides that goes beyond the CCSS-ELA is subtle but profound. She explains how teacher modeling with read-alouds, shared reading, and small group teaching can lead students to independently select and critically evaluate their own text sets. This type of decision making and independent problem solving is unfortunately not directly discussed in the CCSS-ELA and thus represents one of its limitations.


Do We Need a Volume of Reading and Writing Standard in Each School?

This inquiry model, based upon essential questions and backwards design (Wiggins and McTighe, 2005), requires the critical reading, writing, listening and talking about complex authentic texts of many genres–not texts shortened in basal readers and content area texts. Teachers need lots of authentic texts at a wide range of reading levels and genres, and they need access to them in all content areas. The texts must be related to essential questions and content within the unit. These multi-genre and multi-leveled material can then be used by teachers for read-alouds, shared reading, guided reading, and independent reading. Allington (2012) suggests that each district set a volume reading standard of 90 minutes of in-school reading daily, and a volume writing standard of 30-45 minutes of in-school writing daily. These time standards do not include reading or writing activities such as mini-lessons, pre-reading, pre-writing, or conferences.


How Do We Engage Children in the Processing of Increasingly Difficult Complex Texts?

The CCSS-ELA call for increasing the reading complexity of materials at each grade span in addition to asking teachers to prepare students who can read, write, listen, and speak critically about several texts on the same topic. Guidelines from research by Guthrie and Humenick (2004) and Guthrie et al. (2009) posit six factors that affect reading motivation and its relationship to improved reading achievement:


1. choice in reading materials and activities

2. using reading materials that are interesting and relevant to kids’ real world problems

3. providing texts at the students’ instructional reading level

4. collaboration among students in a variety of social interactions including partnerships and small group discussions of controversial readings

5. thematic units that teach children key content and strategies

6. goal setting and monitoring by students with appropriate modeling and scaffolding by teachers


Guthrie’s CORI model is a research-based unit framework for integrating content area concepts and reading strategies that will engage all learners, especially reluctant struggling readers. It provides guidelines for improving the reading strategies and the content learning of low, average, and high ability readers. See his website at http://www.corilearning.com and his research (Guthrie et al. 2009).


How Do We Teach the Close Reading of Complex Texts?

Guidelines from Guthrie et al. (2009), Nichols (2009) and Calkins (2012) suggest that the modeling of key reading strategies during the close reading of complex texts should be done in small homogeneous groups with material at the student’s instructional reading level. In preparation for this type of close reading lesson with complex grade level material, teachers should model reading strategies during whole group read-alouds and during shared reading lessons. For students reading at levels below grade level, teachers need to model appropriate strategies with below grade level texts that cover the same content presented to groups of students reading at grade level and above. With careful modeling and scaffolding over several years, we hope that all students will be capable of critically reading, writing and talking about informational, narrative, and technical text at the high end of the text complexity band; and do so independently.


Fisher, Frey & Lapp (2012) present a systematic framework for teaching the close reading of complex texts that includes teacher modeling, several readings of short texts, several teacher-led discussions of the text, and writing about the text. The major difference between this framework and guided reading, shared reading, or read-aloud frameworks is that the teacher does not provide a lot of background information for the reader other than an initial purpose for the first reading. The rationale is that teachers need to give children the opportunity to focus on the text alone during the first reading instead of relying on pre-reading information from the teacher. Teachers and curriculum developers need to spend some time implementing this new framework systematically into current ELA units.


Given the importance of student engagement for the success of all readers, especially struggling and reluctant readers, the research and best practice suggest that the close reading instruction of complex texts occur in the context of inquiry units as outlined by Guthrie et al. (2008) and Nichols (2009). The teacher’s use of hands-on inquiry activities, or virtual field trips in the content areas of science and social studies and the collaborative development of unit questions by the teacher and students are two techniques that will engage all levels of readers. Given this framework, even reluctant struggling students will be motivated to critically read, write and discuss complex texts

  • with teacher modeling in small groups
  • with the support of inquiry partnerships and
  • then independently


How Does a School/District Insure Systemic Improvement in Reading, Writing and Talking about Texts?

The final key component that will ensure the successful implementation of CCSS-ELA, is the collaboration of the principal, the teachers, and the school literacy team. The school literacy team, with leadership of the literacy coach, needs to carry out these tasks:


1. set up a teacher leader cadre within the school to model the strategies that the school has decided to implement ( e.g., the close reading of complex texts) and then provide periodic and systematic feedback to teachers

2. the literacy coach should provide additional small group assistance to struggling readers/writers in the classroom during inquiry units that will provide appropriate differentiated instruction for those children needing extra help in word analysis, fluency, vocabulary, writing, or reading comprehension ( i.e., as noted in the Guthrie et al. (2009).

3. analyze formative grade level data to help modify instructional decisions and lesson frameworks, and thus ensure that all teachers have implemented the literacy goal with intensity and fidelity( Calkins, 2012).




Allington, R. L. (2012). What really matters for struggling readers: Designing research-based programs. Boston, MA: Pearson.


Calkins, L. , Ehrenworth M., & Lehman C. (2012). Pathways to the common core:  Accelerating achievement. Portsmouth, NH:Heinemann.


Fisher, D, Frey, N. & Lapp, D. ( 2012). Text complexity: Raising rigor in reading.  Newark: Delaware, International Reading Association.


Guthrie, J.T., & Humenick, N.M. (2004). Motivating students to read: Evidence for classroom practices that increase motivation and achievement. In P. McCardle &V. Chhabra (Eds.), The voice of evidence in reading research (pp. 329–354). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.


Guthrie, J. T., McRae, A., Coddington, C. S., Klauda, S. L., Wigfield, A., & Barbosa, P. (2009). Impacts of comprehensive reading instruction on diverse outcomes of low-achieving and high-achieving readers. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 42, 195-214.


Nichols, M. (2009). Expanding comprehension with multigenre text sets. New York: Scholastic.


National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers. (2010a). Common Core State Standards for English language arts and literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. Washington, DC: Authors. Retrieved May 26, 2012, from www.corestandards.org/assets/ CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf.


Teachers College Reading & Writing Project. Books and classroom libraries. Retrieved May 26, 2012 from http://readingandwritingproject.com/resources/classroom-libraries.html.


Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. Expanded second edition.  Alexandria, VA: ASCD.





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