April 16, 2020 / by LiteracyUntangled

How to Modify an ELA Assignment for Your Child

Recently, a Literacy Untangled mom sent me an email asking for help. The ELA assignments being sent home for remote learning where taking forever to do and completely overwhelming her and her child. Mom told me she had a hard time understanding what the readings and follow up questions were asking them to do. She asked if there was any way I could help. I told her to send me an assignment and I’d help them come up with a plan of attack.

My first thought when I saw the assignment was, “ugh”. It was a classic practice for ‘the test’ assignment; the content, way the question(s) are worded, etc. These types of assignments are mind numbing and the questions are ambiguous. They require a plan of attack, a plan that is learned by direct instruction and repeated practice. No wonder they were so perplexed!

Creating the Plan of Attack

The first thing I did was to read the directions and find the keywords to figure out what they were actually being asked to do. Many of the directions for these type of assignments have more than one question in them and the key is to determine what they are really asking. I call it becoming competent in ‘the language of testing’; no one in the real world would actually ask or write a question this way.

Then I ‘chunked’ the assignment, i.e. broke it down into manageable pieces/steps. Once I had figured out the questions/steps, I found graphic organizers (GO’s) to help me organize the information in ways that helped to answer the question(s).

Finally, I would use the information collected in the GO’s to form and create my final response. I would likely use the RACE written response strategy to help me form my response. I know that the RACE strategy is commonly used in ELA classes and is the format most classroom teachers and test scorers are looking for (sometimes you have to play the game…)

What the Plan Looks Like in Practice

Let’s take the assignment the Literacy Untangled mom sent me and look at how to apply this plan.

*Note: I edited the actual assignment and am not including the passages in full due to copyright.

The Assignment

 Comparing Fiction and Nonfiction 

Read the following nonfiction and fictionalized accounts of [a historical event]. First, identify a way in which both accounts are similar. Then explain how information is presented differently in the fictionalized account and what effect the different presentation of events has on the reader. 

Nonfiction Passage: In mid-November….

Fiction Passage: The men of the……..

The Steps

  1. Read the following nonfiction and fictionalized accounts of [a historical event].
  2. First Identify a way in which both accounts are similar. (Use a GO)
  3. Identify how information is presented differently in the fictionalized account and the effect the different presentation has on the reader. (Use a GO)
  4. Using the information from the graphic organizers and RACE Strategy, explain how information is presented differently in the fictionalized account and what effect the different presentation of events has on the reader.

I would then take each of these steps and place them in a Word doc on a separate pages. This way the student can focus on one step at a time. It would look something like this:

This plan works for any type of reading/writing assignment, from English to Science. If you’d like help in figuring out a plan and matching GO’s to your child’s assignment, please feel free to reach out!

Next time, I’ll deep dive into the RACE strategy and show you how to use it to format a basic written response (3-5 sentences). Until then!