When I first started teaching, I would sit down at the beginning of every school year with a blank calendar, and I’d map out what unit I’d be working on each week in every subject for the entire year… except it never failed… I would get to March, the month before testing season, and realize I still had more content than weeks left to teach it.
I did this pre-planning ritual as if something was going to magically change from the previous year. And guess what? It never did…
…until I realized how much I could integrate my content during reading, writing, grammar, science, and social studies.
Then everything changed.
Now, I won’t sit here and tell you I ever mastered teaching 180 days of material in 140 (or less). That would be a lie.
But content integration made everything move more fluidly throughout the day, it saved me valuable time, and the students were actually soaking up more of the content than when I was teaching everything in isolation!
I’m going to share some strategies below to help you avoid making the same mistake I did! Don’t write this off just because it isn’t August and over half of the year has gone by… start now and it will still help get you through the rest of this year!
Watch me speak about my ideas in this video, or continue reading below!
Use Mentor Texts
If you have followed me for even five minutes, you know I am a huge advocate for using mentor texts. A mentor text is a short piece of text (in other words, one that can be “digested” in a reasonable amount of time) that will serve as a model for at least one or two skills, but your goal is to cover MANY skills. Read even more about maximizing time (and enroll in a free course)! As a fellow teacher, Abbie Taylor, said, “The kids get to know the book so well, everything else makes so much more sense!” That is truly the work of a good mentor text!
If your schedule looks anything like most teachers, you have MAYBE 45 minutes to teach science or social studies. Some of you have 45 minutes to teach science AND social studies. So how in the world are you going to teach all of your content in those few minutes each day AND ACTUALLY MAKE IT STICK?
The simple answer is, you don’t! You’ve got to maximize the time you have with your students to get results. Stop reading one book or article for a reading lesson, a different book or article for a writing lesson, and then ANOTHER book or article for a social studies lesson! Use that ONE mentor text for as many things as you can- and tie in your science or social studies content to truly get the most bang for your buck.
Let’s look at a couple of examples:
Do you teach about the effects humans have on shaping the landscape?
A River Ran Wild by Lynne Cherry tells the story of the Nashua River and how it changed over time with settlers, industry, and pollution. It helps give the students an idea of how, even though we don’t see the damage we are causing now, future generations are affected. I would read this book during my reading workshop and tie it to my science lessons on pollution. This is a great book to use when exploring illustrations as well as talking about cause and effect.
Skills to cover with just this one mentor text: identifying humans’ effect on environment, demonstrating change over time (timelines), identifying cause and effect, using complex sentences to write about cause and effect, and writing a persuasive piece about environmental issues.
Do you teach about Westward Expansion?
Apples To Oregon by Deborah Hopkinson is NOT nonfiction, but it is still a fantastic book to use when teaching about Westward Expansion. It’s a humorous tall tale about a family moving to Oregon, and Papa doesn’t want to leave behind his apple trees. Although it is fiction, it still represents the hardships the families faced along the trail, and does so in a little bit of a lighter way than a book like Dandelions by Eve Bunting does (which is another fantastic mentor text that I highly recommend). Apples to Oregon is full of fantastic figurative language which makes for great mentor sentence and writing lessons.
Skills to cover with just this one mentor text: hardships of pioneer life, identifying figurative language, discovering character motives, identifying theme, distinguishing traits of tall tales, and writing narratives from a pioneer’s perspective
Use High-Interest Passages
The keyword above is high-interest. We teach about things that the kids have no connection to, no experience with, and sometimes, let’s admit, are downright boring. I don’t know about you, but reading the textbook was not one of my fond memories from grade school.
But let me tell you what does make an impact… when teaching about the American Revolution, read about all the insane Acts that crazy King George passed and thinking about how that would have felt as a colonist. Instead of just reading about the Declaration of Independence, teach them about this document actually being treasonous at that time! Get them hooked in and excited about things, and all the learning will happen without them even realizing they are doing hard, rigorous work! (Check out this American Revolution set of paired texts for the topics I mentioned above, and more!)
Not only will getting the kids excited and interested about what they’re learning help it stick, but you’ll also be able to double dip with these articles in reading and writing.
Just as reading mentor texts during ELA time helps cover other content skills, using content-aligned articles and passages during ELA is going to give you back some of that time you need to do some hands-on learning during that allotted science or social studies time.
I will be sharing more in an upcoming article about how I used these high-interest paired texts to teach close reading, finding and citing evidence with text dependent questions, and writing constructed responses!
In the meantime, check out more high-interest passages in my store!
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