The Value of a Longer Text-Based Unit


If you’ve been with me for a while, you’ll know that I LOVE a good text-based unit. Using quality picture books, novels or informational text to teach English is enjoyable for both students and teachers alike. This idea has been embraced by many teachers, which is wonderful. However, I’d like to talk today about the value of a unit of work that goes for a little longer than a week.

Using a different book each week feels neat and tidy. We can write the title of the text in our planners and keep things in order. While the ‘1 book each week’ approach has a place in some circumstances, I would argue that text-based units that go across four or five weeks are more valuable for student learning. Here’s why. 

  1. It takes time to build background knowledge.
    When students engage with familiar texts, they don’t need time to build understanding of major themes and concepts. However, when you are introducing unfamiliar texts, it takes time to build background knowledge, vocabulary and familiarity with texts to a level where students can infer and think more deeply about the text. This is especially true for our students with language difficulties or who have English as an additional language or dialect. photo-1541692641319-981cc79ee10a2. Build the Field.
    Spending a week or two ‘building the field’ for learning means that when you are ready to dive into exploring the language features in the text or engaging in innovating on the text, your students will be right there with you. If we want students to be able to write in a particular way, we need to provide loads of opportunities to use language orally, figure out what they are going to say and have gradually reduced the responsibility for the writing over time. Effective use of I do, we do, you do, take time. 
    photo-1601723897234-3271473040133. Factor in the fun stuff.
    Now, I’m not really a fan of designing lessons as entertainment, so please don’t misunderstand me. When you teach from a text for four or five weeks, you have time to engage in things like drama. Drama is a wonderful way to help students build a strong understanding of the characters and events of the text. Reader’s theatre, phone a friend and walking in character are all great activities to help engage your students. Everyone can be involved and be successful. And if you’re thinking, “My older students will never go for that”, you might be 4. It saves you a whole heap of planning time.
    It takes almost as much time to plan a unit for a week as it does to plan a unit for 4 weeks. How? Well, low variance routines come into play and repeated planning steps mean that you plan and teach in the same way in every unit but change out the content. A longer unit also means that you and the students don’t get bored doing the same type of activities every time. 
Looking for ready-made resources to help you implement structured literacy in your classroom?  Read more about the Resource Room here. 

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