Language Arts Newsletter Mandel JDS Lower School

At Mandel JDS, we have a deep love for reading and writing and believe developing these skills are the foundation to learning. There is nothing like that special feeling of not wanting to put your book down. When our students are working on their writing and it is time to wrap up, it is a beautiful sound when the reaction is..."Oh no!" Scroll down to learn more about all the extraordinary projects going on within Mandel's Lower School Language Arts curriculum.


In Reading Groups, students have been meeting in small groups in their “just right” reading level. They have been reading books independently, with peers and in small groups led by Jessica or Sari. Within your child’s reading group, they are working on developing their decoding skills (their ability to sound out words), strengthening their sight word vocabulary and becoming fluent readers. Students have also worked on developing their comprehension skills by answering questions about a text either orally or in written words. Your child has also participated in sight word games or activities, as well as other phonics activities at their “just right” level, that will help strengthen their overall skills as a reader.

During Writing Workshop, your child has been writing and illustrating “How To” books. These books focus on adding step-by-step details to complete a task, as well as the incorporation of sequencing words, such as: “first, next, then, last”. While they create these books, they are working on sounding out all of the sounds they hear in the words as they write. They are also focusing on starting their sentences with an uppercase letter and ending their sentences with punctuation. We have also explored several creative writing prompts over the past few weeks, including: “When I am 100 years old I will…” and “If I were president…”

We are continuing our Fundations program, with a focus on reviewing letter sounds and formation of uppercase letters. Your child continues to use the “sky line”, “plane line”, “grass line” and “worm line” to practice forming their letters. Looking ahead, we will start learning about the sounds digraphs make, such as “sh”, “th” and “ch”.

Kindergartners continue to love working in our grammar and phonics curriculum, Simple Solutions. Within these books, students are strengthening their reading and writing skills through the reinforcement of grammar and phonics skills. Examples of these skills are, identifying sight words, letter sounds, and how many syllables are in a word, as well as sounding out words, and implementing sequencing words.

First Grade

In reading, first graders work daily in individualized guided reading instruction. Students are focusing on fluency, comprehension, identifying sight words, and reading with expression. They are applying the skills taught in word study to help decode words. At this point of the school year, we are teaching first graders not only to be expressive during reading, but also to read silently for meaning. We call this "sustained silent reading" ( or SSR). In addition to guided reading, first graders practice reading skills in all academic subjects. Some examples are Scholastic Weekly as well as math number story problems.

Word study with phonics device

First grade students are writing both nonfiction and creative stories. They are working on mastering editing features including capitalization, punctuation, order, and edited spelling. First graders refer to this editing tool as COPS. At this point in the year, they understand every sentence needs both a noun and a verb and can identify their meanings. Students are adding adjectives to their writing to bring their stories to life. After they have finished their writing, students are offered the opportunity to read their completed work to their peers ("the author’s chair"). Students are encouraged to edit their spelling using the features they have learned in the Word Study program. First graders continue to practice handwriting, working on conventional sizing and direction.

Second Grade

Students have been busy developing both fiction and informational reading skills. During Reading Cafe, students are asked to engage more closely with their leveled fiction texts through discussion and pre- and post-reading activities completed individually or with their group. Comprehension questions may include: simple recall of information; defining unknown words using context clues; describing and analyzing characters and the setting; making smart predictions; making text-to-self/text/world connections; and/or inferring meaning from figurative language and literary devices (such as similes and metaphors). Rereading is encouraged as it helps students discover something they may have missed while also building better fluency. No matter their level, all students are expected to record the page number from where they find or infer each answer, which is a beginning skill in citing text evidence that they will use in their future literature courses. When reading aloud or silently, students are expected to apply their phonological knowledge to decode words, rather than merely relying on pictures or context. Taking time to correctly sound out multisyllabic words is a goal for many of our second graders. Word Study supports this goal as it is a program rooted in phonics instruction and phonemic patterns that can be applied to any words that follow the studied features.

Researching IPBL Country with non-fiction texts

For IPBL, students have been strengthening their informational reading skills through their country research. Unlike fiction texts, nonfiction reading requires knowledge and use of nonfiction text features. Students are learning to rely less on the images they are seeing during this research process and instead read the accompanying text. Many students prefer to print the articles so that they can highlight and annotate directly on the pages. Students are also learning how to summarize a text and put the main idea into their own words - an important research skill that will also serve them well as they get older.

Students have been developing their writing in different ways. A major area of focus has been on learning how to write a paragraph, as this is something they are expected to master by the end of second grade. The idea of writing at least five focused sentences on a selected topic will be carried over to their Home-School Journal for additional practice. Once they have the structure down, they will be able to write longer, more detailed sentences that reflect different transitions (e.g., “Additionally,...” or “Lastly,...”). This skill will prepare them for third grade when they are expected to write connected paragraphs on one topic. Of course, students are always working to apply grade-level conventions (e.g., capitalization and punctuation) and grammar rules to their own writing, which is reinforced through our Simple Solutions program. This skill is hard for many of them, and in a culture where texting and social media do not conform to these conventions, we are working to help our second graders understand that using correct spelling, grammar, and conventions is a sign of professionalism and will serve them well in the future. Thus, students are using checklists to help them edit their own written works before being seen by a teacher. This skill certainly requires attention and mindfulness.

On Word Study weeks, students are expected to write sentences and/or stories using their words in their Creative Writing Journal, or occasionally they will have a writing prompt in the same journal. All students are working on writing with clarity, legibility and description, and will continue to do so for the rest of the school year.

Third Grade

In reading, students are enjoying the book Toothpaste Millionaire by Jean Merill. The story is about a young boy living in Cleveland who becomes a brilliant businessman. Students have been focusing on making self to text connection with the setting (Cleveland), sequencing events from the novel, and identifying literary devices throughout the book. In addition, students have been completing a book report that allows them to identify the literary elements of the chapter book they chose to read. Following Toothpaste Millionaire, the students will be introduced to biographies and autobiographies. Students will then be responsible to read a biography or autobiography and create a report.

In writing, students have been focusing on creative writing. Students have been practicing using imagery, adjectives, and adverbs to enhance their writing with description. In addition, students have been utilizing sequencing words in order to tell their stories in an order which makes sense to the reader. Also, students have been using opening and closing sentences in their writing to introduce and close their thoughts. This will aid their paragraph writing, when we incorporate introduction and closing paragraphs. As always, students are expected to write using correct capitalization, punctuation, and grammar. We will continue to strengthen these critical writing skills throughout the remainder of the year and move into writing multi-paragraph, creative stories.

Students will continue to broaden their grammar skills through the Simple Solutions program while using supplemental, in-class activities to solidify and enrich the material being learned. Students are still learning new vocabulary terms and carrying out Work Work (to memorize spelling patterns) at an individualized level.

Fourth Grade

Fourth graders have been very busy in all areas of our language arts curriculum. Students recently completed our guided reading book groups. These groups focused on strengthening students’ comprehension skills, thinking analytically, drawing inferences, making predictions, using context clues and making text to self connections. This week, we have begun our new class novel called Front Desk. Through this book, students will learn about concepts of immigration, acceptance, and pursuing a dream. Students will answer comprehension questions and make inferences about the characters' thoughts and feelings. They will also make text to self connections as well as put themselves in other people’s shoes.

Non-fiction reading is also emphasized in the fourth grade curriculum. Through the magazine Time for Kids and other news sources, students are learning to read informational text. We are using the text features such as bold type. headings, captions, photographs, as well as charts and graphs to aid in comprehension. Using these features, students are learning to identify key facts in the articles.

Fourth grade writing encompasses narrative, expository and persuasive pieces. Students just completed a three paragraph essay on the causes of the American Revolution. Through this essay, they learned how to write a thesis statement, topic sentences, supporting details and use transitional phrases to aid in the flow of their writing. Recently, we began a unit on persuasive writing. Using the O.R.E.O. method of writing (opinion, reasons, examples and restating of opinion) students chose a topic that spoke to them and wrote a persuasive essay to convince the reader in a scholarly way. Students will continue writing persuasive essays throughout the semester. Fourth graders also have many opportunities to write creative stories in different ways. Giving students a prompt is one way to help them begin the creative writing process.

Finally, the fourth graders are working hard in both our grammar and mechanics program, Simple Solutions, which focuses on identifying similes, metaphors, and punctuation. In addition, students have begun a unit on root words, prefixes and suffixes. This program will help them increase their vocabulary and to decipher unknown words based on the root or prefix of the word. Although this is challenging, the students are persevering and learning the new root words.

Fifth Grade

Fifth graders are currently working in small literature circle groups. Each independent group has chosen a novel and meets twice a week to read and discuss their books and assignments. They work on reading responses, making text connections to themselves, the world and other texts, as well as written responses regarding character motivation and plot development.

Throughout the novel, students will title chapters, make inferences and use evidence based terms to support their answers and responses. Students meet with their group to review their roles and participate in an impactful discussion. involving plot, character, conflict and theme. The goal is for students to think through the main elements of the novel and consider the purpose of them in the story. These roles and responsibilities help build a stronger reader, think on both the concrete and abstract levels and allows the students to work independently as well as together as they continue to read the novel.

Throughout the year we use a grammar program called Simple Solutions to build on the skills previously taught in the earlier grades as well as introducing new skills such as subject predicate, use of adverbs and correct use of punctuation and word choice. We will also be adding into our curriculum the use of Latin root words throughout the year incorporating root words, prefixes and suffixes.

Students are currently completing a unit learning about the different types of government (constitutional monarchy, monarchy, democracy and dictatorship). We are learning how to annotate non-fiction texts and pull out the most important parts of the material. Students are not only highlighting, but also discussing why they are choosing specific pieces of information to take notes on. Students have created venn diagrams and charts to compare and contrast the different types of government, and will write a mini-essay on which type of government they would rather live in and why.

We are also reading articles from Time for Kids and completing an article review. The goal is to further their ability to read and understand nonfiction materials and make educated commentary on them.

"Today a reader, tomorrow a leader." - Margaret Fuller


Created with images by sebra - "The hands of people hold books" • Dmitry - "Many old books stacked in texture"