Article #5
Tying It All Together
Cheryl M. Sigmon

Often as training in the 4-Blocks Model is first begun, the training is so specific to the organization and the delivery of each individual block that it may appear that the blocks and the curriculum delivered within those blocks are isolated one from the other. Sometimes, too, the content beyond language arts is ignored as a part of the initial training, leading teachers to assume that there is no integration of social studies, science, health, art, music, math and other areas into the language arts block of time. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth! This week let's explore the FAQ, "Is there an opportunity to integrate the curriculum in a 4-Blocks classroom?"

All of the blocks can be connected by a common theme. If the theme or unit is, for example, something like "WEATHER," here's how the day might look in a 4-Blocks classroom:

The day starts with the usual early morning activities around the calendar. Daily the class looks at the weather and displays a word for how the weather looks that day. Among the weather cards are words like "sunny," "cloudy," "partly cloudy," "lightning," and even "snowy" (unless you're from the South like I am!). On some days, of course, there is an opportunity to display "rainy," but even when that isn't the case, all of the weather words can be reviewed and discussed. While still in the carpet chatter group on a day when the teacher intends to explore the weather "rainy," she may have them sing a favorite children's song about rainy weather, "Eeency Weency Spider." She may have the song written on a chart and may track the print as the children sing and make the hand motions that generations of us have done while singing the song. Today the teacher tells them that they are going exploring to see where waterspouts from the song are located and what those spouts do. As a math project, they are going to place buckets at the spouts and measure the rain water that flows from them. They will explore where the water goes that comes from the spouts.

Now we've integrated a little math, music, reading, listening and speaking so far in our day!

After the morning carpet activities (calendar, weather, birthdays, welcoming back students who were absent, etc.), the teacher goes into her Guided Reading Block. The transition is made by a chorale reading of another poem on a chart. This poem is taken from Jack Prelutsky's book, Rainy Rainy Saturday. They enjoy reading (a couple of times), laughing about, and enjoying the poem for today. Today the teacher has decided to use the science textbook for the grade level reading that the class will work with for three days. This teacher knows that expository text is difficult for some children, and she wisely includes chapters from their science, social studies, math, and health books as often as she can. Children need to learn how that kind of text is organized and strategies that can be applied to maintain comprehension. Today, their science text is about weather. The teacher uses a web graphic organizer to show the kids how the chapter is organized. She puts the title in the middle and makes circles at the ends of each branch. She tells them that each chapter heading will go in the circles. They look at the text together to figure out what the topic is of each chapter. They do a quick picture walk, and the teacher points out several of the key words in the chapter, discusses them, and talks about their meaning in this context. She leads the class in a chorale reading of the first short chapter. Then she pairs the students and tells them to reread the chapter. The partners are to decide on two facts they find in their reading that can be added to the web that the class has started. After the paired reading is done and partners have discussed their facts, the whole class comes back together to add facts to the first bubble of the graphic organizer. They will continue with a similar format for two more days during Guided Reading Block, learning and discussing science concepts from their science text. The real beauty of this is that they will now have much more time to explore and experiment hands-on in their "real" science time in the afternoon!

This Guided Reading Block integrated reading, speaking, listening, and a heavy dose of science.

Now it's time for the Writing Block. There are so many choices here for the teacher in weaving the theme throughout her day. Here are two choices, one dealing with focused writing and one with process writing:

The teacher might choose to return to the science text to use in her model writing lesson. She may want to show the students how she can learn to take notes from expository text since later on they will be doing some research and must learn to take notes from several different sources in books and on the internet. She reads one chapter of the text paragraph by paragraph and models how to take brief notes. She outlines the chapter title and makes notes in bullets under the title. She only wants to expose students to note-taking and doesn't require the students during their writing time to do what she has done. She allows them free-choice of their writing topic but has seized a good opportunity to show them a real purpose for writing and a different style of writing, one where complete sentences and punctuation are not necessary. The students continue during their writing time with a variety of topics at different stages of the writing process as the teacher conferences with students who are getting ready to publish. At the end of this block, several students proudly share their pieces with the class in the Author's Chair.

Another choice for a teacher might be to continue with her process writing selections which are more numerous than her focused writing lessons (such as the one above on note-taking). She may start with the usual, "Now what can I tell you about today in my writing? I could tell you about my baby's first experience eating carrots last night. Or, I could tell you about my cat's new sweater. Oh, I know! Since we're talking about "weather" this week, I might tell you about a time that I got caught in a storm. I think you'll like this story!" She will then continue with writing a story that relates to the science and Guided Reading lessons for that week. After her modeling, editing, and mini-lesson on some aspect of the piece, the students will write on their own free-choice pieces. Some students, of course, will write on the topic the teacher wrote on and others will go in many different directions with their pieces. After about 15-20 minutes of writing, several students will share what they've written with the whole group.This block has integrated the Guided Reading Block with the Writing Block and has integrated science, reading, and writing.

Next is Self-Selected Reading Block. The teacher opens with a story about--you guessed it!--rain. Today's story is Where Does the Butterfly Go When It Rains by May Garelick. The teacher has books of varied genres to share at the beginning of SSR Block throughout this unit--Rain by Peter Spier's, A Walk in the Rain by Ursel Scheffler, A Wet and Sandy Day by Joanne Ryder, Lost in the Storm by Carol Carrick, and The Storm Book by Charlotte Zolotow. She'll want to be sure she picks a book she likes and can read with enthusiasm and interest each day during this time. Afterwards as usual, the students read books of their choice while the teacher conferences with certain students. This block concludes with several students sharing what they've read and making recommendations of whether they think others might enjoy the book, too.

This block has integrated the theme from the unit along with reading, listening, speaking and a little science, too.

The last block is the Words Block, and the integration continues! Word Wall words chosen for the week may have come from the science book which was read during Guided Reading Block. These words will NOT be the vocabulary words from the chapter, but may be five high frequency words that readers encounter often in their reading and that they will most certainly need in their writing. The Word Wall activity proceeds as usual with the snapping, clapping, writing, and checking of each of the 5 words. Some of the theme/concept related vocabulary words are placed on a chart in the room entitled "Weather Words." This chart will not stay up in the room all year but will be available during the unit as a resource for students. The activity for the second portion of the Words Block is Guess the Covered Word and is played today with the science text again. Because the teacher has introduced many of the concepts and some of the vocabulary of the science chapter, she will lift some of the actual text for this activity. She has retyped a paragraph on her computer, enlarged the text allowing ample space between lines and has printed it on a transparency. She places it on the overhead projector with several words covered by sticky notes. In the usual way that Guess the Covered Word is played, students make reasonable guesses about what the covered words might be--one by one--according to the context of the sentences. She records their guesses, reveals the letters up to the first vowel, lets them revise their guesses, and then reveals the word used in the passage. Students learn so much about context clues, onsets and rimes, vocabulary, reading and decoding strategies, and their science concepts through this exercise. It's certainly time well spent, and the students think it's fun!

On another day, the second portion of Words Block can be used for Making Words where one of the science text vocabulary words can be the big word that they can ultimately make with all the letters.

This block integrated reading, writing, speaking, listening, and science.

Now as the day goes on, the integration continues. In math, the students are studying standard measurement. They are setting out buckets that day and will measure the amount of rainfall gathered from the rainspouts (discussed during the morning whole group time) for one hour. As a science project, they might study where and why rainspouts (gutters) are placed where they are and where the rain goes that comes from the spouts. How does the land accommodate the rain that comes through the spouts? In art, they may make "Cloud Paint" by mixing 1 cup of warm water with 1 and 1/2 cups of soap flakes, whipping it all together with an egg beater until stiff and using it then like fingerpaint on blue paper to create cloud scenes. In music, there are so many good weather songs to sing. In health, they can study safety issues about protecting themselves during a thunderstorm.

You can tell now that the possibilities are absolutely endless for integrating not only the language arts throughout each block and integrating content areas into the blocks but also for extending the blocks into the content areas throughout the day. Let your creativity guide you!

4 Blocks Goodies