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Ideas for Implementing Literacy Common Core in the Non-ELA Classroom

Andrew Miller

Instructional Coach at Shanghai American School
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For those of us who work in states where the Common Core is already being implemented, we all must address the Common Core Standards, even if we are not English language arts or math teachers. However, this provides a great opportunity to support the literacy work already occurring in the ELA classroom. The Common Core Standards for Literacy in the History/Social Sciences, Science and Technical Subjects are all standards that non-ELA teachers, from art to science, can target. Consider the following ideas so that you can be not only effective but intentional in teaching and assessing the Common Core Standards.

Talk to Your ELA Teachers

Although this may seem basic, the easiest step toward implementing the Common Core literacy standards is to talk with an ELA teacher in your grade level. Not only do ELA teachers have great literacy lessons, graphic organizers and the like, but they also know which standards and literacy skills students are struggling with. Through effective pre-assessment and formative assessment, ELA teachers can help you identify which literacy standards and skills you, as the non-ELA teacher, can target in your content area. Do students need to work on speaking and listening skills? Are they struggling with informative writing or summarizing informational texts? These are just some of the possibilities for effective and intentional teaching of the Common Core Literacy Standards.

Use Content as Text

The Common Core Literacy Standards are content neutral, which allows you the flexibility to work on literacy as well as teach and assess your own content area standards. We all have students read and write in our content areas, and we can continue to do so in an intentional way. Assign reading of content area material from articles and textbooks, and have students write and present about content area learning objectives in your classroom. It's a great way to ensure that your content is being addressed while still working on literacy skills.

Speaking and Listening

Let's talk! We all love discussions, from Socratic seminars to fishbowls, so let's keep doing them in our classrooms. PBL projects often culminate in some sort of presentation, so this is a great opportunity to target the Common Core Speaking and Listening Standards. We all value presentation and communication as valuable 21st century skills -- skills that are content neutral in the Common Core. Additionally, this kind of interaction is also a great opportunity for collaborative work and discussions in the classroom, which are included in the Common Core.

Text-Dependent Questions

Creating questions that require students to read complex texts can be a challenging thing to do. Luckily, there are a lot of resources and examples out there to support your work. With these questions, you can assign students content area reading, and then have them write about this content to show their learning, all while targeting specific literacy objectives. In addition, the Literacy Design Collaborative specializes in modules with these types of questions. You can use their templates to create your own modules, or use many of their already existing modules that have been juried and peer reviewed. The best part is that the templates and tasks have the Common Core hardwired into them, so you don't need to worry about figuring which standards you are addressing.

I hope these ideas will help non-ELA teachers target specific Common Core Standards, and also save them from feeling overwhelmed. Start small and consider one of two of these ideas in your implementation. I look forward to reading your thoughts and experiences about Common Core implementation in the non-ELA classroom.

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Jill Davidson's picture
Jill Davidson
Director of Publications & Communications, ESR

At Educators for Social Responsibility, we have been grappling with this as we develop resources to support learning across the curriculum. In a product we published earlier this year, "Countering Bullying and Harassment: Skill-Based Lessons to Move from Bystander to Ally," we created a Common Core Alignment chart in order to help support Common Core implementation while still leaving room in the curriculum for social-emotional learning and skill development. The chart is online here: - I offer it as an example of the kind of thing curriculum developers can do that teachers find supportive.

Melanie Link Taylor's picture
Melanie Link Taylor
Educator, Blogger, Southern California

Great article. Every teacher is a reading teacher. We should not hesitate to remind students of every grade level the simplicity of syllabicating, decoding, and fluently pronouncing unfamiliar words. This is a quick and easy way to increase the reading fluency for students (especially ESL) who may recognize a spoken word, but have never recognized the word in print.

Becky Fisher's picture
Becky Fisher
Education Consultant

Thanks for this great tool, Jill! I bet there are tons of opportunities to create resources like this for all teachers to help align lessons to the Common Core. Does anyone have any other resources we can share? I would be interested if there were any out there for art or music.

SGP's picture

I am in the process of helping my school transition to CCSS and one of the biggest challenges is supporting these content areas. The resources your blog provides will be very helpful not only for me as I help these teachers create lessons but as they tackle lessons on their own.

SGP's picture

I just had the opportunity to look over some of the resources you provided in you r blog. WOW! What amazing materials that are teacher friendly.

Jessica Restmeyer's picture
Jessica Restmeyer
7th grade science teacher from Queens New York

As a science teacher, we are struggling at finding ways to implement the common core standards without compromising the content. However, you give some great examples of utilizing different methods of developing those literacy skills.

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

Hi Jessica!
When I look at the common core standards for science for grades 6 - 8, I guess I don't see how this compromises the curriculum.
It seems to me that if you are having kids write up labs, and asking them questions where they need to quote the text and/or demonstrate understanding of the scientific method, what they were trying to prove, and/or explain their results, that could meet all of the common core standards for science. Add in a report that looks at a debate in science, or how viewpoints of things like genetics have changed over time, and what seems right/wrong with logical reasoning, and you've hit just about every point there.
Am I wrong? What am I missing? What else do you think you need to do to meet the standards that would somehow take away from the standard curriculum?

awji's picture

As a non-ELA teacher, I am always looking for ways to incorporate literacy into my classroom. All teachers are responsible to teaching literacy, and these ideas are helpful for incorporating ELA into the classroom.

Brendan Finch's picture
Brendan Finch
High School Science teacher from Los Angeles, California

I've found that in my previous middle school classroom and in my current high school classroom that finding accessible material for students to read who are behind grade level is extremely difficult. Our textbooks weren't much more than expensive paper weights. Without reading, we miss out on a huge facet of Common Core! I know has differentiated readings that are great for struggling readers, but are there any other options out there?

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