for Grades 4 & 5
Implementation of the original Word Generation program in middle school made clear that starting earlier to teach the academic language, discussion, argumentation, and thinking skills would help shrink the achievement gap and support students in meeting the Common Core State Standards. Accordingly, a 4th and a 5th grade Word Generation curriculum was developed. Each consists of 12 units designed to be used for 40-50 minutes per day for two weeks. Each unit is organized around a central question and offers a variety of texts, word-learning activities, writing tasks, and discussion/debate opportunities. Each unit covers topics often included in social studies content standards as well as ELA literacy standards.
These materials were developed as part of a major study called Catalyzing Comprehension through Discussion and Debate.
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Download a one-page description of Word Gen Elementary
24 Two-week Interdisciplinary Elementary Units Now Available
(approximately ten 45 min class sessions)
Grade 4 Curriculum
Introduction to Fourth Grade Word Generation
(one-week orientation unit)
4th Grade "Action News"
(short introductory videos for each unit)
Grade 5 Curriculum
Introduction to Fifth Grade Word Generation (one-week orientation unit)
5th Grade "Action News"
(short introductory videos for each unit)
4.01 What is fair?
In this unit focusing on fairness, students start with an Action News piece and a Reader’s Theater to explore different perspectives on exclusion. Students use focus words in activities in the Word Study section, read an interview with an expert on conflict resolution, and do science and math activities that incorporate issues of fairness. Finally, students debate about two different perspectives on exclusion and write a piece about their own position.
4.02 Should students share responsibility for each other's behavior in school?
The Action News and Reader’s Theater introduce students to the Good Behavior Game, a central focus of the unit. Students complete Word Study activities on the focus words and on using adverbs. They also read a letter from an expert and use math and science to further think about and discuss behavior. Then, students debate whether or not they should be responsible for each other’s behavior and write about their opinions on the matter.
4.03 Who should decide what we eat?
Starting off with an Action News and Reader’s Theater, students learn information on school lunches and Michelle Obama’s Nutrition Campaign. Students keep a food journal at home and use the Word Study activities to build understanding of the focus words, prefixes, and suffixes. The math and science activities center on issues of food and nutrition. Students conclude the unit by reading about potatoes in school lunches and debating who should decide what students eat.
4.04 Should students be required to wear uniforms?
The Action News and Reader’s Theater introduce the idea of requiring school uniforms. Students identify different perspectives and complete a focus word chart to further their understanding of the unit’s words. This unit’s science and math activities also incorporate the topic of school uniforms. To finish the unit, students read an article, debate, and write about requiring school uniforms.
4.05 Should everyone learn a second language?
The Action News and Reader’s Theater are both about bilingualism, and students are asked to look in depth at each characters’ perspective. Word Study activities explore the focus words and cognates. Students also complete math and science tasks on learning a second language. Students then read interviews with experts on language and debate whether or not everyone should learn a second language.
4.06 Who cares where we came from?
The Action News and Reader’s Theater segments provide background information and introduce students to different perspectives on family history. Students read an interview with a food writer about how food reflects culture and get a chance to write about their own family’s recipe. Math and science activities help expand students’ knowledge about heritage and culture. The unit concludes with a debate about how immigrants should settle into a new school and a writing prompt about studying family origins.
4.10 Why do we wear what we wear?
This unit explores people’s choices of clothes. The unit starts with an Action News piece and a Reader’s Theater to introduce different perspectives on ways of dressing. Students then complete Word Study, math, and science activities to build knowledge of focus words and the unit topic. Students also read an interview with Professor Lan Nguyen Chaplin about the behaviors of consumerism in adolescents and read an article about Ibtihaj Muhammad, an Olympic fencer. Finally, students debate about what should have the biggest influence on what people wear.
4.11 Why do we buy what we buy?
Starting with an Action News piece and a Reader’s Theater on persuasive advertising, students are exposed to different opinions on the topic. A word chart builds knowledge of the unit’s focus words, while math and science activities hone in on how commercials influence children’s choices. Then, students read an interview with Dr. Susan Linn about the impact of advertising on kids and an article about the differences between public service announcements and commercials. This all leads up to debate and writing activities, where students articulate their opinions on the impacts of advertising.
4.12 Why do we value what we value?
In this unit, students explore why people value certain things in their lives. The Action News and Reader’s Theater sections help provide insight into the different perspectives on this topic. Then, students complete a focus word chart, followed by math and science activities that dive into different types of values. An article/petition about a fourth grade class and The Lorax movie gives students an idea of a real-life situation about values. Students then debate the topic, create their own public service announcement, and write about why their public service announcement should appear on bus stops.
4.07 Who gets to decide what's safe?
The Action News and Reader’s Theater introduce the topic of safety, while Word Study activities build familiarity with the focus words. Math and science sections explore the safety of drinking water, and a partner work activity focuses on the topic of violent television shows, movies, and video games. Students then debate about who gets to decide what is considered safe and write a blog post regarding the topic of what’s safe on television.
4.08 Should wild animals be adopted as pets?
The unit starts with an Action News and a Reader’s Theater to introduce and provide different perspectives on keeping wild animals as pets. Students then build familiarity with the focus words during the Word Study activities and have a chance to interview people they know and ask them about their opinions on pets. Students read an interview with an expert and explore geography, math, and science activities to build knowledge for composing their debate arguments. At the end, students debate and write about whether or not wild animals should be adopted as pets.
4.09 When is it acceptable to break the rules?
An Action News piece and a Reader’s Theater are used as an introduction to the topic and have students explore differing opinions on the matter. Students then complete a focus word chart to further their understanding of the unit’s words. Students read an interview with a professor and complete a science activity about rule breaking. The unit also includes an article about Judge Olly Neal and his experience breaking the rules. Students conclude the unit by debating and writing about rule breaking.
5.01 Where do I belong?
Students are introduced to what it means to belong to a community through the Action News, Reader’s Theater, Word Study, and Hester’s journal entry. Students also conduct an interview with an adult from their own community and reflect on the findings with their classmates. They read about two different elementary schools and have a discussion about which school community they would rather belong to. The unit concludes with a writing activity that asks students to design a poster that will entice people to join their community.
5.02 Should everyone be included?
The Action News and Reader’s Theater introduce students to the challenges of integrating immigrant students. Students identify different perspectives and complete a focus word chart to further their understanding of the unit’s words. Students then read Hester’s journal to learn about her experience in a new world. Students also build knowledge by reading an article about a school for deaf children in Nicaragua. Finally, students debate and write about inclusion for everyone in their community.
5.03 Why should I care?
The Action News and Reader’s Theater discuss students who raised money to help the Japanese after a tsunami. Students then identify different perspectives and complete Word Study activities on the focus words and on prefixes and suffixes. Students prepare to debate by formulating arguments based on evidence from Hester’s journal entry, an article about the Skilled Veterans Corps from Japan, and the other activities within this unit. Students then debate and write about responsibility and obligations.
5.04 What divides us and how can we resolve our differences?
The Action News piece and Reader’s Theater introduce students to different perspectives on spending town money. Students then use the Word Study activities to build their understanding of the focus words. Students read a journal entry from Hester and an article about twelve-year-old Azeera Gul and her fight for education in Pakistan. To conclude, students formulate arguments for a debate about changing the school schedule and a writing activity about appropriate land use.
5.05 Why do we fight?
The unit starts with an introduction from the Action News and Reader’s Theater about the scarcity of drinkable water. Students identify different perspectives, then use Word Study activities to further develop understanding of the focus words. Hester’s journal and two different articles, one about the people of the world and the other about the Tragedy of the Commons in 1646, provide background information to prepare students for the debate. Finally, students debate about making money off of other people’s bad luck and create a public service announcement about protecting resources.
5.06 Do we need to give up our privacy to protect our communities?
The Action News and Reader’s Theater introduce students to the idea of video cameras in public places. Students identify the perspectives of different characters and complete a focus word chart on the unit’s words. Students also read another journal entry from Hester, read articles about video surveillance and social media, and complete a math activity. The unit concludes with debate and writing activities on the topic of privacy.
5.07 The Power of Power
Students read an Action News and a Reader’s Theater about power and elections. Students also read a journal entry from Grace, a fictional enslaved girl from the late 1700s, and an informal text about the Boston Tea Party. Also, students read about the Newsboy Strike of 1899, a human-caused “earthquake,” and anonymous hackers. Students then discuss a fictitious clothing company that uses child labor and complete a writing activity.
5.08 Why do communities have different ideas about what brings happiness?
The unit starts with an Action News and a Reader’s Theater about factors that contribute to happiness. Word Study activities help students better understand the unit’s focus words and possessive nouns. Students read another journal entry from Grace and an informal text on diversity in the Continental Army. Students also read about happiness and material possessions and complete a math activity about exercise and happiness. The unit concludes with a debate and writing prompt about the best way to invest in a community’s happiness.
5.09 How can one person influence a community?
The Action News and Reader’s Theater introduce the idea of how rumors have a huge impact. Students identify different perspectives and explore the focus words using different activities. Grace’s journal entry shares her experience with rumors around her community. Additional articles and a math activity give students context on rumors and false accusations. The unit concludes with a class debate on distinguishing rumors from facts and a writing activity.
5.10 Do we need laws to regulate our behavior?
The Action News piece and Reader’s Theater introduce students to the idea of a cell phone ban at school. Students read a journal entry from Grace about the changing laws regarding slavery and an informational text about Titus Cornelius. Two other informational texts and a math activity give students a better understanding of the unit’s central idea and prepare students for the debate. Finally, students debate about regulating sugary drinks and write a persuasive letter to convince the mayor how to think about regulation.
5.11 What kind of protections justify restricting our freedoms?
In this unit, the Action News and Reader’s Theater focus on smoking laws. Word Study activities help students build understanding of the focus words. Students also complete an activity about the Bill of Rights and a math activity about public transportation. A journal entry from Grace’s daughter, Betsy, describes a slave rebellion, and an article explains the Americans with Disabilities Act. The unit concludes with a debate about mandatory school for kids and a writing activity about amendments.
5.12 Can we create a better society?
The Action News and Reader’s Theater introduce different perspectives through a discussion of improving the local park. Students complete Word Study activities to build their understanding of the focus words. They read a journal entry from Betsy and an informational text about Paul Cuffee and his attempt to build a better community for people of color. Students work together in groups on a final project about creating a summer camp. To conclude, students write about their experience, then present a poster with their group about their summer camp.
THE WORDGEN TEAMDevelopment of Word Generation was led by Catherine Snow (Harvard University) through a SERP collaboration with the Boston Public Schools and other districts in Massachusetts and Maryland. Support for Word Generation was provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Noyce Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, the Leon Lowenstein Foundation and the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education through grant numbers R305A090555 and R305F100026. The information provided does not represent views of the funders.
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