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First Quarter ELA Curriculum Guide

Looking to create a new language arts curriculum, add to an existing one, or give it a complete overhaul? In this post, you’ll find first quarter ELA curriculum ideas that will help you to meet standards and focus on student learning.

These ideas are intended for junior high and high school teachers, and they are merely a guide. It took me many years to develop a solid curriculum I enjoyed teaching (and it’s still evolving). If these ideas can help another teacher, I’m happy to share.

As a cautionary note, because this post is intended to help teachers across multiple grade levels, specific learning standards are not included. It’s important to develop your units based upon specific learning objectives that are tied to standards before altering curriculum.

So, let’s get started. This is what I do during the first nine weeks. Some of the teaching resources I use are linked.


At the beginning of the year, I like to lay the groundwork for expectations. I also try to establish a culture of learning, choice, and accountability for students. Three lessons are important to this foundation:

  1. Plagiarism 101:  Students need to know that whenever they cite research, they have three ways to cite it. If they aren’t including internal citations and a Works Cited page for paraphrased, summarized, and directly quoted material, they are plagiarizing. It can be difficult to change expectations mid-year, so I begin with this fun introductory or review unit.
  2. Email Etiquette:  I intersect annoying emails from the get go. No one wants to receive emails from students full of demands or rude requests. Yet, students don’t know any better until we educate them on proper digital etiquette. Sometimes I condense this unit to three days, and other times, I stretch it out to a full week.
  3. Why Read?: When I introduce book club, I begin with a lesson where students can reflect on who they are as readers, set goals for growth, and learn about why reading for pleasure is important. Obtaining student and parent buy-in for choice reading units is half the battle.


A large part of what I do in my classroom is to get students reading novels they enjoy. I run a year-long, full-choice book club program, which was inspired by The Book Whisperer. Students read for the first ten minutes of every class period, and we make it a social experiment. This post details if you’d like to get started with how to run a book club in your classroom. The same ideas can be incorporated with any independent reading arrangement.

During first nine weeks, in addition to the ten minutes of choice reading time, I cover reading strategies with my seventh through ninth graders. At this age, students are just becoming aware of metacognition. Teaching them how to think about thinking is important. What does reading look like? What do purposeful readers do in order to comprehend better?

While I cover a wide range of strategies, I really zero in on summarizing, analyzing, evaluating, inferring, and synthesizing. To reach these learning objectives, I incorporate paired texts. I pair nonfiction articles and news clips with short films, music, and other high-interest selections.

The other piece of my first nine weeks curriculum is a short story unit. The stories I teach from year-to-year vary, but some of my favorite staples for ninth grade include: “The Interlopers,” “The Most Dangerous Game,” “Sound of Thunder,” “The Veldt,” “The Necklace,” “Lamb to the Slaughter,” “The Scarlet Ibis,” and “The Cask of Amontillado.”

During this unit, we study literary elements, like setting, characterization, plot, and conflict. In doing so, the goal is for students to be able to determine how each of these elements shapes the theme of the story. These are some of the literary analysis teaching resources I use.

A first quarter ELA curriculum guide for planning the first nine weeks of instruction in English Language Arts #MiddleSchoolELA #HighSchoolELA #FirstNineWeeks #LessonPlans


I ease my students into writing. My courses are heavier on formal writing than narrative or creative, although I do sprinkle them in occasionally, especially later in the year. This is the writing sequence I typically follow with younger secondary authors or even with those who tend to struggle. I think logically, and I’m a better teacher when I have a sequence that builds and provides scaffolding. It fits my style.

First nine weeks, we start with the writing process (this and/or this), and then we move into paragraph writing. Students write a paragraph on a regular basis in which they analyze a theme, draw comparisons between paired texts, summarize an article, or evaluate an author’s style. Toward the end of the nine weeks, students write a literary analysis essay in which they analyze a short film. In doing so, they explain what aspects of the film impact the development of the overall theme. I enrich this skill for older students or for those who need a challenge by asking them to write an essay on paired texts to draw comparisons between themes.


Vocabulary is something I teach throughout the year. I like to be consistent with it. My most successful vocabulary experiences have occurred when I introduce one word per day, and each day, I allow a little bit of time for review. I love teaching students to appreciate words.

If you’d like more guidance, you can read this article, which is all about how I make vocabulary fun and how I add differentiation and brain-based learning opportunities. Whether you’re using a word list from literature, from the web, or from another source, these unique vocabulary activities can be used to complement any word list.


Wondering how to sequence grammar instruction? Just like anything else, approaches vary. I do think it’s important to teach grammar throughout the year rather than in isolated pockets. Students need to see the continuum. Taking too many breaks disrupts their understanding of how each piece builds onto the next.

During first nine weeks, my goal is always to make sure students can define, identify, and use:

  1. parts of speech
  2. subjects and predicates
  3. complete sentences, avoiding common sentence errors
  4. parts of sentences
  5. verbals / phrases

Most students have learned about these concepts in earlier years (even though many like to say they haven’t!). Instead of asking them, Have you learned about the parts of speech before?, I’ve learned to ask, What is a noun, and what is its function in a sentence? When students reply that they don’t know, can’t remember, or haven’t been taught, I tell them to pull out their book or iPad and look it up! That’s what adults do, so we should train students to do the same. While they have heard of these concepts before, I always find a quick review to be beneficial.

My grammar units follow a gradual release format. I try to begin with a hook to engage students and get them thinking critically. Framing the unit with writing experiences helps also. If you feel like you’re always struggling to create a grammar lesson you enjoy, you could read this post about how to structure a grammar lesson. This post details how to sequence grammar for the whole first semester.


Hopefully this outline will help you to give your own first quarter ELA curriculum the adjustments you desire. Creating an effective curriculum can be challenging, but I’ve learned it’s always best to be true to you. Choose an approach you feel comfortable navigating, keep the rigor, add differentiation, engagement, and choice, and make sure student learning objectives are identified from the beginning.

If you don’t make it all the way through your best-laid plans, it’s okay! Responsive teaching and getting to know our students as people…as learners…that matters, too.

If you’d like another angle for first quarter ELA curriculum, read about Language Arts Classroom’s approach.