English Language Arts

In English Language Arts (ELA) students learn to become effective readers and writers. Teachers use a balance of complex fiction and non-fiction texts in the classroom and teach reading, writing, vocabulary and discussion with an emphasis on using details and evidence from the text.


Independent reading can transform students' understanding of themselves and the world they live in. Independent reading should be a place where joy and learning come together. While students should work to grow and read increasingly complex texts, we also want them to develop a love of reading.


We live in an age of email and digital texts, which means writing skills are more important than ever. Because writing is so important in higher education and in the workplace, students must be able to communicate well using many forms of writing, such as:

  • editorials
  • presentations
  • reports
  • research
  • proposals
  • memos
  • literary analyses.

Teaching students to express themselves creatively is equally important. While only a handful of students may become professional writers, learning to write fiction, poetry, and narrative nonfiction offers them new ways to think, share, and reflect on the deeper questions of life.


Learning new words—vocabulary—is one of the most important parts of becoming literate. The larger children’s vocabularies are in the primary grades, the greater their academic achievement will be in the later grades. Vocabulary has a direct relationship with reading comprehension, especially as children move up the grades.

Children acquire much of their vocabulary in daily activities (reading, talking, listening, etc.). Words are also learned through direct instruction, which means that the words are taught by the teacher in a structured and systematic way.

Encourage children to read to build vocabulary. Wide reading—reading in quantity about a variety of topics—is the most effective way to build vocabulary. The more a student reads, the more vocabulary they learn.

Activities for Families

Daily Reading

Choose one or two books that your child can read just for fun. Choose a book you are looking forward to reading, too. Find a comfortable, quiet place to curl up and read together for 45 minutes each day. Enjoy! If you can talk to each other about the books, that’s great, but the most important thing is to read. For book lists and other reading ideas see the NYC Reads 365 page [See the Related Links box on this page].

Family Book Club

Choose a book that the whole family can read. Set a date for when you will all finish reading the book and then come together to discuss!

Be a Questioner

When your child reads something, especially something interesting or challenging, help them develop some questions about it. Have them use the five Ws: who, what, when, where, why—and how. You and your child can do this with things you read and also with things you watch on television or online.

Read About Current Events

Have your child read a newspaper or go online to a news site each day to find an event that interests them. If your child finds an article that is particularly difficult, you might choose to read it aloud. Talk about it with your child and include other family members or friends. Then help your child create a news notebook, taping the article into the notebook, stating why they chose it, what they learned from it, and what everyone’s views were about it.

Use Sophisticated Vocabulary

Before dinner, choose an article from the newspaper that every member of your family will read. During dinner conversation discuss what each of you learned from the article and what you think about the ideas or facts. Ask a few questions as well. As you discuss the article, be sure to use the sophisticated words you found in the article. In later readings, look for the same vocabulary words in different articles.

Write On!

Create an original piece of writing and submit it to the following sites:

Children ages 5-12:

  • Take the story writing challenge at KidsCom.com
  • Create a web page at My Hero Project

Adolescents ages 12-18:

  • Submit stories and short films to Candlelight Stories
  • Submit stories, essays or poems to TeenInk

More Activities

Check out several books from your school library or classroom library to take home and read over a school break.

  • Read a book to a family member or a pet.
  • Visit your favorite author’s website and learn more about the author and his or her books.
  • Make a craft, create a delicious treat, or build something unique from a how-to book.
  • Write an email to the author of a book that made an impression on you. (Many authors have an official web site and accept emails from readers.)
  • Read a book and then watch the movie. Compare and contrast.
  • Interview and photograph family members to make a book.
  • If traveling, find books (fiction and nonfiction) about that place in your school library to read before and during your trip.
  • Read books about your favorite places in New York City and visit them.