Frequently Asked Questions

Language Arts

We have been teaching the William & Mary units for several years. How do we keep the concept of change from getting stale and kids from being bored by the same activities?

Kids bring something new to the process every year and change in their own understanding of the concept and the related lessons, so it's useful to go through again and see how they themselves have grown in their thinking. Also, different nuances of change and how the generalizations are developed and applied can be emphasized from year to year. For example, the concept development activity can focus on changes in the individual in Autobiographies or on changes in society in Persuasion, etc. The activity could also focus on specific forms of change, such as changes that happen in cycles in Patterns of Change. Students who have experienced multiple units and remember the generalizations from the start of the unit can review the generalizations and try to find new examples to support them rather than reconstructing the generalizations. A lesson reintroducing the concept and the generalizations should be done at the beginning of every unit, but modifications of the sorts listed here can be done to keep the activity fresh for students who have experienced multiple units. Also, some teachers have suggested moving additional concept development work to the end of the unit for more experienced students to enhance metacognition about unit learning.

Books which are listed in your units are out of print. What do we do?

We tried to ensure when we went to commercial publication with Kendall/Hunt that all the books were in print and available, but some have since gone out of print. We recommend making use of public libraries, used book stores, etc. Plus, in many cases, there is a group of books from which to choose—teachers can decide to use only those that are readily available for now.

Is the grammar packet the same or different in every unit?

There are two different grammar packets: one of which was originally written for upper elementary and one for middle school. The elementary one appears in Literary Reflections, Autobiographies, and Persuasion. The MS one is in 1940s and Threads of Change. If students have done one of the packets in a previous year, we recommend giving them the pretest anyway to see if they have maintained mastery and then teaching or having them work independently with any sections needing additional attention. Also, the grammar section can be used as a resource by students, and the grammar skills should be continually reinforced with the brief grammar activities within lessons and through a language study learning center. School districts may also decide to give the middle school packet early to students who have mastered the elementary packet.

What dictionaries should be used to support the vocabulary study?

All dictionaries are NOT created equal! It's important to keep in mind that the purpose of the vocabulary web is not to develop dictionary skills but to develop vocabulary skills. It is more important to have a few good dictionaries in a classroom to be shared by students as they work with the vocabulary web than to have a class set of weaker dictionaries. The vocabulary web requires that a dictionary provide etymological information on words—stems, word origins, etc. The more of this information that is provided, the better. The units list the dictionaries we recommend in the resource section. Since the publication of the units, additional resources have become available on line—for example, students can access Merriam-Webster entries on line at, and the American Heritage is one of the dictionaries used as a resource at For teachers of primary students, also consider the option of excerpting relevant definitions from the recommended dictionaries for students to use rather than confronting them with dictionaries they can't lift. Once again, the purpose is not to find out if they can use guide words, etc.—although that is an important skill to learn—access to the entries is the important thing.

Why doesn't the writing rubric address mechanics?

The units are not focused on usage, punctuation, spelling, capitalization, or other details of mechanics. Our intent in using the rubrics for the writing pre- and posttest is to measure student growth in terms of persuasive writing. Certainly, the development of good mechanics in their writing is important for students, and other writing activities throughout the units emphasize the writing process, including careful editing. We did not, however, make it a focus of the rubric because it is not the purpose of the test. Teachers may decide to grade the tests for mechanics, but we would encourage this part of the grade to be considered separately from the rubric score so that you may appropriately measure their growth in persuasive writing.

How do I get students to read their peers' work critically instead of them just saying "My friend's paper is excellent, of course!"?

In the middle school units, we added "accountability" pieces to the self- and peer-writing assessments within the units. For example, if students are saying their peer's main idea is clear, they are asked to state the main idea on the form. If they are saying strong vocabulary is used, they are asked to list a few effective words and phrases. These more specific requirements for peer editing can also be asked of elementary students that teachers feel are prepared to handle them.

For people still using old versions of the units—how different are the K/H versions of the units from the older versions?

The K/H versions represent a significant amount of revision from previous versions of the units. Among the important revisions: (a) a stronger emphasis on direct teaching of the reasoning model and a more explicit connection of it with the writing model, (b) additional discussion questions for all short literature pieces, (c) an additional culminating lesson that asks students to tie their understanding of the concept of change very directly to the literature pieces of the unit in an original persuasive writing piece, (d) suggestions for learning centers in all units, (e) all short literature pieces collected into a student reading packet—some pieces included in previous versions were removed from the units if we were unable to obtain permission to reprint, and (f) a clearer sense of vertical articulation of strands across the units. These were the primary areas of revision, but careful attention was given to every lesson in every unit. We recommend that teachers at least examine the new units if possible; if sections you liked from the old version have been removed, you may of course still choose to use some aspects of the old units or a combination of both. Please also note that teacher responses and student data were taken into account in the revision, so we feel the new units represent ideas from real use as well as our own ideas on curriculum development.

Our school district does not want to use a particular book. What do we do to replace it?

The books in these units were very carefully chosen according to specific criteria, and we feel that they are thought-provoking and important books for high-ability students to read. We strongly recommend that teachers read all the literature pieces carefully before teaching them and that school districts examine the texts according to their literature approval policies. In cases in which a book has already been banned from a school district, we recommend that teachers examine the list of criteria for literature selection given in the Guide to Teaching a Language Arts Curriculum to find a replacement title.

Can I use these units with my students that are not identified as gifted? It seems that a lot of the activities in these units would be good for all kids.

We feel that the organization of the units and several of the teaching models included may be effective with students other than high-ability groups. We have several sites in which teachers use all of the models with all of their students to some degree. If teachers are going to try to use the models with all students, we recommend that they (a) use the Literature Web but different literature selections with average-ability students, (b) use extra reinforcement for the reasoning model, (c) vary the prompts for writing and the requirements for writing format (paragraph, essay, etc.), and (d) allow gifted students to work together in groups for group activities rather than making small groups heterogeneous.

What's the time frame on the units?

We estimate that full implementation would be 40-50 hours of instructional time, ideally spread across a semester of the school year. The units can constitute a significant portion of a language arts program for high-ability kids in a district, supplemented by other strong materials for the other portions of the year. In addition, we recommend using the teaching models beyond the context of the units—it may even be useful to introduce some of the models before you start the units so that students are familiar with their use before they are faced with them all at once!