Challenging ELA Activities & Extensions

Challenging Common Core Language Arts Lessons: Activities and Extensions for Gifted and Advanced Learners in Grade 5
By Magdalena Fitzsimmons, and William and Mary’s Center for Gifted Education
(Prufrock Press Inc., 2016 – Learn more)

wall-donna-avatarReviewed by Donna Wall

In Challenging Common Core Language Arts Lessons, Magdalena Fitzsimmons provides 18 lessons aligned to the Common Core Standards. These activities and extensions are targeted to provide enrichment activities for Grade 5 students.

The four units offer multiple lessons that embed graphic organizers, technology, and student discourse opportunities into reading and writing activities.

common-core-ela-wallFitzsimmons uses text exemplars for each of the four units of study. In Unit 1, students are expected to have read the 144 pages of Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World: The Extraordinary True Story of Shackleton and the Endurance prior to beginning the unit.

Unit 2 has students reading A Wrinkle in Time; however, to begin the unit, only Chapters 1-3 needs to be read. For Sophia’s War, Chapters 1-10 need to be completed prior to starting Unit 3. Finally, Freedom Walkers is used for Unit 4 with Chapter 6 read prior to starting the second lesson in that unit.

The Literature Analysis Model

Graphic organizers are used throughout each of the four units. Fitzsimmons relies heavily on the Literature Analysis Model. This model addresses key words, important ideas, tone, mood, imagery, symbolism, and structure of writing.

In my experience, tone, mood, imagery, and symbolism will need to be explicitly taught and practiced prior to using the graphic organizer. Nevertheless, this graphic organizer is one that can be incorporated into many other areas of literacy.

Extension activities with a technology focus are provided in all of the units. In my opinion, some of them hold more worth than others. In Lesson 1.4 students investigate infographics. The technology resources provided, in particular “Infographics” at Kids Discover, I believe offer real-world, applicable, transferrable skills that students can use throughout their educational career.

On the other hand, some technology resources simply seemed forced. In Lesson 2.3, online board game templates are provided. While these may be engaging, I would rather see an activity of the students’ choosing included as an option.

Students talking

Student talk is embedded in each of Fitzsimmons’ lessons. A particularly engaging use of student discourse occurs in Lesson 2.4 in which Socratic Seminar is employed. Fitzsimmons suggests teacher resources to support the seminar. In fact, the Teaching Channel video “Socratic Seminars: Patience & Practice” is the exact video I used to learn and try out the process. As the teacher states in the video, this was the class’s seventh seminar.

In my experiences using Socratic Seminar, I’ve found the process needs to be practiced with short pieces of text with the teacher stepping out and letting it be truly student-led.

Overall, Fitzsimmons provides a variety of activities grounded in the Common Core State Standards. She truly does supply ready-to-use lessons with the exception of student copies of the text exemplars. These units of study would provide rigor, in my opinion, for the gifted or advanced students that are often overlooked in our classrooms.

Donna Wall is a certified K-6 teacher, Reading Specialist K-12, and English as a Second Language K-12 teacher. She is currently an Instructional Coach at an urban K-8 school in the Erie (PA) School District. In the past she has taught Grades 3 through 8. Her current focus is supporting teachers in Grades 4-8 in English Language Arts.


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1 Response

  1. Hello Donna,
    Many thanks for your review of my book. I appreciate your feedback and positive comments! For anyone who has further questions about the lessons and resources in the book, please feel free to contact me at Have a great year of teaching!
    Magdalena Fitzsimmons

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