Structure of the Model Content Frameworks for ELA/Literacy

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The Model Content Framework for each grade level (grades 3-11) is divided into four sections, which capture the key emphases within the standards for reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language (including vocabulary). These emphases reflect the research basis for the standards found in Appendix A of the Common Core State Standards. These emphases will also be reflected on PARCC assessments.

Section 1: Narrative Summary of the ELA Standards

The first section highlights the crucial and distinct insights from the ELA/Literacy standards for grades 3-5 and the ELA standards for grades 6-11. (Note: This section is part of the grade-level introductions in the online version of the frameworks.)

Section 2: The Model Content Framework Chart

The second section presents a visual overview of the standards in a particular grade level, noting crucial reading demands and writing emphases for instructional planning. The module chart offers a model of how the standards for a particular grade level could be organized into four instructional modules to aid states and districts in developing instructional tools. The Model Content Frameworks offer one way of organizing the standards — in this instance into quarterly modules. Equally successful models could be based around semesters, trimesters or other school schedules.

The Model Content Framework Chart reflects the integrated nature of reading, writing and research (as illustrated by the arrows connecting them). Each module suggests both the number and types of texts that students read and analyze. Students then write about these texts either to express an opinion/make an argument or to inform/explain. They may also use these texts as models or triggers for crafting imaginative narratives or narrative descriptions.  In addition, a research task appears in each module.

As indicated by the bar that stretches underneath the chart, the skills of reading, writing, and research rest on a fundamental skill set that includes citing evidence, analyzing content, using correct grammar, acquiring and applying vocabulary, conducting discussions, and reporting findings.[1]

The chart is meant to illustrate and provide context for the standards but not replace the standards themselves

 Sample Model Content Framework Chart


The Model Content Frameworks permit educators the flexibility to shape the content within the modules in any way that suit their desired purposes and even re-order the modules themselves. Because the knowledge and skills embedded across the four modules address all the standards for a given grade level, the order in which the four modules may be used is not critical. What changes from module to module is the focus and emphasis on the types of texts read and written about; what remains constant across all four modules is the cultivation of students’ literacy skills in preparation for college and career readiness as well as the future PARCC assessments.[2]

Section 3: Key Terms and Concepts for the Model Content Framework Chart

This section explains the elements that appear within the Model Content Framework Chart. These elements not only play a key role within the standards but also reflect critical emphases that will be addressed within the PARCC Assessment System. 

Reading complex texts: The Model Content Frameworks highlight the importance of focusing on the close, sustained analysis of complex text.[3] A significant body of research links the close reading of complex text — whether the student is a struggling reader or advanced — to significant gains in reading proficiency and finds close reading to be a key component of college and career readiness.[4]

Close, analytic reading stresses engaging with a text of sufficient complexity directly and examining its meaning thoroughly and methodically, encouraging students to read and reread deliberately. Directing student attention on the text itself empowers students to understand the central ideas and key supporting details. It also enables students to reflect on the meanings of individual words and sentences; the order in which sentences unfold; and the development of ideas over the course of the text, which ultimately leads students to arrive at an understanding of the text as a whole. Close, analytic reading entails the careful gathering of observations about a text and careful consideration about what those observations taken together add up to — from the smallest linguistic matters to larger issues of overall understanding and judgment.

Reading complex text also encompasses the productive comparison and synthesis of ideas. Readers use the meaning developed through the analysis of particular words, phrases, sentences and paragraphs to elaborate on the connections among ideas across multiple texts. Once each source is read and understood, students can give attention to integrating what they have recently read with readings they have previously encountered and knowledge they have previously acquired. By drawing on relevant prior knowledge, students can make comparisons between what they have just read to previous learning and assess how the text expands or challenges that knowledge. Comparison and synthesis of ideas across multiple texts allow students to thoroughly demonstrate reading comprehension as defined by the entirety of the reading standards. This type of reading is also essential when conducting research, when students build and present knowledge through integration, comparison, and synthesis of ideas.

Each module in the Model Content Frameworks suggests that educators select a minimum number of grade-level-appropriate short texts of sufficient complexity for close, analytic reading as well as one extended text.[5] While short texts might include a poem, short story, or magazine article, extended texts might include novels or book-length informational texts, a magazine with a series of related articles or stories, or even a website with multiple related pages of grade-level complex text to navigate. Choosing short texts that complement the extended text will create coherence in a module.  Texts could be related any number of ways: they could be conceptually or topically alike, be written by the same author or in the same genre, or even display similar text structures or styles.  A primary goal in selecting related shorter texts is to build student knowledge and deepen their understanding of the topic or theme of the extended text.    

With regards to selecting which complex texts to read, in lower grades, chosen texts should include content from across the disciplines. In upper grades, content-area teachers are encouraged to consider how best to implement informational reading across the disciplines.[6]  Likewise, English teachers at the secondary levels should increase the use of literary nonfiction in their courses. To become career- and college-ready, students must have access to and grapple with works of exceptional content and craft that span many genres, cultures and eras both for the insights they offer and as models for students’ own thinking and writing.[7] Texts should be selected from among the best contemporary fiction and nonfiction and from a diverse range of authors and perspectives. These texts should also include classic works that have broad resonance and are alluded to and quoted often, such as foundational literary works, influential political documents, and seminal historical and scientific texts. These complex texts should allow students to draw ample evidence from them and present their analyses in writing and speaking. They should also vary in length, density, and type (including new media texts), requiring students to slow down or read more quickly depending on their purpose for reading. Not only do students need to be able to read closely, but also they need to be able to read larger volumes of text when necessary for research or other purposes.

In addition, all students need access to a wide range of materials on a variety of topics and genres in order to develop their knowledge and joy of reading. Students’ classrooms and school libraries need to provide this wide array of texts to ensure that students are regularly and frequently encouraged to independently read texts of their own choosing during and outside of the school day. Independent reading should include texts at a student’s independent reading level and texts with complexity levels that are challenging and motivating.

Writing to texts: The Model Content Frameworks reflect the emphasis found in the Writing Standards that students must develop the ability to write effectively and proficiently. While narrative writing is given prominence in early grades, as the grade level increases, the standards (and therefore the Model Content Frameworks) shift the focus to writing arguments or informational pieces that analyze sources (including writing about research students have performed). Studies show that learning to present important information in an organized piece of writing helps students generate a deeper understanding of a text. Indeed, whether taking notes or answering questions about a text, or crafting a summary or an extended response regarding what they have read, students improve both their reading comprehension and their writing skills when writing in response to texts.[8] Thus, each module includes routine writing in response to prompts designed to answer questions and even to brainstorm ideas — the type of writing critical for improving reading comprehension as well as for building writing skills. This writing can take the form of notes, summaries, learning logs, writing to learn tasks, or even a response to a short text selection or an open-ended question.[9]

Furthermore, each grade-level framework addresses more formal, structured analytic writing that either advances an argument or explains an idea. The Model Content Frameworks are organized with the expectation that students will respond to high-quality, text-dependent prompts about what they have read by framing a debate or informing the reader about what they have learned through writing. Rigorous, text-dependent questions require students to demonstrate that they can follow the details of what is explicitly stated and make valid claims and inferences that square with the evidence in the text. These responses can vary in length based on the questions asked and tasks performed, from answering brief questions to crafting multiparagraph responses in upper grades.

In addition to the analytic and informative/explanatory writing expected of students, the standards also reflect the need for students to write narratives.[10] Narrative writing takes two distinct forms in the standards and the PARCC assessment system: narrative story and narrative description. The narrative story about real or imagined situations and characters uses time as its deep structure. Such writing includes the subgenres of creative fiction, as well as memoirs, anecdotes, biographies, and autobiographies. The narrative description differs from the narrative story in that it is used to create for the reader a vivid impression of a person, phenomenon, event, or procedure under study. For example, in history/social studies, students might write narrative descriptions about individuals and events, selecting from their sources only the most relevant information. In science, students might write narrative descriptions of step-by-step procedures of investigations so that others can replicate their procedures to test their results.

From the importance of organization to the nuance of word choice, shaping narratives that reflect real or imagined experiences or events reinforces what students are learning elsewhere. The close attention to detail required by students to craft an effective and coherent narrative calls on a skill set similar to that being developed by other writing tasks. To tell an interesting story effectively or to provide an accurate description of a historical incident requires students to present vivid, relevant details that situate events in a time and place while crafting a narrative structure that lends coherence and significance to those details. As an easily grasped and widely used way to share information and ideas with others, both narrative story writing connected to texts and narrative descriptions of historical, scientific, or technical events or procedures serve as writing forms that are directly relevant to college and career readiness.

Just as the standards suggest, it is important to include writing under time constraints as well as engaging in longer writing projects that last several days (including possibly requiring students to make revisions to strengthen a piece of writing over multiple drafts). It is also important that students learn both to generate writing pieces in response to teacher-provided prompts and to their own prompts, especially as they explore ideas through research. As a result, the array of writing tasks described above will equip students with critical college and career readiness skills: presenting credible evidence from texts, crafting coherent and well-developed prose, and writing clearly with sufficient command of academic English.

Research project: The Model Content Frameworks give special prominence to research tasks, reflecting the deep connection research has to building and integrating knowledge while developing expertise on various topics. When possible, research should connect to texts selected for close readings, requiring students to closely read and compare and synthesize ideas across multiple texts. One avenue within the Model Content Frameworks is to ask students to extend their analytical writing on a text or texts by gathering additional information as part of a research project. Through a progression of research tasks, students are called on to present their findings in a variety of modes in informal and formal contexts appropriate to the grade level (e.g., through oral presentations, argumentative or explanatory compositions, or multimedia products).


For reading and writing in each module: Lastly, each module includes an explanation of the knowledge and skills from citing evidence and analyzing content to applying grammar correctly that connect and support the standards related to reading, writing, and research. This section of the chart emphasizes the critical roles of building content knowledge by learning and using new vocabulary, sharing information by engaging in focused formal and informal discussions, and reporting findings in multiple formats. As demonstrated in the standards, each of these skills is essential when reading and writing about texts. (In grades 3-5, students additionally acquire and develop foundational reading skills throughout the academic year.)

Cite evidence and analyze content: The reading and writing standards highlighted within the Model Content Frameworks stress that students learn to draw sufficient evidence from a range of different types of complex text from across the disciplines. For example, depending on the text, students may be asked to determine the main idea, the point of view, and even the meaning of words and phrases as part of gathering and analyzing evidence.

Understand and apply grammar: The Model Content Frameworks reflect the standards’ expectation that students will gain a strong command of the grammar and usage of spoken and written academic English through extensive practice, which is needed to be college- and career-ready.[11] The Model Content Frameworks call for students to be able to discern the difference between a formal and an informal speaking occasion and use appropriate diction and tone.

Understand and apply vocabulary: The Model Content Frameworks encourage a systematic approach to teaching academic vocabulary in context, giving students a sense of the connections and patterns in language and providing them with opportunities to acquire word meanings through reading and listening as well as through writing and speaking.[12] By focusing on academic vocabulary, or Tier 2 words, students will build fluency, improve reading comprehension, and be more prepared to access a wide range of complex texts.[13] Students will learn to pay attention to the impact of specific word choices when reading and choose words deliberately to shape their own writing and speaking.

Conduct discussions and report findings: Besides having intrinsic value as modes of communication, listening and speaking are necessary prerequisites of reading and writing well, and research shows that oral language competence is strongly predictive of the ease with which students learn to read and write.[14] The Model Content Frameworks reinforce habits of mind that aid in the mastery of the printed word and directly target speaking and listening skills in a purposeful and systematic way. They direct students to learn how to participate effectively in real, substantive discussions around text-related topics and issues to provide them with opportunities to build confidence and extend knowledge regarding a text by connecting their ideas with those of others through reporting their findings.

Foundational reading skills: In addition to the knowledge and skills noted above, based on a substantial body of research, the Model Content Frameworks address the standards’ expectation that students in grades 3-5 acquire and develop an understanding of phonics and word analysis skills and build their fluency through independent reading and opportunities to analyze closely how the syntax and meaning of the text influence expression and phrasing.[15]

Section 4: Writing and Speaking and Listening Standards Progressions Charts

The fourth and final section of the Model Content Framework includes two standards progression charts for each grade level: a Writing Standards Progression Chart and a Speaking and Listening Progression Chart. The charts trace (in side-by-side fashion) the changes to the standards between the previous and current grade levels. Each row of the chart is devoted to highlighting the shifts in a single standard.


[1] In grades 3-5, the charts also reference the Foundational Skills in Reading.

[2] It should be noted that while the modules above articulate a baseline of essential knowledge and skills derived from the standards, they are not intended to limit the types of texts educators may use.

[3] Complex text is typified by a combination of longer sentences, a higher proportion of less-frequent words, and a greater number and variety of words with multiple meanings. In higher grade levels, complex text involves higher levels of abstraction, more subtle and multidimensional purposes, and a wider variety of writing styles — all of which place greater demands on working memory. Research has been completed to develop clear, common definitions for measuring text complexity that can be consistent across different curricula and publishers. The measures are based on the principles laid out in Appendix A and have been further developed and refined. The immediate recommendation is for teachers to select texts that are within the appropriate band of complexity (like those listed in Appendix B of the standards), using currently available quantitative measures, and then make keener distinctions using a blend of qualitative measures (such as a text’s levels of meaning or purpose, structure, language conventionality and clarity, and knowledge demands) to determine when to teach a given text. See the addendum to Appendix A that expands upon the three-part model outlined in Appendix A of the CCSS for ELA/Literacy. This model, based on the result of new research on the quantitative dimensions of text complexity called for at the time of the standards’ release, blends quantitative and qualitative measures of text complexity and takes into account the reader and task considerations.

[4]  Ericcson, K. A., and W. Kintsch. 1993. “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance.” Psychological Review 100(3):363–406; Plant, E. A., et al. 2005. “Why Study Time Does Not Predict Grade Point Average Across College Students: Implications of Deliberate Practice for Academic Performance.” Contemporary Educational Psychology 30; Ericcson, K. A., and W. Kintsch. 1999. “The Role of Long Term Working Memory in Text Comprehension.” Psychologia; Kintsch, W. 2009. “Learning and Constructivism.” Constructivist Instruction: Success or Failure? eds. Tobias and Duffy. New York: Routledge; Hampton, S., and E. Kintsch. 2009. “Supporting Cumulative Knowledge Building Through Reading.” In Adolescent Literacy, Field Tested: Effective Solutions for Every Classroom, eds. Parris, Fisher, and Headley. International Reading Association; Heller, R., and C. Greenleaf. 2007. Literacy Instruction in the Content Areas: Getting to the Core of Middle and High School Improvement. Washington, D.C.: Alliance for Excellent Education; The Education Trust. 2006. Gaining Traction, Gaining Ground: How Some High Schools Accelerate Learning for Struggling Students; ACT. 2006. Reading Between the Lines.

[5] Leveled texts that are below grade-band level in complexity are not a substitute; the standards call for students to be reading grade-band-level complex text. Flexibility is built in for educators to build progressions of more complex texts within grade-band levels (e.g., grades 4–5, 6–8, 9–12) that overlap to a limited degree with earlier bands, but reading text from the appropriate band level lies at the core of the Model Content Frameworks.

[6] In elementary grades, there is a 50/50 balance of nonfiction to literary texts across a student’s school day, whereas in high school, nonfiction texts are to be more prominently featured in English classes as well as in science, history, and technical classes to maintain a 70/30 balance of nonfiction to literary texts.

[7] An extensive list of grade-level-appropriate complex texts appears in Appendix B of the standards. Though it offers numerous examples, instructors and curriculum planners are encouraged to go beyond this list to select other grade-level complex texts.

[8] Graham, S., and M. A. Hebert. 2010. Writing to Read: Evidence for How Writing Can Improve Reading. A Carnegie Corporation Time to Act Report. Washington, D.C.: Alliance for Excellent Education.

[9] In keeping with the standards, such responses should leverage technology, expanding on more traditional modes of written expression to include using digital sources to draft, revise and edit work as well as to conduct research, including evaluating websites for authenticity and credibility.

[10] In elementary school, akin to the NAEP percentages, students write narratives 35 percent of the time; that amount is reduced gradually to 20 percent in high school.

[11] Weaver, C., et al. May 2006. “Grammar Intertwined Throughout the Writing Process: An ‘Inch Wide and a Mile Deep.’” English Teaching: Practice and Critique 5(1): 77–101.

[12] Reflecting the latest research in vocabulary instruction, the standards divide words into three tiers: everyday words such as “boat” and “red” (Tier 1), academic words such as “principle” and “courage” (Tier 2), and domain-specific terminology such as “photosynthesis” (Tier 3). While Tier 1 words are implicitly learned by students and Tier 3 words are terms specific to a discipline and thus typically defined within texts, Tier 2 words provide the critical word knowledge needed for understanding all types of texts. See Appendix A of the Common Core State Standards for a more extensive explanation of the research behind vocabulary acquisition.

[13] National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. 2000. Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching Children to Read: An Evidence-Based Assessment of the Scientific Research Literature on Reading and Its Implications for Reading Instruction. NIH Publication No. 00-4769. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

[14] Pence, K. L., and L. M. Justice. 2007. Language Development from Theory To Practice. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice-Hall; Sticht, T. G., and J. H. James. 1984. “Listening and Reading.” In Handbook of Reading Research, eds. Pearson et al., 1:293–317. White Plains, N.Y.: Longman.

[15] National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. 2000. Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching Children to Read: An Evidence-Based Assessment of the Scientific Research Literature on Reading and Its Implications for Reading Instruction. NIH Publication No. 00-4769. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

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