Giving Students Control Over The Curriculum

I am almost finished my first week as a Grade 6 teacher, and what a marvellous week it’s been! As my amazing teacher partner, Gina Bucciacchio (@_missginab), and I started planning for Grade 6, we spent many hours discussing our literacy centre routine. We wanted to give students choice over their literacy centres, but we wanted to make them accountable for their learning as well.

We both love Debbie Diller’s book, Practice With Purpose: Literacy Work Stations For Grades 3-6. While re-reading the book, we noticed that Diller makes the suggestion of having students write suggestions for the literacy centres, so that there’s always an anchor for people to follow when at each of the centres. This got us thinking!

In the past, Zoe Branigan-Pipe (@zbpipe), a Grade 6 teacher with our Board, spoke about giving her students the curriculum expectations and having them help plan the year. Jennifer Faulkner (@learninghood), the Blended Learning/eLearning Contact for the Grand Erie District School Board, has also shared how she had her students help plan one of her Science units using the curriculum documents. Then last year, Aaron Puley (@bloggucation), blogged about the importance of linking classroom activities with curriculum expectations, and really making learning meaningful for students.

Gina and I considered all of this when contemplating our literacy centre routine, and we decided to do something different than we’ve done before: we gave students copies of the Language curriculum expectations for Grade 6, we divided them by the basic Daily 5 literacy centres (Read to Self, Read with Someone (a slight change with the wording), Word Work, Work on Writing, and Listening to Reading), and we had them create lists of suggested activities that would match the curriculum expectations. Students pulled from all areas. They looked at how reading and writing could overlap with oral communication and media literacy. They were creative and thoughtful. They planned fun and engaging centres that would also allow them to practice the skills that they need.

After brainstorming in partner groups, they combined their ideas with other partner groups, refined their suggestions, and added some new ones. Now we have our literacy centres: all linked to the Ontario curriculum expectations and all created by Grade 6 students! The best part is that as the students worked on creating these centres, they also met many of the expectations that they outlined: they read and spelled familiar and unfamiliar words, they showed their understanding of what they read, they edited their work, they explained their thinking (metacognition), they generated ideas, they listened and spoke with purpose, and the list goes on. Students also learned how to work well together and solve problems along the way, which will just lead to further success throughout the year.

Below is a short Animoto slideshow of this literacy centre creation, along with some examples of the activities that the students produced:

Thank you to all those people that inspired us to try something new and really give students control over their learning and over the curriculum. We can’t wait to see these literacy centres in action! Have you ever done something similar before? What were the results?


8 thoughts on “Giving Students Control Over The Curriculum

  1. This sounds amazing! I’m inspired to maybe give this a try! Do you have an electronic copy of the centres? I’m starting D5 tomorrow and I’d love to have a look. Did you give the students the entire language curriculum for gr. 6? That’s even daunting for me, never mind an 11- or 12-year-old. Good for them! Impressive :).

    • Adele, here’s a GoogleDoc with what we have so far My teacher partner, Gina, is putting together the rest, so I’m missing Word Work, and there’s still more ideas to add to the other 4 too. Hopefully this will be a good starting point though.

      Gina and I debated about giving them the whole Grade 6 part of the document, or dividing things up, but we decided to give them everything. We wanted them to see how the expectations interconnected.

      When we demonstrated what to do, we came up with one activity, and showed the students how to use the headings as well as the examples to help with understanding the expectations. As pleased as I am with the final product, I’m even more pleased with the conversations that happened between the group members. Students were really discussing expectations. They were making sense of what they were learning and why they were learning it. I think you will be very pleasantly surprised: I know we were!


  2. Aviva, I knew this was going to be a very exciting school year for Jersie. Only after week one of school, we are already thrilled with the creative ways you are approaching Grade 6. I love to see educators, whether it be in a classroom, sports field, or theatre take a different approach, outside of the “norm”. Thanks so much for bringing all your creative energy and enthusiasm into our school. We are truly very lucky to have you teaching our children.

    • Wow! Thank you so much for your kind words! I cannot imagine a better compliment than this! It’s such a pleasure to teach your daughter and I’m so glad that I get to work with all of the amazing parents, students, and educators at our school!


  3. Hi Aviva, I’ve been reading your blog all day and I love all your ideas and plan to implement many of them. I teach a grade 5/6 class half-time and grade 3s. I first heard your name this summer while at unplugd – Karen Lirenman was singing your praises! I hope to meet you at ECOO12.

    I have a question about the centres. How do you plan to assess? I love the idea of using centres and having students come up with the ideas based on the curriculum. I use the Daily 5 which I’m still implementing. It’s slow going because we are doing BAS testing at the same time which removes me from active participation in the class after I teach a mini-lesson.

    I just purchased the electronic pensieve from the 2 sisters and I’ll use that for conferencing but I need some more assessment ideas.

    Thank you so much for sharing all your ideas, they are so helpful and inspiring.

    • Thank you so much for the kind words, Erin! I really hope to meet you at ECOO as well. I can’t wait! 🙂

      As for assessment of the centre activities, it varies. Some activities are used merely for practice (e.g., some of the word work games), and the assessment piece comes in when the students apply what they’ve learned in their other writing activities. Some are used as portfolio pieces (e.g., blogging, comic strips, or written pieces) that show growth over time. I will give the students descriptive feedback on this work, and they will edit their work as part of these centres or as part of other writing activities. Then there’s the evaluation piece that comes as part of guided reading and the daily reading comprehension activities. We actually use old EQAO reading test questions for the reading comprehension activities. These come with their own rubrics, and the students receive marks on both the multiple choice questions and the short answer questions. I also give the students descriptive feedback on their short answer responses, so that they can improve. These reading comprehension activities are done each day prior to centres (i.e., basically 15-20 minutes for one of the reading comprehension activities and/or guided reading groups and 15-20 minutes for centres). Hope this helps!


      • Thanks, that does help. I have 60 minutes a day with them for language and there is soooo much I want to do. We are blogging and they love it! I also teach them math. It seems to me you can do more when you have them for the whole day – integration is easier.

        I have one more question. Do you have a photo or copy of the example you used before you sent them off to brainstorm ideas?

        • I’m so glad that helps, Erin! I completely understand what you mean about limited time. I teach my own Language, Math, and Social Studies, but students are on rotary for the rest. I do love the literacy centres though, as I can integrate the Social Studies by giving them different literature to read.

          As for what we gave them before they went off to brainstorm, it really wasn’t much. We pulled up the Language Curriculum Document on the SMART Board, spent about 5 minutes showing them how the headings and examples can help them as they try to understand what the different expectations mean, and then we wrote down that one centre could be playing Scrabble. We pulled up the Writing Expectations, and had students tell us the expectations that could be met (showing how to put the corresponding number and heading in brackets beside the activity). That was it! This really was about students experimenting. Here’s a complete list of what they created if this helps:


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