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Integrating language arts

Why Integrate the Language Arts?

Children and young adults develop literacy – the ability to write, read, speak, listen, and think – by having “real” experiences with writing, reading, speaking, listening, and thinking and by getting support from more experienced literacy learners (Wells, 1981, 1986, 1990; Vygotsky, 1978). Integrating the language arts means that the elements of literacy are developed and taught with a set of common experiences, using pieces of authentic literature; these experiences involve reading, writing, speaking, listening, and thinking as they would normally be used by literacy learners.

There are many advantages to integrating the language arts. First, children learn all aspects of language by using language in purposeful situations (Halliday, 1975). As adults, we use all aspects of literacy simultaneously. By integrating the language arts for classroom instruction, we put children in situations that match the way in which they naturally learn and use language. Second, by integrating the language arts, children and young adults develop better critical thinking abilities. This is especially true when reading and writing are taught together (Tierney & Shanahan, 1991).

Oral Language: Speaking and Listening

Speaking and listening are aspects of oral language. Researchers have indicated for many years that there is a strong relationship between oral language and reading, writing, and thinking (Loban, 1963; Menyuk, 1984). Oral language is the base on which the other language arts develop (Sticht & James, 1984). For this reason, it is very important to continuously support students in developing oral language throughout all grades (Pinnell & Jaggar, 1991). Children and young adults develop oral language by using it (Halliday, 1975). There is reason to believe that students acquire written language skills in a similar way (Wells, 1986).

The Influence of Diverse Languages on Literacy Learning

Linguistic Classrooms are composed of many children and young Diversity in adults who come to school with a great variety of Developing language experiences (Taylor & Doresey-Gaines, 1988; Literacy Weber, 1991). Some are native English speakers who have had language experiences that differ from their peers’ (Taylor & Doresey-Gaines, 1988). Others are second language learners who have native languages other than English (Allen, 1991). This diversity must be taken into account in the classroom.

Basically, our current level of understanding from research on linguistic diversity indicates that all learners develop literacy in similar ways (Weber, 1991). Therefore, what classrooms should do to help students continue to develop literacy is to provide all students with many “real” reading and writing experiences that allow them to use the language that they bring to school (Au, 1993).

Composing / Writing

Learning to write is a significant part of becoming literate. Research of the past two decades has focused heavily on how children, as well as adults, learn to write (Dyson & Freedman, 1991; Graves, 1975; Hillocks, 1984, 1987). What this research reveals is that children learn to write by writing (Graves, 1975, 1983).

Most young children start to “write” by drawing and scribbling spontaneously; with experience, their writing assumes more mature forms. This development may be fostered through using a flexible process that involves the steps of selecting a topic, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing (Hillocks, 1984, 1987). These various steps are often given different labels by different researchers (Cooper, 1993).

The process should be modeled by the teacher through shared writing and group and individual conferences (Cooper, 1993). It is in part through this process of writing that children learn to use the grammar and usage elements of the language (Hillocks, 1984, 1987). This flexible process of writing provides students with a framework for many meaningful and purposeful writing experiences. It is through revision that students improve their writing and learn the conventions of writing (Hillocks & Smith, 1991). Revision, however, is not a natural process for young children; they must be supported in learning to do this (Graves, 1984). Children also need extensive experience with writing; for maximum learning, they need to write at least four days per week (Graves, 1991).

Influence of Literature on Writing

In an integrated language arts program, students have many opportunities to hear and read quality literature. Research shows that these experiences influence the types of writing students do (Dressel, 1990). For example, if students hear or read good descriptions in literature and are made aware of descriptions through discussions and other activities, they begin to incorporate similar types of descriptions into their own writings.

Thematic units that focus on a particular type of literature (stories, informational texts, and so forth) can serve as models for instructing students in the same type of writing (stories, reports/informational text, and so forth); within the type of writing, students should select their own topics (Graves, 1983).


Learning to spell is a part of becoming literate. It involves much more than memorizing words (Hodges, 1991). Children learn to spell by having real and meaningful experiences involving spelling, including many opportunities to notice recurring patterns in words. The more of these experiences they have, the better they are able to recognize and use spelling patterns to help them spell words (Templeton, 1979).

Research indicates that children learn to spell in a variety of ways – by having many rich reading experiences that provide them with models of how words are spelled (Zutell, 1979), by trying out spelling using invented spellings (Read, 1971, 1986), by writing and proofreading (Personke & Knight, 1967), by selecting words for their own self-study (Wilde, 1990), and by having lessons, when needed, to focus on particular words or on a particular convention or pattern of spelling that may be causing them difficulty in their writing (Wilde, 1990). At the core of all these activities are repeated opportunities to write (Wilde, 1990).

Invented/Temporary Spellings

As children learn to spell they go through a variety of stages (Henderson & Templeton, 1986). In order to move through these stages and learn to use conventional spellings, children must be allowed and encouraged to try out spellings and make errors (Read, 1971, 1986). It is through these approximations or trials (invented spellings) that children grow into conventional spellings. Invented spellings have come to be called temporary spellings (Cooper, 1993).

Clarke (1988) conducted research with first-grade children who were encouraged to use invented/temporary spellings. Results indicated that these children scored better on tests of spelling and word recognition than did those children who were not encouraged to use invented/temporary spellings.

Writing and Proofreading

Writing and proofreading are also important in helping children learn to spell (Personke & Knight, 1967; Wilde, 1990). Children become aware of various spelling patterns as they have real and purposeful opportunities to write and spell. From their writings children can select some words for self-study.

Grammar and Usage

Why teach children grammar and usage? The primary reason is supposedly to improve their writing. There is an extensive body of research, spanning many years, that focuses on grammar and usage (Hillocks & Smith, 1991). The overall conclusion from all of this research is that the study of grammar has no impact on writing quality (Hillocks & Smith, 1991). What children and young adults need to know about grammar and usage they learn best through writing (Hillocks, 1984, 1987). If students have difficulty with a particular element of grammar or usage in their writing, the teacher can teach a brief mini-lesson focusing on this element, using the student’s writing or a piece of literature to model the element (Cooper, 1993).

Writing-Reading Connection: Critical Thinking

Reading and writing are similar processes; they are both constructive (Pearson & Tierney, 1984). When individuals read they go through a process that is similar to writing (Tierney & Shanahan, 1991). The outcome of both reading and writing is that the individual constructs his or her own meaning. Given the similarities of these two processes, it is clear that they should be taught together (Tierney & Shanahan, 1991).

Although reading and writing are not identical processes, there are many reasons for teaching reading and writing together (Shanahan & Lomax, 1988). Research indicates that when reading and writing are taught together, students achieve better in both areas (Tierney & Shanahan, 1991). One of the most significant benefits is that students become better critical thinkers (Langer & Applebee, 1987). The types of activities that connect reading and writing and appear to lead to improved critical thinking are those that promote individual, personal responses to literature (Tierney & Shanahan, 1991).